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Top Connecticut state police leaders retiring as investigators probe fake traffic ticket data claims



HARTFORD — The top two leaders of Connecticut State Police will be stepping down in the middle of multiple investigations into whether troopers submitted bogus data on thousands of traffic stops that may have never happened, Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday.

State public safety Commissioner James Rovella and Col. Stavros Mellekas, commanding officer of state police, will be retiring next month, the Democratic governor said, adding that they were not being forced out.

At a state Capitol news conference, Lamont and Rovella denied the investigations played major roles in the retirements. Mellekas did not attend and did not immediately return an email message seeking comment.

Rovella said he and Lamont discussed his retirement plans Tuesday as well as the investigations into the traffic stop data.

“That wasn’t the driving force behind this,” Rovella said.

Lamont, who began his second four-year term in January, said, “So every four years I think it’s time to have a fresh start, and that’s what we’re going to do with public safety.”

The governor announced his nominee to succeed Rovella is Ronnell Higgins, former police chief at Yale University who now serves as the school's associate vice president for public safety and community engagement. Higgins must be confirmed by state lawmakers.

U.S. Department of Justice investigators are looking into whether dozens of troopers falsified information about traffic stops that were never made. There also is an independent investigation ordered by Lamont that is being led by a former federal prosecutor, as well as a U.S. Department of Transportation probe.

The information in question was entered into a database that tracks the race and ethnicity of drivers stopped by police, under a Connecticut law aimed at preventing racial profiling.

Auditors said the alleged false data was more likely to identify motorists as white, which skewed the race and ethnicity data collected to compile statewide reports. The reports have shown nonetheless that Black and Hispanic drivers are pulled over at disproportionate rates compared with white motorists.

In August, the state police union voted no confidence in both Rovella and Mellekas, accusing them of not defending troopers against allegations involving the traffic stop data.

Rovella was confirmed by state lawmakers in February 2019 to serve as commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees state police. He's been in law enforcement for four decades, including as a homicide detective and the chief for Hartford police.

Mellekas joined the state police as a trooper in 1994 and worked his way up to become commanding officer in 2019. He previously worked as a police officer at the U.S. Capitol.

An audit released by University of Connecticut data analysts in June found a “high degree of confidence” that troopers submitted false information on citations for at least 25,966 traffic stops, and possibly more than 58,000 stops, that may have never happened from 2014 to 2021.

Auditors said information on those stops could not be found in the state's court system, which handles all traffic violations — leading to the conclusion that data was likely falsified.

Auditors said 130 troopers had “significant disparities” between the number of citations that were sent to the court system and higher numbers entered into the race and ethnicity database. They said a total of 311 troopers had discrepancies in at least one of the years audited.

The data analysts, however, cautioned that they did not try to determine whether the records were intentionally falsified or were wrong due to carelessness or human error.

The Connecticut State Police Union has cautioned against making any conclusions about troopers' conduct before the investigations are complete. It says more than two dozen troopers already have been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the traffic citation data, and it expects more to be cleared.

Union officials have said many discrepancies found in the audit could be due to recordkeeping or data entry errors.

Rovella has said he was angry about the false reporting allegations. He previously said the department had taken steps to guard against troopers submitting bogus ticket information to pad their numbers and curry favor with supervisors after four troopers were disciplined for falsifying tickets.

Lamont touted Higgins for his work in reducing crime at Yale and his efforts in improving relationships between the community and police. Higgins would be the second Black person to serve as public safety commissioner, following the late Reuben Bradford, who retired in 2014.

Higgins, who was at Wednesday's news conference, said he will be getting himself up to speed on the traffic citation investigations. He also will be choosing a successor to Mellekas.

“I’m looking forward to learning actually what happened, how it happened and how I can be a part of it never happening again,” he said.

Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in New London, Connecticut, contributed to this report.



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