Darien RTM member’s arrest warrant sheds light on origins of charges

Jay Hardison

Jay Hardison

Darien Police / Contributed photo

The arrest warrant of a member of a Darien Representative Town Meeting member has shed more light on the events leading up to his arrest.

Joseph H. Hardison, also known as Jay Hardison, 56, was arrested on charges he illegally distributed confidential records from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families records via email after surrendering to Darien Police Sept. 24.

He was released on a promise to appear in court Oct. 8.

According to the warrant filed by Darien Police Department, Detective James Palmieri said he had been included in emails Hardison had been circulationg since Sept. 2017. Palmieri said he had been assigned the investigation of alleged criminal activity in three incidents related to Darien High School football coach Rob Trifone, and his wife, swim coach Marjorie Trifone.

“In all three incidents, the allegations made were fully investigated and determined not to rise to the level of criminal,” Palmieri said.

“In addition to the actual complainants in these cases, a third party by the name of Joseph ‘Jay’ Hardison has continuously sent emails concerning these events to a large email list containing public and elected officials, Darien Board of Ed members, private citizens, numerous news media outlets (some of which are out of state), and others,” he wrote.

Palmieri reports that in the emails, Hardison references the investigated incidents to express his “strong displeasure” in how they were handled by the Darien school district and asking for further investigation.

He also “attempted to involve himself” in the criminal investigations by making numerous phone calls and email communications to the Darien Police, and state attorneys.

In June 2018, Darien Police initiated an investigation at the urging of town leaders on the distribution list of Hardison’s emails.

Emails at the time addressed to Board of Ed Chairman Tara Ochman from Hardison accused the board and school administration of attempting to cover up “misconduct of a sexual nature, physical assault, and physical and emotional abuse of children” in the district.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and former Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini, both on the email distribution list, both said at the time they felt the accusations were serious enough to bring them to the Darien Police’s attention.

Following the investigation, former Darien Police Chief Ray Osborne issued a statement on the outcome.

“On June 22, 2018 the Darien Police Department was asked to review information involving allegations of possible criminal conduct at various school related events. These events dated back as far as October of 2016,” Osborne said.

“A review of information that was brought to our attention was conducted by the Darien Police Detective Division. After careful consideration of known allegations, our investigators have determined that no criminal conduct occurred during any of the incidents we were asked to review,” Osborne said at the time.

Some of the accusations in Hardison’s email, that were part of Osborne’s investigation, relate to an incident in which Darien High School varsity football coach Rob Trifone struck a football player in the helmet while on the field in October 2016. The incident resulted in a four-week suspension for Trifone.

In July 2019, Palmieri said he met the Trifones with their attorney, Mark Sherman, who told him they felt they were being harassed by Hardison and felt his efforts were to get them both fired from Darien High School. Palmieri said he told them Hardison’s public expression of opinion was not a crime.

Sherman additionally supplied Palmieri with an email circulated to the same large group of people by Hardison that included a parent’s accusations about Marj Trifone and events that occurred while the parent’s daughter was on a swim team retreat. It also included reports from the Department of Children and Families. Those charges were also included in the investigation by Darien Police as referred to above by former Chief Ray Osborne.

Sherman pointed out that there was a law that limited the distribution of DCF records for confidentiality purposes.

Per Connecticut General Statute 17a-28; Confidentiality and Access to Records, DCF reports are confidential documents that contain personal information about reporting parties, victims, suspects, juveniles, etc., and dissemination is restricted. Per state law, records of this type can only be released to a defined group of parties.

In a statement at the time of the arrest, Darien Police said their investigation revealed that Hardison sent the email to recipients that were not allowed by law. When the Department of Children & Families was informed of what had transpired, investigators were advised that the manner in which Hardison disseminated the report was prohibited by law, Darien Police said.

Hardison has represented District IV on the Darien RTM, but is listed on the Darien Police arrest report as being a resident of North Carolina. According to the town clerk’s office, Hardison remains an active member of the RTM and serves on its education committee.

According to Republican Registrar of Voters John Visi, the question of Hardison’s eligibility to hold public office based on residency has been referred to town attorney Wayne Fox. According to the Town Charter, the requirements are that an elected official be an “elector” but that isn’t defined.

At the time of the arrest, Darien Police said Hardison made no comment regarding the incident. Darien Police said they would release no further details. The Darien Times has reached out to Hardison for comment but has not yet heard back.

Sherman, the Stamford criminal defense attorney representing the Trifones, said has handled hundreds of Connecticut DCF investigations.

While he would not comment specifically on Hardison’s case, he explained that “confidentiality of DCF protocol reports is critical in protecting the privacy rights of children and anyone wrongfully accused or investigated by DCF. These reports contain highly sensitive info and sometimes baseless and hurtful accusations that are often unsubstantiated. It makes complete sense that circulating these reports in certain scenarios would be a crime.”