The New London Day today reported a city police officer fired for taking cell phone photos of a dead body and e-mailing them to friends won his job back after pleading his case to state arbiters.
No big surprise there.
I and other Hearst reporters a few years back chronicled the case of Liam Callahan, the Norwalk cop who took a skull fragment from a fatal accident scene and, according to internal reports, told his buddies he planned to bleach the bone and turn it into an ashtray.
Callahan, who had been disciplined twice before, was canned, but subsequently reinstated after taking his case to the state.
Callahan eventually resigned … after he was charged with pulling his gun on a bar patron in Newtown.
For those who are interested in the details, here are a couple of the key Callahan reports Hearst published:
Norwalk police officer fired over skull incident
By Brian Lockhart
NORWALK – Police Chief Harry Rilling has dismissed an officer who reportedly kept a skull fragment he recovered from the scene of a fatal Memorial Day weekend accident and bragged he would use it as an ashtray.
Rilling yesterday said he had reached a decision about Officer Liam Callahan but wouldn’t comment further because “no documents have been delivered or executed.”
Two sources familiar with the case confirmed the chief has fired Callahan and Police Union President Detective Mark Lepore said he had been told of Rilling’s decision.
“I’m disappointed he was terminated,” Lepore said. “However, he’s going to exercise his right to appeal and will be heard before the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration.”
A nine-year veteran of the force, Callahan was at the scene of the May 29 crash on Flax Hill Road that killed Alfred Caviola.
Caviola, 62, of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., was found dead from severe head injuries after his 1999 Nissan Pathfinder rolled over near Highland Avenue.
Callahan reportedly found a skull fragment about 4 inches by 4 inches that had been concealed by a tow truck, wrapped it in a plastic glove and left it for a few days in a bag in his locker, telling supervisors afterward he had forgotten about it.
The chief state’s attorney’s office declined to pursue criminal charges against Callahan. But following an internal investigation that “raised some very serious concerns about the actions of the officer” Rilling this summer placed Callahan him on administrative leave.
The chief has the right to suspend an officer for up to 15 days without pay for misconduct. When the recommended punishment is more severe, the accused may request a trial by the Board of Police Commissioners.
Callahan chose to go to trial and a hearing was held Sept. 7, though it wasn’t completed.
Then Callahan reversed himself and placed his fate in Rilling’s hands, primarily to get a faster resolution, Lepore had said.
Callahan, on more than one occasion, told fellow officers he planned to “bleach” the skull fragment and take it home for “an ash tray,” according to reports presented at the trial, said Norwalk Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr, who took part in the trial.
Callahan has been disciplined by the department twice before.
In 2002, Callahan received a three-month suspension without pay after being arrested by Bridgeport police on a drunken-driving charge.
Mark Jacobs, an attorney for Caviola’s family, filed an intent-to-sue notice with the city in September.
It stated that his clients suffered emotional distress because of the officer’s actions and because remains were left behind after emergency workers cleared the accident scene.
Norwalk police investigated Callahan in 1999, after his private vehicle struck a parked car on Park Hill Avenue. No one was injured in the crash and he was not arrested, but received a letter of reprimand in his personnel file.
Officer in skull-fragment case reinstated
Police investigation after fatal accident led to his firing
NORWALK – A city police officer who was fired last year after he took a skull fragment from an accident scene will be reinstated, police union officials said yesterday.
Officer Liam Callahan, a nine-year member of the force, was fired last October by police Chief Harry Rilling after an internal investigation that stemmed from a fatal one-car crash in May 2005.
The Norwalk Police Union contested Callahan’s termination and filed for arbitration before a state Department of Labor panel.
The city and police union – represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 15 – argued before a panel of three state arbiters at several hearings in Wethersfield over the course of the past year.
The final hearing was held in the spring. Police Sgt. Marc Lepore, president of the Norwalk Police Union, said he received the decision yesterday.
“The Norwalk Police Union is extremely happy for Officer Callahan and his family,” Lepore said. “We felt from the beginning that Officer Callahan’s actions did not rise to the level to justify a termination, and we believe we proved that.”
The decision converted Callahan’s firing into a yearlong suspension without pay and Callahan is slated to be reinstated in about two weeks, Lepore said. The city can appeal the award.
Lepore did not want to discuss the specifics of Callahan’s defense, saying only that he was excessively disciplined and that the punishment did not fit the violation.
He declined to comment further because of pending legal action.
Rilling said yesterday evening that he had not seen the arbitration board’s decision and could not comment on whether the city would appeal the ruling.
“At this point, I’ll have to wait to see the award and talk to the corporation counsel,” he said.
The rollover accident on May 29, 2005, killed Alfred Caviola, 62, of Hopewell Junction, N.Y.
Callahan took a skull fragment from the scene and reportedly said he planned to bleach it and use it as an ashtray.
The officer said he made the comments in jest and had forgotten about the fragment. After holding a disciplinary hearing, Rilling found otherwise and terminated Callahan’s employment.
Caviola’s family filed a civil suit against the city on Dec. 2 last year, claiming they had suffered “severe emotional distress” as a result of the incident.
An attorney for the family could not be reached for comment yesterday evening.
- Matt Breslow and Peter Davenport
Officer ends rocky tenure with police
By John Nickerson
NORWALK – A Norwalk police officer, whose career in recent years has been shadowed by controversy, quit the department yesterday, city and police officials said.
Liam Callahan, 38, of Newtown, who is facing charges for allegedly pulling a gun on a Newtown bar patron, sent his letter of resignation yesterday to city Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Spahr, nearly three months after he was put on administrative leave for the incident.
Callahan had previously been fired from the Norwalk Police Department for taking a skull fragment from the scene of a fatal car accident in 2005.
He was reinstated after a state labor department arbitration panel converted his firing into a suspension.
In the Newtown case, Calla-han is facing first-degree reckless endangerment, second-degree threatening and second-degree breach of peace charges. He remains free on $10,000 bond.
Callahan has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Callahan’s attorney John Gulash said the criminal charges and an ongoing internal police investigation into the incident had nothing to do with Callahan’s decision to quit the force.
“The decision he made after thinking and soul-searching and conversation with his family. It was simply a decision to go on with his life in another area of work,” Gulash said. “It was something he thought about for a long time and saw that it was in his best interests to move on with his life.”
Gulash, who does not represent the former police officer in his criminal case, said it was “impossible” to know what effect the resignation would have on the criminal case.
Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney Sharmese Hodge, who is prosecuting Callahan in the Newtown case, did not return a call seeking comment.
Police Chief Harry Rilling said little about Callahan’s resignation.
“I really don’t have much to say at this point. This is a situation that we want to put behind us. We are not going to comment on the details of the resignation,” Rilling said. “I will confirm that he did resign. . . .It was a difficult situation and unfortunate, and we are glad that it is over.”
After charges were filed in the Newtown bar incident, Rilling last month ordered an internal investigation that could have resulted in departmental charges and possibly Callahan’s firing.
That probe, which was nearing completion, has been called off since Callahan resigned, Rilling said.
Police union President William Curwen said he was “shocked” to hear that Callahan quit.
Curwen said he participated with Callahan and Gulash in a conversation with Rilling on Wednesday about putting off the internal investigation until the Newtown case is resolved.
“The union was adverse to (the resignation) because I think we could have saved Liam Callahan’s job. The union was more than willing to fight the issues for Liam, and I truly believe we would have been victorious,” Curwen said.
Callahan, who joined the department in August 1996, had a troubled career.
He was suspended for three months in 2002 after he was arrested in Bridgeport and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
In that incident, the person who called police followed Callahan, who turned down a dead-end street. The person told police that when Callahan stopped at the end of a street, he identified himself as a police officer and pointed a weapon at him, according to Callahan’s arrest affidavit in the Newtown bar incident.
More recently, Callahan was fired by Rilling in October 2005 after an internal investigation determined that he improperly took a 4-by-4-inch skull fragment from the scene of a fatal 2005 Memorial Day weekend accident.
Callahan reportedly bragged that he wanted to use the skull fragment as an ashtray.
The state Board of Mediation and Arbitration concluded that Callahan’s handling of the body part was “negligent” and “offensive.”
But the panel supported the police union’s contention that the skull fragment was not important evidence in the accident investigation and that Callahan had been disciplined excessively.
He was reinstated as a police officer in October 2006.
Then, in the early morning hours of June 9, a man reported to police that Callahan pulled a gun on him inside the men’s room of the 100 Church Hill Road Restaurant in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown.
The 39-year-old Southbury man said no words were exchanged, and he left the bathroom immediately after seeing the gun pointed at his head.
Callahan agreed to take a polygraph examination, but on the day he was to take it he refused, saying police union representatives advised him not to go forward.
The case has been continued until Sept. 13.