No one in Connecticut needs to look all the way to Minneapolis to find a reason to protest police misconduct as hundreds of Connecticut residents, elected officials, and clergy members did by protesting last weekend. Protesting about Minneapolis may have made them feel righteous, but they would have been far more useful if they had paid attention to and protested what lately has happened at home.
In January a state trooper shot and killed a mentally ill black man, Mubarak Soulemane, 19, as he sat in a stopped car with the doors closed and windows rolled up after a chase that ended in West Haven. Soulemane had hijacked the car at knifepoint in Norwalk and is no martyr. But from police video of the incident it is impossible to perceive any justification for the shooting, impossible to see how Soulemane posed a threat at the moment he was killed. The shooting may be explained only by the trooper’s panic and rage. A prosecutor is investigating, but four months have passed and he should hurry up.
And three weeks ago another state trooper was recorded on video shouting at, cursing, threatening, handcuffing, and destroying the possessions of a motorist he had stopped in New Haven before letting him go without even a ticket. The tirade may be explained only by the trooper’s overwork and general life frustrations. The state police are investigating that one, though a prosecutor should as well.
The Connecticut people who protested last weekend about the Minneapolis case should be more concerned about these local cases, because while nowhere in the country is it official policy for police to murder or otherwise abuse black people or anyone else, in Connecticut it is official policy to conceal complaints of police misconduct.
Ordinarily government personnel files are public records under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act. But the state has another law that authorizes state employee union contracts to supersede — nullify — the FOI law. The supersedence law signifies state government’s subservience to its unions, and the state police department and the trooper union have conspired in their current contract to prohibit public access to records of complaints against troopers that have not been verified by supervisors, thus hindering public review of potential misconduct.
So if documents in a trooper’s file show he repeatedly has been accused of misconduct by the public but his supervisors have whitewashed it, those documents cannot be released — and the history of Connecticut’s state police is full of cover-ups, including the concealment of the murder by troopers of two unarmed burglars in Norwich in 1969.
The trooper union contract’s concealment provision makes special hypocrites of the Democratic state senators who held their own rally against police brutality last weekend, including Senate President Martin Looney of New Haven, Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk, Gary Winfield of New Haven, Julie Kushner of Danbury, Saud Anwar of South Windsor, and Douglas McCrory of Hartford.
If those legislators really cared about police misconduct, they could move to repeal the supersedence law and insist that the state police department and the trooper union remove the concealment provision from their contract. So could Governor Lamont, a Democrat whose administration devised and approved the contract and who last weekend did his own deploring of Minneapolis.
But do any Democratic officials in Connecticut think that stopping police misconduct here is worth the political risk of alienating a government employee union?