HARTFORD, CT — Despite significant changes to the legislation there were no Republican votes in the House for a bill that seeks to hold police accountable following events in which excessive or deadly force is used.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said they tabled debate on the bill after more than an hour in order to talk behind closed doors to see if they could find the necessary votes.
“I hope that what we’ve discussed thus far will move people in a direction where they can support this legislation,” Porter said.
During debate only members of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus spoke in favor of the bill and sought to clarify misconceptions about it. No other lawmakers were called upon during the debate.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said there are no votes for the bill in her caucus and she estimated Democrats are 10 to 15 votes shy of passing the bill within their own caucus.
Klarides said there absolutely should be transparency and people should be called out for things they do wrong, but it’s unacceptable that the House Democrats wouldn’t allow any of the opposition to speak during the debate.
“When you don’t even allow anyone else from the other party to speak, what kind of democracy is that?” Klarides said.
She said she was promised three times that she would get a chance to speak about the legislation. She said the Democrats never intended to allow the bill go to a vote.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said they were going to speak with caucus members about this bill and others.
During debate, Porter said those who are interpreting the legislation as anti-cop are simply wrong.
“This is not about black and white, black and brown, this is about humanity. This is about people,” Porter said.
She said police have the difficult responsibility, especially in the state’s larger cities, of making sure “we get home safe.” Porter said that is, a large percentage of the time, exactly what happens. But sometimes it doesn’t.
“In the worst case scenario, we don’t return at all,” Porter added.
But the legislation is also directed at police interests, Porter insisted.
“This bill is rooted and grounded in making sure that officers are protected,” she said.
There was an amendment to the bill that was introduced on Monday that included several changes, including language that prohibits police officers from shooting at vehicles but not the driver of a vehicle if that driver is considered a danger to the officer.
Another section of the amendment requires that police officers in the state’s seven largest cities be required to wear body cameras.
Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, strongly supported the legislation.
Candelaria said the vast majority of police officers are good cops.
“Some uphold the law but others believe they are above the law,” Candelaria said.
Candelaria said the debate reminded him of Malik Jones.
The shooting of Malik Jones happened in 1997. East Haven police chased 21-year-old Malik Jones into New Haven, boxed in his car, and then shot him several times at close range.
The officer who shot Jones, Robert Flodquist, had tried to pull Jones over in East Haven, and Jones had fled. After the shooting, Flodquist said that he shot Malik because Jones gave him a “Go to Hell” look. Flodquist claimed he thought his life was at risk because Jones’ car may have been slowly rolling backward at the time of the shooting.
The incident became a flashpoint for vigorous public debate about civil rights and racial profiling.
More recently, Candelaria reminded his colleagues, was the case in which four East Haven police officers were arrested, and eventually sent to jail, for terrorizing Latino residents over several years starting in 2009.
“Imagine living in a community like that and being Latino,” Candelaria said.
Watered-down from its initial version, which would have suspended officers without pay and also required a preliminary investigation to be done within 15 days, the new version of the bill scraps language regarding the status of the officer’s employment and gives the Division of Criminal Justice 40 days to report the name, race, gender, ethnicity, and age of the deceased. It also requires the date, time, and location of the death, law enforcement agencies involved, a toxicity report, and a death certificate.
Current law requires that the Division of Criminal Justice should investigate all such deaths, but does not spell out a time frame.
John Szewczyk, president of the Hartford Police Union, was at the Capitol Saturday lobbying against the bill. He said there have been a few changes to the bill, but nothing that would get him to change his position.
Szewczyk said the legislation is ill-timed after what happened Saturday in London, where people were killed and dozens injured when three men rammed a vehicle into pedestrians on the London Bridge and randomly knifed others at the Borough Market
“It’s still an anti-police bill,” Szewyczk said.
However, when they were drafting the legislation, lawmakers were not thinking in terms of terrorism. They were thinking about incidents both in Connecticut and in other states where officers have killed minorities during motor vehicle stops.
They may have been thinking about Philando Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker in Minnesota who was shot with his girlfriend and daughter in the car after telling the officer he had a gun. Authorities later found that Castile had a permit to carry.
Or, closer to home, there’s the case of Jayson Negron, 15, of Bridgeport.
Last month, Negron was accused by police of being at the wheel of a stolen vehicle and nearly running over an officer before being shot and killed on Fairfield Avenue.
Negron is a related to Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, who is currently the chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.