CT town fights order to reinstate cop fired for covering up his cop son’s vehicular homicide

Robert Koistinen was charged with hindering prosecution in connection with his actions after his son, Michael Koistinen, struck and killed 15-year-old Henry Dang.The Hartford Courant – by SHAWN R. BEALS and DAVE ALTIMARI

WINDSOR LOCKS — The police commission decided Wednesday night to appeal an arbitration panel’s ruling that Robert Koistinen, a police sergeant fired by the town in 2012, should get his job back.

With the appeal, the commission will attempt to block Koistinen from returning to the police department.  

“This was done to correct what the Windsor Locks Police Commission felt was an erroneous decision on the part of the arbitration panel that is not in the best interests of the Windsor Locks Police Department or the residents of Windsor Locks,” said Kevin Brace, chairman of the commission.

Koistinen, a sergeant, was fired after he was arrested and charged with hindering prosecution in the Oct. 29, 2010, collision in which his son and fellow Windsor Locks officer, Michael Koistinen, hit and killed 15-year-old bicyclist Henry Dang.

Michael Koistinen, who was a rookie Windsor Locks police officer at the time of the fatal accident, is serving a 64-month sentence after being convicted of manslaughter and tampering with evidence.

Robert Koistinen was acquitted of criminal charges after a jury trial in October 2012, just a few months after he was fired. He filed a lawsuit against the town contesting his firing, and also recently filed a lawsuit against the state police alleging that he was falsely arrested.

The State Board of Mediation and Arbitration ruled on Feb. 20 that Robert Koistinen should get his job back. Members unanimously agreed that he should not have been fired but should have been suspended for one year without pay.

Koistinen’s salary was $75,000 when he was fired in January 2012, not including overtime. If he were rehired according to the arbitration ruling, the town would have pay his salary for the past 13 months after accounting for a one-year unpaid suspension.

Brace said the appeal must now be heard in court. He said that in the wake of Dang’s death, the town has worked hard to correct a lack of trust from the public and raise professional standards.

Brace said rehiring Koistinen, some of whose actions on the night of the fatal accident were criticized by the arbitration panel, would be detrimental to regaining the trust of residents.

Several residents spoke to the commission Wednesday night, all saying they opposed allowing Koistinen to return to the department although he had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a jury.

“This town just can’t have him back on the force,” town resident Kimberly Pease said. “There’s no way. He’s lost all credibility.”

Another resident, Christine Lesnieski, told the commission before it went into executive session to consider that bringing Koistinen back would send the wrong message to the community.

“I urge the police commission to do everything possible to ensure that Mr. Koistinen is never put in a position to serve this community,” Lesnieski said. “He’s had that chance before and he chose not to. He served himself instead.”

The arbitration panel relied heavily on an independent investigation done by Marcum LLP, which was hired by the town to review the department’s handling of the Dang case.

That report concluded that Robert Koistinen’s actions on the night of Dang’s death did not violate any police policies and that “there was no overall conspiracy” to protect Michael Koistinen.

Robert Koistinen was the highest-ranking police officer to respond initially to the scene of the fatality, which was first investigated by a regional municipal police accident team. A few days later, Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy requested that the state police take over the investigation because she had concerns about how the initial probe was handled.

The state police case against Robert Koistinen revolved around his actions in the first few minutes after he arrived on the scene and realized that his son was the driver of the car that had struck the bicyclist.

In the lawsuit against state police, Robert Koistinen alleges that state police either ignored or intentionally left out details of the investigation that didn’t fit the narrative they were building of a father who tried to cover up for his son.


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