Two police officers used their bikes to block the doors of City Hall to keep protesters from entering, and then further blocked them from entering the mayor’s office late on Friday afternoon.
The protesters were seeking to deliver a letter arguing that the city needs to try harder to make police accountable for misconduct — and called their subsequent encounter with the cops a case in point.
On Monday the Board of Alders will decide whether to create a new police civilian review board. Alders are expected to vote on an ordinance that would finally create a new CRB it was supposed to years ago as a result of a 2013 charter referendum.
The protesters were at City Hall Friday to call on alders to either table the vote and go back to the drawing board or substitute language from what has been called the “M.A.L.I.K. All-Civilian Review Board proposal.”
They also were calling on Mayor Toni Harp to use the bully pulpit of her office to ask the Board of Alders to postpone the vote. (Read about the outcry against the ordinance that alders are considering here.)
Whatever the alders do Monday the new CRB might have its first test case, should someone file a complaint against the officers who responded to City Hall Friday evening and a future board decides to use whatever investigatory powers it gets.
Two New Haven police officers did, in fact, block the main entrance to City Hall as protesters who had been holding a rally on the steps prepared to make their way inside to deliver a letter to Mayor Toni Harp.
While the organizers of the rally instructed the crowd of about 50 people gathered in the cold that they were to head into City Hall to deliver a letter to Harp’s office, police officers Evan Kelly (pictured above) and Nicole Motzer positioned themselves in front of the entrance with their bikes in front of them. When the protestoers turned around the officers were waiting.
Activist Kerry Ellington (pictured) told everyone to put their signs away, and calmly enter the building. Then she realized that the officers weren’t going to move.
“We’re taxpaying citizens,” she said. “We have a right to enter.”
Officer Kelly said he and Motzer were directed to not allow them in the building. The protesters demanded to be allowed into City Hall before it closed.
They accused the officers of violating their rights to access a public building during business hours. Kelly called his supervisor, Sgt. Brendan Borer.
Borer by way of shift supervisor Lt. Derek Gartner gave the order to not allow the protestors into the building because they had received a call that a group of people who seemed “agitated” was about to enter the building.
The police opted to try to keep the protesters out of the building for the group’s safety and that of those inside, Gartner said.
“Why do you need to go in?” Kelly asked. “I just heard someone say that the mayor isn’t even in there.”
“What difference does it make?” activist Norman Clement asked. “It’s a public building.”
When a voice in the crowd asked if the officers really intended to keep the protesters from entering the building. Kelly said he was.
“You are in violation of the law,” someone said. “This is why we need a CRB.”
“This is misconduct,” activist Luis Luna added.
The protesters took up the cry of “Misconduct! Misconduct! Misconduct!”
“Everybody put your live stream up,” Ellington told people at one point.
The activists were already on it.
Can We Talk?
Protesters alternated between chanting, negotiating and then demanding that the officers move. The officers were calm but they weren’t moving. By that time Borer and a couple of other officers had arrived.
The protesters told the officers once again that they wanted to speak to the mayor. That they’d tried unsuccessfully to schedule a meeting with her. They didn’t get the mayor. They did get her liaison to the Board of Alders, Esther Armmand.
Armmand tried to sort out what the protesters wanted. As they told Officer Kelly, they wanted to meet with the mayor to talk about the CRB. They also wanted to talk to her about why police officers were allowed to bar them from a public building when they weren’t doing anything wrong.
“The mayor is not here,” Armmand said.
The protesters knew that — but, they asked couldn’t Armmand get a hold of the mayor or help them set up an appointment before the alders voted Monday? Armmand said the mayor was at another function. (She was attending this police department awards ceremony at Wilbur Cross High School at the time of the protest.),
Besides, Armmand said, she is the mayor’s liaison. The protesters could talk to her.
“It’s cold outside,” Jenny Tumas, of the Yale Law School chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, pointed out. “Can we talk inside?”
Armmand said she had to find a space for the meeting and needed to know how many people would attend. Several suggested they meet in the atrium at the top of the stairs. Clement suggested the aldermanic chamber could fit everyone.
Armmand said she needed a number. Finally, someone shouted 40.
“I’ll have to go find a room,” Armmand said and went back inside, leaving protesters to cool their heels outside with the cops.
When A Door Opens
Upper Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. had just stopped by City Hall to grab some items. Though he has serious concerns about the latest version of the CRB ordinance and had tried to table it before it got out of committee, he wasn’t participating in Friday’s protest.
But when he saw the throng of people at the door, he made his way to a side door that is typically locked. In seconds that door was open, and he was inside. (The door was opened by one of the protesters who declined to give his name for this story.)
A handful of protesters not directly arguing with the cops noticed and grabbed the door to keep it open. When people started to realize the door was open they filed inside and headed up the stairs to the mayor’s office. In the doorway to the mayor’s office, they found Sgt. Borer, shift supervisor Lt. Derek Gartner and Armmand.
Once again the protesters said that they were still being blocked from delivering their letter to the mayor. By this time, city spokesman Laurence Grotheer stepped in hoping to defuse the situation by explaining to the protesters that the mayor didn’t have any influence over what happens to the CRB at this stage.
“The matter is the purview of the Board of Alders,” he said.
“The letter explains how we think she does have influence,” Ellington countered.
Armmand (pictured) told the protesters that she was still willing to meet with them. Eventually they relented as long as she was willing to meet with them right at that moment in the atrium. Eventually, she did.
The activists had one demand: Get the mayor down to City Hall to meet Friday night or set up a meeting for them before the alders vote Monday.
Armand said she couldn’t commit the mayor to a meeting on Monday because she didn’t know her schedule. The protesters prepared to stage a sit-in.
Mayoral Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes (pictured) arrived with a similar message. He said didn’t know what the mayor’s schedule was on Monday and couldn’t commit her time
“Once we get a date and time to meet with the mayor on Monday, we’re good to go,” Ellington told Armmand as she sat on the floor with a couple dozen people.
Within a matter of minutes, they got a date and time: Monday at 2:30 p.m.
They celebrated with a chant. “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Ellington told the crowd to wear black and pack the aldermanic chamber at Monday’s meeting. Everyone dispersed. There were no arrests.
An Alder’s Perspective
Though Brackeen didn’t participate in the protest, he did stick around to watch it unfold once it got inside City Hall. He is one of the alders who voted against advancing the proposed CRB ordinance that will be before the full board Monday.
He said he’s been an advocate over the last five or six years for a CRB that people could have confidence in. He said had there been a true opportunity to help draft the ordinance those who are now protesting it would have been more likely to support it. That didn’t happen.
Brackeen said he had pressed to be part of a working group to draft the ordinance and was denied an opportunity to do that. He had expected the community to be an active part of that working group. He said they weren’t because no such group was actually created. He supports the new CRB having subpoena power and said there is clear precedent for such a board to have it.
“We’re still not getting the legislation correct,” he said of the ordinance that alders will consider. “I intend to stand on the floor and offer several amendments or support amendments.”
Brackeen was keeping what those amendments might be close to his vest Friday night but he said they will involve transparency and subpoena power.
Read the letter that the activists wanted to deliver to Harp below.
The City of New Haven’s Civilian Review Board
November 30, 2018
Mayor Toni N. Harp Office Of the Mayor 165 Church Street, 2nd Floor New Haven, CT 06510
Dear Mayor Toni. N Harp,
The New Haven community has organized for over 20 years for a All Civilian Review Board, and today the Board of Alders is considering a civilian review board ordinance that falls fundamentally short of the community’s needs, the voters’ requests, and the New Haven Charter’s demands.
With leadership and precedent set by Ms. Emma K. Jones, The M.A.L.I.K. Organization and a city-wide effort in honor of the legacy of Malik E. Jones, the New Haven community has fought for the right to establish an All Civilian Review Board for two decades. In 2013, the city voted for a revised charter, including a mandate that the City of New Haven create a Civilian Review Board for “the sole and exclusive purpose of assuring public confidence in the use of police powers in the City of New Haven by means of providing a mechanism for fair, independent, complete, and transparent review of civilian complaints of alleged police misconduct.”
The community stands here today, five years after this Charter revision, still being denied an adequate ordinance to enact an effective All Civilian Review Board. This is a decisive moment for our city, two decades in the making. Whether we form a civilian review board that is capable of holding police officers accountable, or one only bears the appearance of accountability, will shape the future of racial justice in the city of New Haven. It will determine every day whose lives will be protected and whose lives matter.
The Board of Alders’ currently proposed ordinance fails to meet the basic requirements of the Charter revision, which calls for the Civilian Review Board to be fair and independent. Further, the proposed ordinance is significantly informed by the needs of the Police Union rather than the needs of the constituents and residents of New Haven.
Despite years of organizing and hours of research and testimony by the public, the proposal lacks nearly all of the components necessary for a civilian review board to be effective. The Board of Alders has actively limited the power of the Civilian Review Board out of fear of legal retaliation by the Police Union. Alders have been explicitly stated that a real Civilian Review Board would be a barrier to the current negotiation of the police union contract, and there is therefore political desire to vote an inadequate ordinance into law.
In addition, the current Labor Relations Attorney who is negotiating the police union contract on behalf of the city, Tom McCarthy, has a major conflict of interest given his relationship to the Bridgeport Police Department, and we have no faith in his ability to carry out the police union contract negotiations on behalf of the City of New Haven.
The Board of Alders’ proposed civilian review board, if passed, will make those most vulnerable even less protected from police, because it will give the appearance of more protection for civilians, yet those harmed by police will still not have access to a fair investigatory process for police misconduct.
The City of New Haven’s Civilian Review Board
In the interest of the safety of New Haven communities, especially those most deeply impacted by police violence and misconduct, and in the name of the City of New Haven Charter Revision for a Civilian Review Board, we call on you Mayor Toni N. Harp to do everything in your power to ensure a Civilian Review Board is created in a fair, honest, and democratic manner. Mayor Harp, this is your chance to demonstrate to us, your constituents, that our city is not ruled by its police union and that you are committed to civilian safety.
We are calling on the Office of the Mayor of the City of New Haven to take immediate action to:
Use the power of the Executive Office to make a public call for the Board of Alders to delay the vote on the proposed Civilian Review Board ordinance, until these necessary amendments are made:
1. Ensure the Civilian Review Board has power to conduct independent investigations, including the
ability to subpoena. 2. Establish a Complaint Process that allows civilian complaints to be submitted directly to the
Civilian Review Board. 3. Empower the Civilian Review Board to agree upon discipline guidelines with the police and to
make specific disciplinary recommendations 4. Develop a plan to fully fund the Civilian Review Board with a budget tied to the the New Haven
Negotiate the Police Union Contract in a way that satisfies & empowers the Civilian Review Board:
1. Ensure the Police Union Contract does not inhibit the ability of the Civilian Review Board to
conduct independent investigations. 2. Integrate the disciplinary power of the Civilian Review Board into the New Haven Police Union
Contract. 3. Include a budget for the Civilian Review Board in the budget for the police departments of New
We are here today to deliver this letter to your office ask for an immediate meeting with Mayor Toni N. Harp and Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers to address urgent community questions and concerns.
Concerned civilians of the city of New Haven and advocates for racial justice and police accountability