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Jury selection to begin in retired East Haven cop’s theft trial

New Haven Register,
BYLINE: Evan Lips, New Haven Register

East Haven, CT

Retired East Haven Police Officer Michael D'Amato, and attorney Gregory Cerritelli appear in New Haven Superior Court in May 2012. D'Amato allegedly stole $1300 from an evidence locker. Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register

EAST HAVEN >> On the same day his brothers in police blues will be sentenced following their convictions for federal civil rights violations, juror selection in the state’s evidence theft case against retired Detective Michael D’Amato will commence, his attorney confirmed Thursday.

The process to pick the jury tasked with deciding D’Amato’s fate begins Tuesday — the same day retired and convicted police Officers David Cari and Dennis Spaulding will appear in U.S. District Court in Hartford as a federal judge decides how much prison time the two will receive.

D’Amato’s case dates back to March 2011, the time prosecutors allege the 25-year veteran youth detective pilfered $1,328 from the department’s evidence room. His arrest warrant does not pinpoint an exact date and time for the alleged incident, but does cite video captured March 14, 2011, showing a man clad in civilian clothes and wearing a glove entering and exiting the evidence room at least six times.

Court records show D’Amato has identified himself as the man in the video but has also denied any involvement in the theft of the missing evidence.

Coincidentally, Spaulding happened to be the arresting officer on March 12, 2011, the day the money and items in question were entered as evidence. Spaulding had arrested three suspects on drug-related charges. D’Amato’s arrest warrant states Spaulding entered seven bags of evidence. On March 17, 2011, Sgt. George Kammerer reported that two of the bags were missing. The bags left behind contained marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

The bags that went missing contained cash and a state toxicology report, according to the warrant.

The warrant states the evidence bags captured in the May 14, 2011, video are “clearly observed to be the type packaged and submitted as evidence by Officer Spaulding.”

Records show, however, that no items were logged in or out that day.

On Thursday, Tara Knight, D’Amato’s attorney, said she’s working to convince New Haven Superior Court Judge Brian T. Fischer to have the trial held outside New Haven County, citing the recent spate of overwhelming negative media publicity the East Haven Police Department has experienced.

Knight said she hopes Fischer makes a decision prior to Tuesday’s jury selection.

D’Amato retired in December 2011, eight months after the alleged theft and five months before his arrest.

Tuesday also happens to be the day retired Detective Robert Ranfone is due in court to enter a plea in two separate cases. The first case involves an alleged used car scam that resulted in his arrest in October. He turned himself in to state Department of Motor Vehicles police and was arrested on Oct. 3 in connection with an incident involving a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette that a New Haven used car dealer allegedly sold to two different people.

Ranfone was charged with interfering with an officer, second-degree hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence for allegedly helping the second buyer and ultimate recipient of the Corvette “conceal it for a period of time,” according to court documents.

His second case involves a January 2013 traffic stop he and other officers conducted in New Haven while he was still a detective. The Jan. 17, 2013, stop saw officers detain a pregnant woman who was spotted driving a car allegedly registered to the same owner of another car police believed to be involved in a purse-snatching incident that occurred in East Haven earlier that day.

Ranfone’s arrest warrant charges him with second-degree unlawful restraint, coercion and breach of peace. None of the other officers were charged, although six others including Ranfone were subject to a lengthy internal affairs investigation.

In D’Amato’s case, Knight said evidence is due Jan. 29.

The federal trial involving Cari and Spaulding lasted a little more than a month. It is unclear how long D’Amato’s trial will take.

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