McGovern to face public hearing on ethics complaint

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.

Embattled Police Commission Chairman Roger McGovern’s future on that panel may rest on the results of a public hearing.

The Ethics Commission unanimously decided December 14 that there is probable cause to believe that McGovern violated one or more standards in the town’s Code of Ethics earlier this year when he allegedly impersonated a police officer and repeatedly harassed a Stop & Shop employee following a minor traffic incident. Trumbull police investigated the case and applied for an arrest warrant for McGovern, but State’s Attorney John C. Smriga declined to issue one, despite writing that “the evidence presented … may support a reasonable conclusion that Mr. McGovern was not truthful when he denied displaying a badge to the complainant.”

At its December 14 meeting the commission voted unanimously that the ethics complaint against McGovern should be the subject of a public hearing. The date of that hearing has not yet been scheduled. McGovern’s fellow police commissioners had unanimously voted to refer him to the Ethics Commission at a special meeting October 3.

The ethics complaint cites McGovern for potentially violating three tenets of the town Code of Ethics. Specifically, Section III requires that town officials act in a moral and honest manner. Section IV-B(3) prohibits misuse of town property, and Section VI-B(1) bars town officials from taking actions that could result in personal advantage or financial gain.

McGovern’s ethics complaint stems from his actions following an August 19 traffic incident. Bernardino Nieva, an employee at the Stop & Shop on Quality Street in Trumbull, was riding his bicycle on Route 111 at 7:54 a.m. headed to work when he attempted to turn right onto Blackhouse Road. Nieva said he fumbled with the brake handle on his bike, which caused him to swing wide on the turn. He then struck the driver’s side rear door of McGovern’s vehicle, which was stopped at the intersection, causing minor damage. McGovern was not injured and Nieva sustained a small scrape on his left elbow. The report from the incident indicates Nieva was at fault, but he was not issued a ticket or warning from the responding officer.

In his sworn statement on the incident, Nieva told Trumbull police that he and McGovern had waited for police to arrive so McGovern could get an official report for his insurance.

About a week later, Nieva said he was on his way to work again when McGovern drove past him, then made a U-turn and pulled into a driveway two houses down from where Nieva lives, blocking Nieva’s bike with his car. McGovern and two other men got out and “surrounded” Nieva, and McGovern asked for $2,600 to cover the repairs to his car. Nieva said he worked at Stop & Shop and didn’t have that kind of money and McGovern replied that he was not going to use his insurance because he would be “kicked off” his policy. McGovern then said he would go to see Nieva at work to talk about it more, according to the report.

When McGovern went to Stop & Shop later that day he told Nieva to borrow the money or get a credit card advance, Nieva said. When Nieva again stated he did not have the money to pay him, McGovern told him to talk to his family and “figure something out.”

It was during this conversation that Nieva said McGovern showed him a badge and said he was a law enforcement official. In his role as a member of the Police Commission, the town issued McGovern a badge.

A week later McGovern went to the store looking for Nieva, who was not working at the time, and allegedly demanded Nieva’s work schedule, which the store manager refused to provide. The manager advised Nieva to call the police if McGovern contacted him again, according to the report. When McGovern returned to the store September 9, Nieva told him he was going to call the police, and McGovern allegedly replied, “I am the police” and left.

Nieva reported the series of incidents to Trumbull Police September 9 and the department conducted a three-week investigation that included interviews and an examination of surveillance video from the store. At the conclusion of his report, Sgt. Michael Pires stated his intention to seek an arrest warrant.

Pires further noted that McGovern had not replied to his request for a statement, though he did deny showing his badge in a phone conversation with Chief Michael Lombardo.