Calls grow louder for McGovern to quit

Police Commission Chairman Roger McGovern, center, reacts as Commissioner Daniel Portanova, left, reads a resolution referring McGovern to the Ethics Commission.
Police Commission Chairman Roger McGovern, center, reacts as Commissioner Daniel Portanova, left, reads a resolution referring McGovern to the Ethics Commission.

Police Commission Chairman Roger McGovern’s standing in town grew even more untenable this week, as numerous elected and appointed officials are now openly calling for his resignation from the commission, the appointed panel that oversees the police department. The embattled commissioner is currently under investigation for allegedly harassing Stop & Shop employee Bernardino Nieva, confronting him on multiple occasions and impersonating a law enforcement official in an attempt to collect money from him, all over a minor traffic incident.

On Monday evening, Democratic Town Chairman Tom Kelly and Town Council Minority Leader Mary Beth Thornton issued a joint statement calling for McGovern to step down from his post, saying that McGovern’s actions had caused a media spectacle, embarrassed the police department and undermined First Selectman Tim Herbst’s leadership. Read full text of Democratic statement here.

“It’s well past time for the first selectman to insist on Mr. McGovern’s immediate resignation,” said Thornton. “There is a major distinction between respecting an ongoing legal process and allowing an embarrassment for the town and the police department to continue. Whether he broke any laws or not, Mr. McGovern has clearly compromised his ability to guide the police department — that should be as apparent to First Selectman Herbst as it is to every other resident of our town.”

Having McGovern in a position of leadership over the police department while himself the subject of an investigation is “unsustainable,” said Kelly, who also questioned whether there would have been an investigation at all if not for the media attention that was generated.

“Why did the initial reporting of this matter indicate that the investigation was closed and no further action would be taken?” Kelly asked. “Was this matter re-opened only after it was reported in the Trumbull Times? Would the same result have taken place had the newspaper not reported this story publicly?”

Police have concluded their investigation of the incident, which included taking sworn statements from Nieva and McGovern and reviewing video recordings taken by the store’s surveillance cameras. It is now up to the state’s attorney’s office to decide if McGovern is charged.

According to police reports, the series of events began Aug. 19 at the intersection of Blackhouse Road and Main Street when Nieva, 33, briefly lost control of his bicycle while on his way to work. Nieva told police he fumbled with the brake handles and was unable to stop his bike in time to avoid striking McGovern’s car, which was stopped at the intersection. The collision caused minor damage to the rear door and quarter panel, according to the report. Nieva was given a verbal warning for the incident.

On three separate occasions over the next few weeks McGovern allegedly confronted Nieva, demanding $2,600 to cover the cost of repairs. McGovern reportedly approached Nieva at work and on Madison Avenue near Nieva’s home, and on one occasion also asked the manager of Stop & Shop for Nieva’s work schedule, which the manager refused to provide. According to reports, on at least one occasion McGovern showed Nieva a badge of some sort and demanded payment and also identified himself as a law enforcement officer. On Sept. 9, when Nieva told McGovern he was calling police, McGovern reportedly replied, “I am the police.”

On Sept. 28, Herbst issued a statement saying McGovern should resign “if there is sufficient evidence to establish that laws were broken.”

Monday night, after the Democrats had called on him to demand McGovern’s resignation, Herbst said he already had done so.

“Last week, [Director of Labor Relations] Jim Haslekamp and I met with him and asked him to resign, and other commissioners did the same,” Herbst said. McGovern refused, and as a result the matter is now before the Ethics Commission, which is the sole authority in town that can recommend his removal from office, Herbst said. Read full text of Herbst statement here.

But Herbst’s delay in speaking out about McGovern stood in contrast to the speed and tone he took on other occasions, Kelly said. McGovern is a Herbst supporter who introduced Herbst at the 2015 Republican nominating convention.

“He holds his political opponents to one standard — issuing highly personal and inflammatory public denunciations,” Kelly said. “He demands immediate resignations, and demands that Trumbull Democrats denounce people’s private behavior.”

Herbst’s partisanship has impaired his ability to be evenhanded, Kelly claimed.

“He’s created a toxic political environment, even at the expense of our fine police department’s reputation,” Kelly said. “It’s time for this to stop.”

The accusations of hypocrisy go both ways, though, with Herbst pointing out that Kelly himself was reprimanded by the Ethics Commission for comments Kelly made while serving on the Board of Education.

“Not one Democrat called for his resignation,” Herbst said.

Kelly brushed off the criticism.

“This issue has nothing to do with me,” he said. “This is about a continuing culture in the Herbst administration of intimidation and abuse of power.”