State Senator Gary Winfield (fourth from left) and members of the Judiciary and Public Safety committees listen during a forum on a state police traffic stop data audit on July 26, 2023. The report, released by Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, showed thousands of traffic tickets were falsified between 2014 and 2021, skewing race and ethnicity data. Ryan Caron King / CT Public

A top official has vowed to hold accountable any state trooper found to have intentionally submitted faulty data to Connecticut’s racial profiling system, but is cautioning that “focusing on the negative” would be an “injustice” to law enforcement. 

“I don’t see a lot of people volunteering to be public safety folks,” said James Rovella, commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. “They show up for work every day. I support those people.”

The remarks from Rovella, whose agency oversees Connecticut State Police, came in a public forum Wednesday held in Hartford’s Legislative Office Building. Lawmakers on the judiciary and public safety committees held the meeting to gather more information on a traffic ticket scandal that has led to multiple investigations over the last year. 

Rovella said at Wednesday’s forum that his agency has also complied with a recent subpoena from the federal Department of Transportation and could possibly receive an inquiry from the Justice Department. 

“We will dig into those names, exonerate those who are falsely alleged, but pursue those who are falsifying these documents,” Rovella said. 

Last month, state auditors published a report revealing that troopers and constables had falsified tens of thousands of traffic stop records submitted to the profiling database, skewing the numbers to reflect more infractions for white drivers and fewer for Black and Hispanic motorists.

[RELATED: Report: State troopers may have falsified at least 25K tickets]

On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that he was appointing Deidre Daly, formerly a federal prosecutor, to investigate “how and why the misconduct occurred, why it went undetected for so long and what reforms should be implemented to ensure that such misconduct does not reoccur.” 

Joining Rovella to address members of the legislature was Ken Barone of the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, who co-authored the report; State Police Col. Stavros Mellekas and Lt. Col. Mark Davison; and State Police Union representatives Andrew Matthews and Todd Fedigan. 

The gathering largely centered on a presentation from Barone on the report’s findings. 

Auditors reviewed more than 800,000 infractions submitted by 1,301 troopers, stretching from 2014 to 2021. The inquiry showed both the overreporting and underreporting of traffic infractions. 

A falsified record was one that did not reflect a real traffic stop event. An overreported infraction referred to records identified in the state’s racial profiling system but not in the court system. Underreported records were those found in the courts but not in the profiling data. 

Researchers were unable to corroborate 25,966 stops submitted to the racial profiling database while indicating that the number of falsified records could possibly reach 58,553. 

Overreported traffic infractions by state troopers were more likely to involve white-non Hispanic drivers while the underreported violations were more likely to include Black or Hispanic motorists, the report states. More than 7,400 traffic stop records were falsified by constables, who are under the supervision of Connecticut State Police but considered town employees.

In their remarks, police officials described the scandal as one reserved to a few individuals rather than the systemic problem that the number of uncorroborated records, the racial disparities, and both the state and federal inquiries would suggest. 

“The real question is if there was true intent in your heart and your mind, if you intended to skew the results because there is some underlying racial issue, then you don’t belong,” said Matthews, the union’s executive director and legal counsel. “But I don’t think that’s the majority of it, and I hope I’m right. I think there’s a difference between fake tickets and racial data issues.”

They were pressed by lawmakers about their timeline for concluding any internal investigations, which they initially said they couldn’t predict. 

Rovella said the agency was investigating the intent of roughly 130 troopers — the number of individuals with greater than 20% of their overall infraction records uncorroborated in any given year, combined with those who had more than eight unmatched records in any given year. Sixty-two are retired, while 68 are still active, he said. 

He said the number of individuals under investigation could increase. And the state may have a statutory obligation to disclose their names to defense attorneys as any investigation could raise questions about their credibility in any previous or current court proceedings. A 1963 Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland, held that defense attorneys have a right to examine any evidence that may be of an exculpatory nature.

After more pressing from legislators, Rovella offered Oct. 15 as the date when he would provide more information on people the agency finds to have intentionally falsified records.

Rovella said it would take “substantially longer” for the agency to conduct internal affairs investigations to determine whether or not the officers should be referred to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council for possible decertification, or possible revocation of their license. 

Sen. Paul Cicarella, a ranking member of the Public Safety and Security Committee, said he finds it important for officials to gather all information before reaching any conclusions about what may have transpired. 

“Then take the necessary actions … to make sure that there are no issues with race or anything when it comes to our law enforcement being biased against any Connecticut resident,” said Cicarella, R-North Haven.

Other lawmakers shared concerns about accountability. Earlier this month, Lamont announced that officials placed Christopher Melanson, a longtime state trooper, on administrative leave after he identified motorists as Native American despite them being other races and ethnicities. 

Last summer, Hearst Connecticut Media Group published a story revealing how, in 2018, four state troopers had fabricated hundreds of traffic stop tickets for better assignments, pay increases, promotions and specialty vehicles. The news organization’s reporting was the catalyst for the audit at the center of Wednesday’s hearing. 

The individuals — Timothy Bentley, Noah Gouveia, Kevin Moore and Daniel Richter — were subject to internal affairs investigations at the time but had otherwise evaded public scrutiny.

Moore and Richter received 10-day and two-day suspensions, respectively, after the investigation. Bentley and Gouveia retired. Richter then retired in 2021. The three retired troopers still receive pensions as of last month, while Moore is still an active employee.

They are the subjects of an ongoing criminal investigation, though concerns have arisen about the probe’s independence given that it is being conducted jointly with state police. Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin’s office recently said it was also reviewing the audit’s findings but declined to comment further.  

“This was a crime,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven. “Do you think this is an adequate response to a crime that in many cases could be a felony?”

Mellekas said the troopers’ discipline was an administrative proceeding, not a criminal one. 

“If there’s a crime, they should be arrested and charged accordingly,” he said. 

Sen. Gary Winfield, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, questioned how three years after legislators spent hours on the Senate floor advocating for passage of police accountability legislation, the state finds itself in the current predicament. 

The law lists the falsification of reports and violations of the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act as grounds for decertification.

“The state of Connecticut is supposed to be leading,” Winfield said. “How are we here, and how do we get here with people telling us, ‘No, what you think happened didn’t really happen?’ Denial. Then they attack the data. Then they reverse who’s offended.

“When you come here and you say to us, ‘Let’s not focus on the negative.’ I have a problem with that,” he added. “And I have a problem with that because the negative takes itself and acts in our lives. And so we have to focus on that.”

Jaden is CT Mirror's justice reporter. He was previously a summer reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune and interned at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He received a bachelor's degree in electronic media from Texas State University and a master's degree in investigative journalism from the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University.