Former cop, busted for drug theft, sues Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — A former detective who was accused of stealing thousands of dollars in heroin and OxyContin is now suing the town, looking for lost wages and back pay, among other things.
Stephen Rilling, son of Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, pleaded guilty in March to reduced charges and received a five-year suspended sentence, and three years probation.
Rilling’s lawsuit, filed in May, claims the Fairfield Police Department discriminated against him when they failed to transfer him out of the detective division where he was a narcotics investigator, after learning about his drug addiction. His addiction, Rilling said, stemmed from a 2009 car accident while on duty that resulted in a back injury and subsequent surgery in 2010. The town also denied his request for a disability pension following his 2017 resignation.
“We are confident that Steven was a victim of discrimination,” Rilling’s attorney, Eric R. Brown, said. “He was certainly eligible for a pension based upon his disability and it should have been awarded to him notwithstanding any of his alleged bad behavior.”
Department officials declined to comment on Rilling’s suit. Rilling resigned in 2017, prior to entering his guilty plea earlier this year. With 19 years of service, Rilling will be eligible to receive some of his pension benefits. To receive the full, regular pension payment, an officer must work 20 years.
Brown said Rilling, 40, earned his pension benefits, and his disability resulted from doing his job. “The town of Fairfield is trying to avoid culpability here, but the facts are that the town knew about Stephen’s disability and did nothing to accommodate it,” he said.
“The plaintiff would have avoided relapse and continued to have a successful career as a Fairfield police detective if he were properly accommodated and removed from the primary responsibility of investigating narcotics crimes at any time up until his resignation from employment,” the suit alleges.
According to the union contract, “Once an employee successfully completes rehabilitation, upon approval of the counseling or treatment agency, the employee shall be returned to their regular duty assignment with no disciplinary action having been taken.”
After his back surgery, Rilling was prescribed opioids, to which he became “unintentionally addicted.” The suit claims he did not receive adequate warnings from his doctor about the potential addicting side effects. In 2013, Rilling told his supervisors he was addicted and admitted himself into a five-day treatment program. He took part in a one-month outpatient program and returned to work.
According to the suit, he met with his supervisors, Lt. Michael Gagner and Sgt. Anthony Granata and they wanted him to return to narcotics investigations.
“The plaintiff felt blindsided by this meeting and felt that he could not say ‘no’ because of his recent absence from work,” the suit states. Rilling had no union representation at that meeting and felt “very vulnerable” and “as if his continued employment would be at stake if he refused the assignment back to narcotics.”
Rilling was having a hard time working on narcotics cases, and Gagner, Granata and Chief Gary MacNamara were all aware of this but made no attempts to re-assign him, the suit states. According to the suit, Rilling again asked in 2014, and his request was denied.
The denial, Rilling believed, was because “he was working on a large number of cases that were bringing in large amounts of money through asset forfeiture and producing a lot of overtime for the plaintiff, his supervisors, and other detectives,” and the department cared “substantially about the negative financial impacts the plaintiff’s removal from the narcotics investigations would have on the department and its officers.”
Rilling relapsed at the end of 2016 and began using drugs again, now getting heroin from the evidence lock-up and from an informant.
A 19-year veteran of the department, Rilling was originally charged with third-degree computer crime, second-degree larceny by defrauding a public community, possession of narcotics, second-degree forgery, tampering with evidence, and false entry by an officer. If he had been convicted of those charged, he faced more than 20 years in prison.
The suit claims Rilling suffered damages and seeks more than $15,000 in “lost wages, benefits, back pay, front pay, attorney fees and costs, emotional distress, make-whole relief, and such other relief and monetary damages as may be deemed appropriate under the law.”