The town of Avon is currently defending itself against two separate complaints claiming that racial discrimination played a role in the termination of a former police officer and records aide employee from the Avon Police Department.
Months before Farmington resident Nichole Brown — former probationary administrative secretary to Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo and records aide — filed a racial discrimination complaint after her June termination, the police department had already received a complaint from former Avon police officer Kathy Alabre.
In Alabre’s pending complaint, which the town received May 16, Alabre described experiencing hostile treatment from some Avon officers, stating, “I believe that the Respondent (the town of Avon) was guilty of discriminating against me because of my race [sic] African-American, my ethnicity, Haitian, and my gender.”
As the only “minority female probationary officer,” Alabre said she “believed that APD officers singled me out for disparate treatment as they did not want a minority female APD officer.”
Department officials deny Brown's and Alabre's complaints.
"The litigation regarding Ms. Alabre's termination is ongoing and, therefore, Avon cannot provide an extensive statement at this time," Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo wrote to Patch Monday in a statement. "Avon takes the termination of its employees seriously and conducted detailed internal investigations into Ms. Alabre's conduct before terminating her probationary employment. There is no basis for the allegation that her termination was discriminatory or that she was discriminated against in any way during her employment as a probationary Avon Police Officer."
Alabre, of Hartford, filed the complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) on April 30 after being employed as a probationary police officer in Avon for less than a year. At the time there were 27 sworn officers with the department — including six women and four minorities, according to town records.
Brown filed her separate CHRO complaint on July 17, claiming that she was disciplined more harshly because she is black and experienced racial bias when appealing her five-day suspension and demotion from being Rinaldo’s records aide, as well as her termination. For more information, click on the link provided.
As for Alabre, the town terminated her after Rinaldo witnessed her come close to causing an accident while pulling out of the police department onto Route 44, according to the town's position statement in the case. That was the "final straw," according to the town's position statement, and Rinaldo put her on paid administrative leave while he investigated. Her termination notification was delayed to Nov. 4, 2011 because the Oct. 29 snowstorm last year caused a power outage at Town Hall.
But there were several other issues during the February to November period of her employment in Avon that left officials concerned about whether Alabre had the skills to be a police officer, according to CHRO documents. Alabre's sense of being discriminated against started early on.
Alabre said in her complaint that it all began at the Police Academy in Meriden.
“During my time at the academy, I was treated differently and in a hostile manner by Avon Police Department officers assigned to monitor my progress,” she stated in the complaint.
Alabre confided in Avon Det. Leon Elmore, an African American, about issues at the academy where her roommates kept the ceiling light on when she was trying to sleep at night, swore at her for turning a loud radio down at the gym and criticized her for wearing a coat when she was cold. She also complained to Lt. Cristine Barrow. Elmore told her to bring her concerns to her supervisor, Lt. Kelly Walsh, who was the only Avon officer Alabre was supposed to be in contact with while at the academy, according to the town’s response. She also told Elmore about further concerns later on.
“I was informed by certain APD officers that I was being singled out for different treatment that APD had not treated other probationary employees like me,” she said in the complaint.
The town clarified that Elmore did not tell her this, but said that if her accusations were true, “she was being treated differently than other probationary employees.”
Alabre complained that Walsh falsely accused her of being "anti-social and having an attitude problem” at the academy when she was on medication for an illness, according to the CHRO documents.
“The actions of this officer and other Avon Police Department officers made it clear that I was not welcome at the Avon Police Department,” Alabre said in her complaint.
Walsh authorized her requests to leave training for doctors appointments, but Alabre didn't file the proper paperwork with the academy and missed a class the first time, according to the town's statement to CHRO. On a second occasion, she took extra time for lunch without permission. The town did not know the extent of Alabre's illness, the documents state.
Walsh is “assigned to monitor the progress of all new recruits," according to the town's response. She received many calls from Alabre's trainers “indicating that she was not getting along with her classmates, was missing required courses, interrupting class time and failing the course curriculum,” according the town's response to the CHRO complaint.
Alabre “had significant trouble while at the Police Academy,” the documents stated, including failing the Cooper agility test and the driving test needed to operate a police cruiser. She also fell asleep in class at least once and returned to the academy later than agreed after visiting a relative in the hospital.
"She was warned that she was a probationary employee and could be terminated if her behavior didn't improve," the town said in its position statement, describing a meeting Alabre was called to with her academy training coordinator and Walsh.
According to Alabre’s complaint, other officers said she was “rude” and “unprofessional” at the academy, which the town denied.
“Any alleged adverse employment action that the Complainant allegedly suffered was a direct result of her behavior problems at the Police Academy,” the town said in its response.
The town contended in its response to the CHRO that Alabre “was treated in the same manner as all other Avon officers in the Police Academy.”
Noting that the department’s two lieutenants supervising her — Walsh and Barrow — are females, the town stated “it is impossible that any conduct was related to the complainant’s (Alabre’s) sex as she claims.”
When she began her 16 weeks of field training in August 2011, she was immediately “treated differently than male officers,” according to Alabre’s complaint statement.
Alabre said that on one occasion she was told her voice was “too seductive” on the police radio, but the town denied this, explaining that she did have problems using the radio and "other gear," the town said in its position statement.
She also had trouble navigating her way through Avon and making traffic stops, according to the town's statement. Her field training was extended for those reasons, as well as her struggle to remember motor vehicle statutes and write reports properly, the town said.
While she had graduated from the academy, Alabre could not get her certification until she passed the driving test and made up five hours of class time on "the law of arrest" and "search and seizure."
Department officials said she wasn't responding to remedial training, according to the town's complaint response. They continued to be concerned about her attitude, particularly as Hurricane Irene approached. All officers were ordered to do a 16-hour double shift to prepare for possible emergencies. Alabre's double shift was changed and while she initially confirmed that worked, she ended up calling in sick and an ER doctor wrote her a note saying she needed to rest Aug. 28 and 29, according to the town's position statement. Barrow conducted a "full investigation" into her use of sick time, finding "it was at least questionable," the documents stated.
Barrow recommended her termination weeks later after investigating her actions on a September 2011 call, according to the CHRO documents. Alabre was ordered to help Field Training Officer Eric Lundell and a Bloomfield K9 unit pursue a possibly armed suspect. The individual ran into a wooded, marshy area behind Marshall's after another officer pulled him over, according to the town's position statement. Lundell, per department policy, had to stay with both her and the visiting officer. When she refused to enter the marsh to help look, he backtracked to stay with her and then ordered her to go back to the shift supervisor – identified as Sgt. Gilbert. That put Lundell in a "precarious situation," the town said in its response.
The way Alabre tells it in her complaint, she was unfamiliar with the wooded area and the “dense vegetation” slowed her “progress and navigation." She said she was yelled at and accused of being too scared to get her clothes dirty, which the town denied.
Gilbert asked Alabre the next day whether “her behavior was either the act of being 'a coward or insubordinate,'” the town confirmed in response to Alabre's complaint. He also told her she was "disregarding training" and "endangering officer safety" when the K9 unit was left alone in pursuit of a man who may have had a gun, according to the CHRO documents.
Rinaldo, however, chose not to uphold Barrow's termination recommendation and decided "to continue to provide [Alabre] with the opportunity to improve her performance."
But the problems continued, according to the town position statement.
It took Alabre until Oct. 5, 2011 to pass the police driving test, but she backed into a barrier in the police department parking lot her first day driving a police cruiser, according to the town's position statement. Weeks later, she was almosted hit by oncoming traffic when she took a left-hand turn without signaling, the town said.
On Oct. 13, 2011, she "was unable to conduct a nighttime motor vehicles stop using proper safety measures," according to the town.
Alabre also said the field training officers working with her after the September chase incident were reassigned, the new ones swore at her and criticized her harshly, and that her "grammar use was also questioned,” both of which the town denied, noting that there are three field training officers who rotate in the three phases of the training program.
The town denied Alabre’s claims that a male officer swore at her on the scene of a motor vehicle stop for “allegedly failing to follow a protocol” and that another officer she discussed the situation with said her “hormones” would be taken into account for “further communications.”
Both the Alabre and Brown CHRO cases are pending and further updates will be provided as they become available.
Patch called Alabre's house and a relative who answered said that she was away and would not return for a few weeks.