Bridgeport courthouse brawl raises safety questions
BRIDGEPORT — Police Chief Armando Perez on Tuesday fended off criticism over the lack of a police presence at the Golden Hill Street courthouse Monday before a melee broke out.
Meanwhile, the head of the state Judicial Branch said the incident illustrates why he has been campaigning for money to hire more court security officers, and the president of the judicial marshal’s union again called for marshals to be allowed to carry guns.
“The courthouse is the purview of the State Police, and if they need us, they call us and we respond immediately, as we did,” Perez said.
More than two dozen people brawled in the lobby of the courthouse prior to the arraignment of 39-year-old Jayvell Washington, who is charged with the fatal shooting on Saturday morning of 50-year-old Eugene Rogers, whom Washington is also accused of previously wounding.
Amid the mayhem, Rogers’ mother was repeatedly assaulted, according, to police and was treated at the hospital. Three people, Jermaine Felton, 38, Shamar Swinton, 37, and Antiqua Washington, 29, were later charged.
Perez said that as soon as they received a call of a problem at the courthouse, they dispatched officers to assist state police.
“We are now attempting to protect the (Rogers) family as much as we can,” he continued. “I’ve increased patrols in their neighborhood and we know who the problem people are, and we are keeping an eye on them.”
History of trouble
This was not the first incident of violence at a Bridgeport courthouse.
On June 16, 2016, dozens of people clashed outside the Fairfield County Courthouse, beating each other with bats and wrenches following the sentencing in a fatal gang shooting. Six people were arrested.
On Jan. 31, 2014, more than a dozen rival gang members slugged it out in the middle of Main Street outside the Fairfield County Courthouse following a guilty plea in a slaying. And, in December 2012, three people were arrested following a brawl at the Golden Hill Street courthouse following a murder arraignment.
The violence is not just at the Bridgeport courts, either.
On Jan. 10, judicial marshals had to break up a brawl between family members outside Stamford’s Hoyt Street courthouse, and on Dec. 14, a Meriden City Council member was charged with assaulting two judicial marshals during a protest at the courthouse there.
Judicial marshals, who work for the state Judicial Branch, are in charge of courthouse security, and they monitor the metal detectors at the front doors. But the marshals are not allowed to carry guns.
Armed state troopers had been used on an overtime basis at courthouses when there was a security concern. But in 2016, the judicial marshals’ union filed a labor complaint against the Judicial Branch about the use of troopers following the layoff of 100 marshals under a cost-cutting plan by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The union agreed to drop the complaint after the Judicial Branch agreed not to use troopers anymore.
Call for arms
Judge Patrick Carroll III, chief court administrator for the Judicial Branch, met with the judicial marshals who quelled Monday’s melee to personally thank them.
“I’ve testified year in and year out before the General Assembly about the shortage of judicial marshals,” Carroll said. “We need to have an adequate number of security personnel in place.”
Carroll said the system need 850 marshals to provide security and handle prisoner transportation for the state’s courthouses, but at this point there are 639.
“Yesterday at the Golden Hill Street courthouse, the marshals acquitted themselves very well and did exactly what they are trained to do including screening exceptionally well so that no weapons were brought into the courthouse,” Carroll said. “But I don’t want to see them continually placed in danger; we need more marshals. This incident should be a compelling reason that we have an adequate security force.”
Joe Gaetano, president of the judicial marshal’s union, agreed that more marshals are needed, but he added that marshals also need the proper tools to do their job - firearms.
“(Firearms) are needed to properly secure the buildings; we shouldn’t need to call in outside forces,” he said. “We should be able to handle these incidents ourselves as they happen. Judicial needs to get serious about securing our courthouses.”