By Ryan Flynn
NEW HAVEN >> Aaron Brantley’s dismissal from the city’s fire department has been ruled null and void by the Freedom of Information Commission, due to procedural issues during his termination hearing. The decision was reached in a hearing before the full FOIC Wednesday.
Earlier this year, an FOI complaint was filed on Brantley’s behalf by attorney Patricia Cofrancesco, who appeared before a state hearing officer in March. That officer, Clifton Leonhardt, wrote a proposed decision to void Brantley’s termination, pending review by the full FOI board.
Brantley, Cofrancesco and fire union president James Kottage attended a hearing Wednesday before the full board at the Freedom of Information Commission hearing office on Trinity Street in Hartford. The FOI commission voted to adopt Leonhardt’s proposed decision, making Brantley’s termination “null and void.”
“I’m very grateful that the full freedom of information commission adopted the proposed decision written by Cliff Leonhardt,” Cofrancesco said. Brantley would not comment, at his attorney’s behest.
The three alleged FOIA violations mentioned in Leonardt’s document are: holding an executive session — twice — without stating a reason; taking a vote in that executive session; and not making note of who attended that executive session within the meeting’s minutes.
“Hopefully this the start of justice for Aaron Brantley,” Kottage said, “and hopefully in the end we also get legal justice.”
The Board of Fire Commissioners, acting on the city’s behalf, now has 45 days to appeal this decision to the Superior Court. The clock on this 45-day counter started Wednesday. In the interim, the city will treat Brantley’s status as terminated.
“Wednesday’s decision by the FOIC hasn’t changed Aaron Brantley’s employment status,” city spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Friday.
Brantley was terminated June 2, 2014, one day after he was found guilty of attempting to bribe another firefighter to aid him in a discrimination lawsuit against the department.
Brantley was a New Haven firefighter for 9½ years. He suffered a shoulder injury in 2012 while fighting a fire in a trash compactor. Following surgery, Brantley was placed on light duty and given, in his attorney’s words, “nonsensical” tasks to complete, such as painting fire hydrants and washing windows at the fire training school in the rain.
Brantley submitted a discrimination complaint to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The complaint was against the city, the Fire Department and two of his superiors: Matthew Marcarelli and Patrick Egan. The complaint alleges that Brantley was discriminated against because he is black.
In January 2013, with the complaint still pending, Brantley was arrested for allegedly bribing two minority firefighters to testify that Marcarelli and Egan discriminated against him. According to a source, Brantley allegedly offered the two firefighters a percentage of any monetary settlement he won.
Brantley was found guilty in May 2014 of attempting to bribe one of the two firefighters and was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended after nine months, and one year probation. Brantley has since appealed that decision. He has intimated from the outset that the bribe offer was a joke. Because this appeal is pending, Brantley has not served his sentence.
Reach Ryan Flynn at 203-860-9962.