Tensions simmer in Stratford
RICHARD WEIZEL firstname.lastname@example.org
STRATFORD — Even a simple meeting to introduce the Police Department's new community policing patrol in the South End brought controversy Wednesday, with several residents blasting the moderator, Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, for trying "to censor" their comments.
The meeting was held in the Birdseye Municipal Complex. It was O'Neal's involvement in a March 21 melee in front of a group of Woodend Road storefronts that led to a recent anti-racism rally that drew nearly 400 people to the Town Hall green, and to revival of the community policing unit.
The brawl included the arrest of 15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell and O'Neal, both black, who alleged police brutality by Officer David Gugliotti, who is white.
Gugliotti was exonerated after a 60-day internal affairs investigation by the Police Department found a lack of "substantial" evidence that the officer used excessive force during the arrests.
Police had responded to a fight between two other teenage girls.
On Wednesday, Stratford Police Sgt. Orlando Soto and Officer Ulysses Munoz made a presentation to about 30 community leaders and residents in the South End about the department's revived community-policing effort. "We believe we are making a difference since we started a few weeks ago and hope to gain the trust of the community," Soto said. "We're out there on bikes, walking the streets and in patrol cars. We want people to get to know us and come to rely on us to also take part in things like community cleanups."
Soto said the patrol has already helped to make Woodend Park safe again for children by arresting drug dealers and chasing away gang members.
"It's a park that was not being used by children, and we set out to make it a place for kids again," Soto said. Several residents said they were pleased with the unit, and praised Soto and other officers for helping clean up Woodend Park.
"I couldn't bring my children there; now I feel I can," said Cheryl Butler, a Gregory Circle resident who credited the unit for helping to cut down on "late-night gatherings" by men and teenage boys near her apartment complex.
But when several residents tried to speak out as to why Police Chief Michael Imbro said during last month's community meeting that officers in the 100-member department did not want to patrol the South End, O'Neal jumped to his feet to stop them.
"I just want to know why these officers want to be here when their own chief said no officers would come to the South End," said Marion Perreira, who has lived in the community for 57 years.
"This is not the time or place to be talking about negative things," O'Neal said. "This meeting is just to introduce the community policing officers, and keep things positive."
When Marcia Mitchell-Davis, Titasheen's mother, said the community "should not be discouraged by Chief Imbro's comments," O'Neal interrupted her.
"Again, we are not here to talk about that," O'Neal said sharply. Some residents blasted O'Neal for "being rude."
"Be mindful of how you speak to us," Camille Powell-Rivera told O'Neal. "I don't like how you just spoke to her [Mitchell-Davis], and I don't like your tone. We have a right to speak out."
Perreira said afterward, "I don't know why he was trying to stop people from talking about important issues."