Old Lyme officer under fire amid racism allegations agrees to retire

Old Lyme ― Police officer Jay Rankin agreed to retire almost a year after he was placed on paid leave and later arrested for an alleged altercation involving his use of a racist slur in Old Saybrook.

A settlement agreement signed Sept. 16 gave Rankin more than $20,000 and two-and-a-half years of insurance benefits in exchange for retiring and never working for the town again.

First Selectman Tim Griswold put Rankin, 60, on leave on Sept. 22 of last year. He cited multiple ongoing investigations.

Rankin was paid in full during his absence, receiving a salary of $79,456 initially. He got a contractually-obligated pay increase in July that brought him to $81,432.

He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

Rankin became an officer in Old Lyme after he retired as a master sergeant from the Old Saybrook Police Department in 2017.

In March, he was arrested by the same department where he had worked for 29 years. The case stemmed from a complaint that Rankin used the n-word during an argument in front of the Old Saybrook Fire Department, where he served as a volunteer firefighter.

The arrest warrant affidavit said Paul Levels, a man identified as homeless, was pushing his shopping cart in front of the fire station when Rankin pulled up in his car. Levels told police Rankin called him the n-word while yelling at him for being in the way.

According to the affidavit, Rankin told two fellow firefighters at the scene and police during an interview that he called Levels a freeloader, not the n-word.

The affidavit identified Rankin as a white man with no past criminal history.

A police report about the firehouse incident, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, included a statement by an Old Saybrook firefighter who witnessed the argument between Levels and Rankin but did not hear the alleged slur. That same firefighter said he’d also seen Rankin yelling at a Black truck driver in the Walmart parking lot earlier that year. The firefighter said he apologized to the truck driver for Rankin’s behavior, which he described as totally unacceptable and a complete embarrassment to the Old Saybrook Fire Department.

Old Saybrook Fire Department Chief Joe Johnson said Wednesday he did not know if Rankin was still a member of the department. But he specified no action had been taken against the volunteer.

Rankin’s criminal attorney, former Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano, said Rankin’s resignation is separate from the court case but reiterated his client’s many years of service in public safety.

Morano declined to go into specifics about the court case.

“We’ll save those comments for the more appropriate place, which would be in the courtroom,” the attorney said.

Rankin was scheduled to appear in Middlesex Superior Court Thursday. He pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor second-degree breach of peace charge back in March.

‘Off duty conduct’

Rankin’s settlement agreement with the town comes with a $20,000 lump sum payment, $1,957 for a quarter of his accrued sick time, and 30 months of health insurance coverage for his family of three.

The agreement described the deal as the final resolution of the town’s investigation into “alleged off duty conduct.”

A letter of reprimand referenced in the agreement was not available by press time. Neither were any documents pertaining to the town’s internal investigation, which the town said was completed Sept. 14.

Rankin was the subject of three other internal affairs investigations initiated in October 2021 by Connecticut State Police, who oversee the small Old Lyme police force through a resident state trooper.

The incidents occurred or were reported within a one-month period starting in late August of 2021, according to state police internal affairs reports. They were all deemed unsubstantiated. One involved a bar incident in Old Saybrook that left the complainant, a Black man, feeling verbally assaulted. Another involved Rankin’s alleged failure to respond in a timely manner to a medical call. The other was spurred by a complaint from Griswold to Old Saybrook police about the alleged theft of an alternator from an Old Lyme police cruiser.

The Office of the State’s Attorney in Middletown declined prosecution in the alternator case based on insufficient evidence, according to police reports.

Griswold, the first selectman, told The Day that the town chose to work toward a settlement agreement rather than go through the lengthy disciplinary and grievance process that would have resulted by placing Rankin on unpaid leave.

“That timing, we did not need that,” he said. “It was negotiated to go straight to the agreement.”

Griswold said it would probably be best for him not to comment on the allegations or why it took so long for the situation to be resolved.

“But I guess I’m just pleased that the matter’s come to a conclusion and we can move on,” he said.