On Friday, June 26, 2020, and Monday, June 29, something will happen that has never happened before: Connecticut residents will be able to testify before the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) about whether the Commission should reappoint a sitting State’s Attorney. The CJC – the state agency responsible for overseeing, appointing, and reappointing State’s Attorneys – will hold a public hearing to determine whether it should reappoint Gail Hardy, current State’s Attorney of the Hartford Judicial District, and Maureen Platt, current State’s Attorney of the Waterbury Judicial District.
The ACLU of Connecticut is opposing both of their reappointments. Why? First, both have demonstrated patterns of mismanagement and have fostered a culture of consequence-free misconduct for police and prosecutors. These leadership failures cannot stand.
Second, this reappointment process is a chance for the CJC to choose new leadership and send the message that prosecution in Connecticut needs to change. By denying these two reappointments on Friday, the CJC could send the message that prosecutorial leaders can no longer ignore the inequities and racism that the status quo of prosecution perpetuates, and instead must work to end them.
State’s Attorneys are some of the most powerful actors in the criminal legal system, but among the least accountable. State’s Attorneys are appointed to eight-year terms (extremely long compared to similar roles across the country). When they’re up for reappointment, they aren’t held to data-driven performance evaluations – so they aren’t evaluated, for instance, based on whether there are patterns of discrimination in charges in their judicial districts. They’re not measured on critical things like whether they’re reducing incarceration, reviewing instead of unquestioningly pursuing charges brought by police, or other measures of whether they’re using their power to make healthy communities instead of just chasing convictions. And they’re not measured on one of the most high-profile parts of their power: under current Connecticut law, State’s Attorneys are in charge of investigating all police uses of deadly force (meaning every time police use deadly force, whether they injured or killed someone or not, the Chief State’s Attorney is supposed to assign a State’s Attorney to investigate). As a result, prosecution, under the direction of the State’s Attorneys, continues to prop up racist and harmful policing by perpetuating mass incarceration of everyday people in Connecticut and by failing to hold police accountable when they endanger or kill people.
Individually, both of the State’s Attorneys up for reappointment consideration on Friday have a pattern of mismanagement, apathy to community demands, and permissiveness towards police and prosecutor misconduct.
Gail Hardy has been the State’s Attorney for Hartford since 2007. In that time, she has severely mismanaged investigations into police killings. She took more than a decade to resolve two investigations and took years to resolve others. Indeed, it took her over 800 days, on average, to complete investigations into police uses of force. Despite taking so much time, she has never once found that any of the 10 police killings she investigated were unlawful. Her mismanagement extends to sentence modification requests from incarcerated people, which have also gone unanswered for years. Because of how long State’s Attorneys’ terms are, Friday is the first time she will be up for reappointment consideration since this long pattern of mismanagement came to light.
Maureen Platt has been the State’s Attorney for Waterbury since 2011. In that time, she has failed three times so far to hold a single police employee accountable for killing a Connecticut resident (a fourth case is still pending her decision). She has also failed to hold her own subordinate prosecutors accountable for misconduct, including one prosecutor whose misconduct, including his use of slurs during a case, was so egregious that a Connecticut appellate court reversed a criminal conviction because of it. Platt admitted previously to the CJC that she did not discipline that prosecutor.
These two State’s Attorneys have a pattern of mismanagement and disregard of misconduct. They should not be reappointed by the CJC. If the CJC does deny reappointment to these two State’s Attorneys, it will only be because individuals have spoken out about poor experiences with them. Because Connecticut does not require data-driven performance evaluations of State’s Attorneys, there is currently no other way to demonstrate how State’s Attorneys are serving – or not serving – their communities. Connecticut voters, for one, would like to see that kind of requirement in place, with 86 percent of voters surveyed saying they’d support a law requiring State’s Attorneys to undergo data-driven performance evaluations every two years to monitor them for discrimination in their charges based on gender, age, race, or ethnicity, and to make sure the same standards are being used statewide.
One potential solution is a state law requiring prosecutor evaluations to be based on data tracked and reported by prosecutors’ offices. Under this kind of law, prosecutors’ performance would be periodically assessed based on metrics measuring the well-being of their communities, demographic disparities in how prosecutors treat and resolve cases, and whether prosecutors achieve fair and proportionate outcomes in criminal cases. Because Connecticut appoints State’s Attorney to such long terms, these periodic assessments could interrupt and recalibrate patterns of mismanagement that would go on for years under current law.
In addition, many more changes to prosecution must occur for it to become a justice-seeking endeavor instead of just a pit stop on the mass incarceration superhighway. Judicial districts should be required to standardize their processes and decision-making. Right now, the kind of justice a person sees varies wildly from one part of the state to another. State’s Attorneys were supposed to create uniform policies and procedures decades ago, but they have failed to do so. A state law mandating uniformity is necessary now to achieve equal justice for residents of all parts of Connecticut – and then, State’s Attorneys need to be held to following that law.
In addition, State’s Attorneys who are currently tasked with investigating and charging police who commit violence have utterly failed in that job. Of 76 investigations conducted by State’s Attorneys since 2001, State’s Attorneys have charged only one police employee. A change to the use of force standard is part of the solution, but the whole answer. State’s Attorneys like Hardy and Platt who have shown extreme deference to police and unwillingness to challenge them when they commit violence are another part of the problem. Until State’s Attorneys are willing to force police to face consequences for killing people – often, Black and Latinx people – prosecutors are complicit in police violence and racism. Another part of the solution would be creating a independent position, outside of the control of the Chief State’s Attorney and the other State’s Attorneys, whose entire role would be investigating and holding police accountable for violence and misconduct. Making them independent would help to prevent them from being compromised, as other State’s Attorneys are, by their reliance on police for other criminal prosecutions.
Fundamentally, prosecutors must face their role as key architects of mass incarceration, and at least under the current system, the CJC has a responsibility to make them face that reality. Under the current system, there are no checks or balances to prevent State’s Attorneys from creating a culture of convicting at any cost, pressurized plea bargaining, and rubber-stamping police charges and investigations.
The CJC should focus on appointing State’s Attorneys who are committed to decarceration and ending police violence and racism. This means prosecutors who are committed to ending money bail, decline to prosecute criminal charges for things like drug possession and sex work, and invest in alternatives to incarceration should replace the current crop of law-and-order, mass incarcerating State’s Attorneys.
None of this can happen unless the CJC is willing to deny reappointment to State’s Attorneys with problematic patterns of mismanagement and insensibility to their communities’ concerns and replace them with State’s Attorneys committed to rethinking prosecution in our state.
You can help make this happen. Tell the CJC to take the first step by not reappointing State’s Attorneys Hardy and Platt and by replacing them with people committed to police accountability and decarceration.