TaShun Bowden-Lewis, Chief Public Defender, Misconduct Allegations

TaShun Bowden-Lewis, the First Black Chief Public Defender of Connecticut, Fired Over Misconduct Allegations 

Do you think there is more behind her firing?

TaShun Bowden-Lewis, Connecticut’s first Black chief public defender, was fired following months of misconduct allegations and disagreements with the agency’s oversight body.

An oversight commission fired Bowden-Lewis on June 4 after two years in the position. The firing followed 16 misconduct allegations, including racism, mistreatment of employees, and improper use of email access. During two public meetings in April, Bowden-Lewis denied all the allegations and even accused the Public Defender Services Commission panel of interfering with her authority to run the office. However, the board voted unanimously to let her go.

“Miss Bowden-Lewis, we recognize that this is a very difficult time for everyone, including you, the division and the commission,” Palmer said following the panel vote. 

“When this commission was appointed, we started with great hope for the future and never expected or wanted to be here today. It’s the commission’s sincere hope that there are better days ahead for you and for the division. Thank you.”

Intense disagreements started in early 2024, resulting in Bowden-Lewis being suspended on Feb. 9. Palmer wrote in a letter that the disciplinary action resulted from an “investigation by the commission into certain behavior that, if confirmed, could be grounds for disciplinary action.”

The board also accused her of repeating claims of discrimination, bias and retaliation against members. However, they opted not to factor that into their decision. “The interest in protecting the right to oppose discrimination outweighs the interest in avoiding meritless claims of discrimination,” the decision wrote.  

The Connecticut Public Defender Attorneys Union released a statement praising the decision: “Members have fulfilled our vital public mission.”

“Our members have fulfilled our vital public mission despite the controversy and dysfunction that we have experienced during the last two years,” the statement read. 

“We look forward to working productively with a new Chief Public Defender so we can continue to serve the people of Connecticut with the utmost professionalism.” 

While Bowden-Lewis declined to comment after the vote, according to Associated Press, her lawyer, Thomas Bucci, the former mayor of Bridegport, Connecticut, called the vote an “unlawful removal.” “This was a skewed process, an unfair process, meant to remove a very capable and competent director who was protecting the integrity of the institution,” Bucci said.

Several supporters who attended the public meetings felt that Bowden-Lewis should remain in the position. The former chief public defender once said she thought she was never given a fair chance at success in the role. Some Black and brown employees described the move as an effort to undermine the chief’s goals, which Bowden-Lewis described as the “hyper scrutinizing and undermining” of her decisions.