Bridgeport ACLU backs councilwoman’s right to comment
BRIDGEPORT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is defending City Councilwoman Karen Jackson’s right to publicly criticize police for allegedly using excessive force against her 15-year-old son.
“Councilwoman Jackson is elected by the people of Bridgeport,” Dan Barrett, the ACLU’s legal director, wrote Tuesday on the organization’s website. “She not only has a right to question how public employees are treating her constituents — she has a responsibility to do so. And she absolutely has a right and responsibility to criticize police when they fail.”
Barrett was responding to a report by Hearst Connecticut Media that Mark Anastasi, an attorney for the city of Bridgeport, had urged Jackson to give “thoughtful consideration” about “the unintended consequences” of speaking out about her son’s case while it is under investigation by the internal affairs office.
“No parent, like Councilwoman Jackson, should have to experience police hurting their child,” wrote Barrett. “And no parent who speaks out against police violence, including and especially an elected official with a responsibility to serve constituents, should be silenced by the government.”
Jackson’s son, Gabriyel Fraser, was among a group of youths gathered in the Nob Hill Circle neighborhood on June 27 who ran when a police officer approached. The cop was investigating a break-in into a nearby yard and the theft of a ball.
Police eventually found Fraser who, according to a civilian complaint he and his mother filed with internal affairs, complied with an order “to stand hands up” but was “beaten” by four officers, Tased in his legs, handcuffed and received several scratches on his “leg, arm, face, lower back and wrist.”
Fraser was also charged with interfering with a police officer.
Acting Police Chief Armando Perez, who is competing with other candidates for a five-year contract that would require City Council approval, said last week that the youths should not have run away. But Perez also said he was “not comfortable” that a Taser was used.
Anastasi in his Thursday evening letter to Fraser, wrote that he understands “your instincts are to support your son.” But, the attorney continued, “It can prove particularly harmful when an elected official such as yourself prematurely calls into question the performance of officers sworn to protect our community.
“As a council member, many of our citizens rightly look to you for guidance and leadership,” Anastasi wrote. “When your constituents hear you as their elected official criticizing our police officers, this may lead some of them to lose confidence in our public safety services.”
Anastasi also said Jackson’s criticism could be “misinterpreted as an attempt to used your official position for personal gain.”
He concluded with, “Thanks for hearing me out; and I am available should you wish to consult further.”
Barrett on Tuesday called Anastasi’s letter a form of “intimidation,” “a veiled threat” and an example of “how city officials can be complicit in shielding police from the public scrutiny we expect of government servants in a democracy.”
Activists from inside and outside of the city, including the ACLU, have been advocating for police reforms in Bridgeport since May 2017, when a rookie officer shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron. That cop was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing by an independent state investigation.
The police department has also been under scrutiny for using excessive force in other incidents. An internal investigation continues into the case of Officer Christina Arroyo, caught on video last November repeatedly punching a black teenager following a minor traffic accident.
And last month one teen died and three others were injured after their SUV flipped on Route 8 while being pursued by police for alleged armed robbery.