The following is an opinion column written by Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life, private investigator, and professor of writing at several local colleges. This report is also available at Thibault’s blog site The Cool Justice Report. Better call CNN, The New York Times and, what the heck, even Fox News: Stratford, Connecticut is being hailed as one of the few towns in the United States without a race problem.The proclamation came from a registrar of voters, Louis DeCilio, who is refusing to attend diversity seminars mandated by Mayor James Miron. There is no bias problem in Stratford, Decilio asserted.This calls to mind the guy caught inflagrante delicto with a mistress, who told his wife: “Are you going to believe your eyes or what I am telling you?”
Decilio doesn’t need diversity training, he needs a mental competency exam. His life in fantasyland makes me wonder about the reliability of voting records in Stratford.Of course, it’s a comfortable world to inhabit, where a supposedly enlightened state like Connecticut doesn’t have discrimination in housing, education or health care based on race or class. This is a world view that needs to be confronted and shattered in the name of justice.I encountered the Ostriches of Stratford three years ago in a bizarre and despicable police case. In this case, Stratford police knowingly kept an innocent black man in jail for six months.“The town says it did nothing wrong,” civil rights lawyer Burton Weinstein noted at the time. “The fact that they say they did nothing wrong says a great deal about the town.“The unjust jailing of Kenneth Murvin – who was in Florida at the time of the purse snatching for which he was charged – cost the citizens of Stratford $450,000 in a settlement and substantial legal fees. Typically, the town tried to hide this information from its citizens. It was uncovered only after Freedom of Information requests and aggressive reporting.It took Milford police – who were investigating a similar purse snatching in cooperation with Stratford police—about 20 minutes to verify Murvin’s alibis. U.S. District Court Judge Alan Nevas wailed on the Stratford detectives for various misdeeds, primarily failing to disclose exculpatory evidence or tell colleagues and prosecutors that probable cause for an arrest no longer existed.After stealing the freedom of a black man, one of the detectives was promoted.I tried to bring this up with the Stratford police chief, Michael Imbro, after a Stratford officer assaulted a young black girl and a black town councilman this year.“I don’t want to hear about it,” Imbro said.Imbro, who rose through the local ranks, is an example of the inbreeding that results in insular and unaccountable law enforcement. What Stratford needs now is an outsider to lead the department and clean up the mess. No change will occur unless the Ostriches of Stratford – including the mayor, the chief and various other officials—are pressured relentlessly over the long haul to do the right thing.It is encouraging to hear, meanwhile, that a rally to protest Stratford’s reprehensible mishandling of recent brutality complaints is scheduled for Saturday, July 8, at town hall.Why is it that brutal cops in Connecticut almost always get away with assaulting innocent civilians?The simple answer is police chiefs and supervisors – as well as prosecutors – rarely have the guts or integrity to enforce the law when someone wearing a badge breaks it.Race can play an issue, though the cops who engage in such beatings generally are indiscriminate when it comes to choosing victims.As a reporter and investigator, I have examined hundreds of police brutality cases in Connecticut over the past 30 years. For many officers, brutality is a routine part of the job. Citizens can count on being assaulted if they ask a cop why he is beating someone else. In reality, such citizens are witnesses to crimes. Their statements—if taken and used properly—can constitute probable cause for an arrest. This routinely happens when the perpetrator is a civilian. When a cop is the perpetrator, arrests only happen when there are citizen uprisings, numerous witnesses and videotape. Even then, cops usually get to keep their jobs and are let off with accelerated rehabilitation.When I investigated one hundred such cases in Hartford in the 1980s and early 1990s, officers told me colleagues routinely lie to protect each other. So-called internal review boards generally take the word of an officer over a civilian. These investigations also serve cops by gathering evidence—legitimate or not—that can ward off civil rights lawsuits. I usually advise clients not to go to internal affairs divisions in Connecticut because they are tools of an establishment that protects itself.Stratford’s current volatile situation probably should have resulted in the arrest of the cop who assaulted the civilians in March.Here’s what happened:Town Councilman Alvin O’Neal saw officer David Gugliotti punching a girl in the face and slamming her on the hood of his cruiser. The girl’s parents credit O’Neal with saving her life. For this, O’Neal was arrested. He had told the officer to stop punching the girl. Statements by O’Neal, the girl and other witnesses could constitute probable cause for the arrest of Gugliotti. Police supervisors or the chief could have arrested him on the spot. But, they didn’t.In April, I asked Chief Imbro whether he had taken the officer’s gun. He refused to answer.This officer, David Gugliotti, clearly seems to be a threat to the safety of the community. What is Stratford going to do about? I asked that question in April, then predicted: probably nothing.What can citizens do? Stand up and demand justice from your public servants. The July 8 rally should be the first of many. Also, take complaints directly to the local state’s attorney, who will likely forward them to the chief state’s attorney.Don’t waste time with police internal affairs departments. Don’t cooperate. Just say, “Lawyer.” Make sure it’s a good lawyer who knows something about civil rights litigation, police brutality and cover-ups.Surprise, surprise, surprise. Mayor Miron, The King Ostrich, announced on June 9 there was not enough evidence to charge or discipline Gugliotti for brutality “Given the vastly disparate versions of events … no reasonable conclusion can be drawn,” Mayor Ostrich said. Mayor Ostrich fails to take into account the propensity of police officers to lie in such cases. Mayor Ostrich shirked his responsibility to evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Mayor Ostrich has no guts. Seems he can’t even get a registrar to go to diversity and sensitivity training. I guess that kind of insubordination is OK in Stratford.The heroes in this case, as it continues to unfold, could be rank and file citizens who won’t tolerate incompetence, cover-ups and lies. They might join with the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP branches for the rally and related activities.Credit Wayne Winston of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, among others, with pressing the issue. Winston cited two other racist incidents during the last 60 days in a letter he submitted to the local paper. He also compared DeCilio, with some justification, to the legendary segregationist politicians like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond.“They spouted their racially insensitive views in 1966, and this is the year 2006,” Winston said. “If he [DeCilio] thinks there should be no concern for racism in Stratford, then he may want to convince [some] fellow town residents…“In one recent incident, Winston said, a white man almost ran down 16-year-old black youth who had been walking in his own neighborhood. He grazed the youngster with a mirror on his shiny red pick-up truck, Winston said, and then the driver yelled, “Come fix this you f—-ing nigger.”“I guess his crime,” Winston said, “was walking while black on a city street.“The other incident, Winston said, involved a white Stratford woman yelling at a black couple at a gas station in Trumbull: “You niggers need to be hung.” She was arrested by a black officer who was told, Winston said, “Thanks for the help, nigger.“How do you spell Whitewash? Try S-T-R-A-T-F-O-R-D, F-A-I-R-F-I-E-L-D C-O-U-N-T-Y, C-O-N-N-E-C-T-I-C-U-T, U-S-A.