HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The top two leaders of the Connecticut State Police are retiring amid investigations surrounding troopers allegedly falsifying traffic ticket data.
State public safety Commissioner James Rovella will retire “effective next month,” Gov. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.) said Wednesday. State lawmakers confirmed Rovella in February 2019 to serve as commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees state police.
“I think it’s time to have a fresh start,” Lamont said.
U.S. Department of Justice investigators are looking into whether dozens of troopers falsified information about traffic stops that were never made. A former federal prosecutor is leading the independent investigation ordered by the governor.
While the investigations played a role in his discussion with Lamont about retiring, Rovella said they are not ultimately the reason why he’s leaving his post.
“After the conversation with the governor, I felt relieved,” Rovella said.
Col. Stavros Mellekas, commanding officer of state police, is also retiring, Lamont said. Mellekas joined the state police as a trooper in 1994 and worked his way up to become commanding officer in 2019.
In August, the state police union voted no confidence in both Rovella and Mellekas, accusing them of not defending troopers against allegations involving the traffic stop data.
“We don’t believe the commissioner or colonel was completely transparent,” said the union’s executive director, Andy Matthews. “What they did was undermine the public’s trust in us unfairly. We wish them well, and we’re optimistic for the future.”
An audit released by University of Connecticut data analysts in June found a “high degree of confidence” that troopers submitted false information on citations for at least 25,966 traffic stops, and possibly more than 58,000 stops, that may have never happened from 2014 to 2021.
Auditors said the alleged false data was more likely to identify motorists as white, which skewed the race and ethnicity data collected to compile statewide reports. Information on those stops could not be found in the state’s court system, which handles all traffic violations — leading to the conclusion that data was likely falsified, the audit concluded.
The audit showed 130 troopers had “significant disparities” between the number of citations they sent to the court system and higher numbers entered into the race and ethnicity database. They said a total of 311 troopers had discrepancies in at least one of the years audited.
Lamont named former Yale police chief Ronnell Higgins as the next commissioner. He’s currently the associate vice president for public safety and community engagement at Yale University, but over the next five weeks, he will transition to the state’s top law enforcement official and become the state’s second Black commissioner after Reuben Bradford.
Higgins said he would lead with fairness and consistency.
“My listening, learning and leading a part of that will be hearing how to go forward from where we are now,” Higgins said. “I think all bear the responsibility for mending the relationship. One interaction at a time.”
News 8 reached out to Mellekas for comment but did not get a response.
The Connecticut State Police Union has cautioned against making any conclusions about troopers’ conduct before the investigations are complete. It said more than two dozen troopers already have been cleared of wrongdoing and expected more to be cleared.
The independent investigation is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Lamont said they have found evidence of inaccuracies and unintentional mistakes, and troopers will be held accountable.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.