MADISON – Two of three town police officers who were fired last year for violating conduct standards have been allowed to return.
On June 13, the state Department of Labor’s Board of Mediation and Arbitration granted Natasha Pucillo reinstatement to the Madison Police Department and awarded her any lost wages, benefits and seniority. Pucillo had been with the department for six years before she was fired.
On July 6, Daniel Foito, who had been an officer in Madison for nine years, was also awarded reinstatement with full back pay. He had previously served 25 years with the Clinton Police Department.Madison-Co.4-2023-A-0047-W-T-1
The labor department’s communications director Juliet Manalan said she could not confirm whether an arbitration has taken in the case of Sgt. Kimberly Lauria, the third officer fired.
The Madison Board of Police Commissioners unanimously voted to fire Lauria, Foito and Pucillo in September following an independent investigation conducted by attorney Giovanna Tiberii Weller at the behest of Chief John Drumm. The incident at the heart of the probe involved accusations of social media threats by a fourth officer.
According to the arbitration documents, Pucillo received a screenshot on June 5, 2021 of officer Robert Strickland’s Facebook page, showing Strickland involved in a bike race that day. Strickland later called out sick for his shift that night. The sender of that screenshot, according to the arbitration, was Foito’s wife.
Pucillo testified she then looked up Strickland’s public fitness app account, and discovered instances of Strickland calling in sick on days he participated in bike races.
Pucillo reported her concerns to Lauria, her supervisor, who then reported the incident to Lt. R. Neal Mulhern. A subsequent inquiry found no evidence of Strickland faking an illness, but concluded that his Facebook postings about the bike race in tandem with calling in sick projected poor “optics,” the documents state.Madison-Police-2023-A-0049
After Strickland was informed of the inquiry on June 15, he made several emotional Facebook posts aimed at the individuals behind the complaint, according to the documents.
The next day, Foito informed Pucillo of Strickland’s posts, and Strickland was ultimately forced to delete them. After discovering an investigation into the Facebook posts would not be conducted, the documents state Pucillo and Lauria filed a human resources complaint in August claiming a hostile work environment and of feeling threatened by Strickland’s conduct.
Strickland was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, the documents show, and on Oct. 20, Pucillo received a written warning for conducting an “unauthorized investigation” into Strickland’s use of sick leave.
On Oct. 27, the investigation concluded that Strickland’s posts did not contain threats of violence and that Pucillo’s complaint was “baseless and unfounded,” according to the documents. Drumm then commissioned an investigation into Foito, Lauria and Pucillo, hiring Weller to determine if Strickland’s civil rights were violated.
Weller’s report, issued on May 30, 2022, concluded Strickland’s civil rights and free speech rights were not violated, and that Foito, Lauria, and Pucillo did not create a hostile work environment. But she also concluded that Foito, Lauria, and Pucillo violated four Madison Police Department codes of conduct: Respect, civility, conduct unbecoming an officer, and criticism and malicious gossip.
Weller did not recommend disciplinary action in her report, but Drumm recommended that the police commission fire the three officers. Pucillo filed a grievance after being fired, stating that the town unjustly terminated her employment.
Contacted by CT Examiner, First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons said the Town disagrees with the Board of Arbitration and Mediation’s decision to reinstate Foito and Pucillo and that the Town intends to appeal the decision.
Pucillo and Lauria are also suing the Town of Madison, alleging a hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation for their complaints about the workplace on the basis of their sex. The complaint was filed June 18, 2021, and is ongoing.
In a prepared statement by the Board of Police Commissioners dated July 25, the board stated that they disagreed with the rulings by the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration.
“We believe the harassment of a fellow officer by these terminated officers as found in an independent Weller investigation and report was unacceptable in a law enforcement agency,” the statement said.
The board also said they intend to appeal the arbitration decisions and have referred the officers’ actions to the Connecticut Post Council for their assessment.
This story has been updated with a statement from the Board of Police Commissioners