Mayor joins councilman in battle with police dept.
Miron: O'Neal, teenager's mother targeted
RICHARD WEIZEL firstname.lastname@example.org
STRATFORD — Four days before a rally to protest local racism and police brutality, tensions mounted Tuesday as Town Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, and Mayor James R. Miron accused officers of targeting O'Neal and the mother of a teenage girl who filed complaints against the department.
Both O'Neal and Marcia Mitchell-Davis, who are black, said police harassed them Monday with "highly inappropriate" actions aiming to intimidate them before the noon Saturday rally planned at Town Hall.
The latest allegations against police prompted O'Neal's attorney, Wayne Keeney, to call for an FBI investigation of Stratford police, contending they have systematically harassed and intimidated O'Neal.
"The officers of the Stratford Police Department should read the U.S. Constitution, which they are sworn to uphold," said Keeney, who with Gary Mastronardi and Charles Kurmay, represents O'Neal.
The 50-year-old council member is charged with breach of peace and interfering with police. He is accused of trying to intercede during a March 21 melee when Officer David Gugliotti arrested 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell outside the South End restaurant owned by Mitchell's mother.
Miron on Tuesday denounced police for "going over the line" in the Monday incidents involving both O'Neal and Mitchell-Davis.
"I cannot tolerate police officers taking it upon themselves to take actions that have only inflamed tensions in town," Miron said. "You can be certain it won't happen again." Mitchell-Davis, who owns Caribbean Delights Restaurant at 17 Woodend Road, said police on Monday afternoon ordered her to take down three 2-foot-high, stand-alone metal signs in front of her business.
One sign demands "Justice" for Titasheen.
When she refused, "they just took them down," she said. Mitchell-Davis said she later contacted zoning officials to see if the signs violated regulations, and put them back up.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Gary Lorentson said Tuesday during his 22 years in Stratford he doesn't recall police ever removing signs from the front of a business.
"We have an ordinance prohibiting temporary signs in front of business establishments, but the process has always been for our zoning-enforcement officer to advise the merchant of the violation," said Lorentson. "In this case, we didn't even have a complaint."
"This is police harassment," said Mitchell-Davis, who had previously filed a complaint with the FBI over the March 21 incident.
FBI officials confirmed Tuesday they have conducted an interview with Titasheen Mitchell and are still interviewing witnesses before making a decision on whether to launch a full investigation of the melee and ensuing arrests.
"Where are we, in Alabama in 1956? We will be asking the U.S. attorney to intervene in the running of the Stratford Police Department if the mayor can't bring them in line," Keeney said.
Police Capt. Harvey Maxwell said Tuesday Officer Evan Sarris did remove the signs in front of Caribbean Delights.
"The officer felt it was a violation of zoning statutes, but normally zoning laws are handled by zoning officials," Maxwell said. "I have advised the officer it would have been better for zoning officials to handle this."
Meanwhile, O'Neal angrily lashed out at the 100-member Stratford Police Union for making "false road-rage accusations" against him at a Town Council meeting Monday night and demanding he be removed from the council.
"I don't know what they [police] are talking about. There was never any road-rage incident," O'Neal insisted. "In the report the man says I was in a car, and I don't even own a car. I drive a different kind of vehicle."
John Tabak, 84, of Flora Drive, made the complaint last Thursday, but declined to confirm or deny the May 1 incident when reached by phone Monday, hanging up on a reporter.
"I told police it didn't happen, and they haven't taken action to arrest me, but the union still handed out a copy of the complaint during the council meeting," said O'Neal.
Police Union President Shawn Farmer demanded the council remove O'Neal for "grossly and repeatedly violating the Town Charter" by interfering with police during the March brawl, and for the alleged road-rage complaint.
Farmer said despite police officials' exoneration of Gugliotti after an internal affairs investigation, "the officer was placed on administrative leave for 78 days while O'Neal has gotten away scot-free."
O'Neal, who was arrested when he said he stepped in after seeing Gugliotti allegedly slam the girl into a car and punch her, is battling the charges in court.
Jury selection for his trial initially had been scheduled for Monday. However, it was delayed when he hired additional legal help.
Another Superior Court hearing in the O'Neal case is set Tuesday on a defense motion to get Gugliotti's disciplinary record. Keeney said the defense has received incomplete documents, and contends a complete record includes several suspensions of the officer and an allegation of falsifying police reports.
The teen's case is in Juvenile Court, where the proceedings are not public.
Staff writer Daniel Tepfer contributed to this report.