Beaten By Cop
Editor's Note: Sordid history of Stratford police "oversight" and lack thereof in background links at bottom. Promotion tends to follow misdeeds.
Questions remain after racial incident
Connecticut Post Online
Sun., Sept. 9, 2007
STRATFORD - During the early evening of a warm March day in 2006, the paths of Town Council Minority Leader Alvin O'Neal, Police Officer David Gugliotti and 14-year-old Titasheen Mitchell converged.
Their encounter was not a happy one. Their lives intersected when a brawl erupted in front of a row of South End businesses, triggering months of racial strife.
O'Neal and Titasheen, who are black, claimed that Gugliotti, who is white, used excessive force and shouted racial slurs while arresting them.
O'Neal said he was drawn into the melee as he was passing by and saw Gugliotti throw the teen against a car and punch her while taking her into custody. The council member then became embroiled in an argument and wound up being arrested, too.
The disturbance began outside a string of Woodend Road storefronts that included Caribbean Delights, a since-closed restaurant that was owned by the girl's mother, Marcia Mitchell-Davis. After weeks of charges and counter-charges over the incident, a July rally was organized on the Town Hall green by local and state African-American leaders.
The peaceful rally, also attended by leaders of the state NAACP, attracted a crowd of about 400 people despite threats by white supremacist groups who spread racially charged literature throughout town just before the event.
The literature even included defaced dollar bills with a call to "Kill Niggers" that were scattered on lawns throughout the South End and in front of Mitchell's restaurant.
Eighteen months later, the charged atmosphere in town has changed.
The restaurant closed in March following an insurance claim filed by Mitchell-Davis, who alleged a flood damaged the business, said Brian Shannon, the owner of the Woodend Road building that houses the stores and upstairs apartments.
He said he was seeking to have Mitchell-Davis evicted for not paying her rent and expects that to be final by Sept. 15.
"I never had any problems here before, and haven't had any since that fight a year and a half ago," Shannon said, while inspecting the storefront last week. "We are expecting a new tenant will be in by the end of the year."
The brawl, set off by a fight among a group of teen-age girls, also resulted in a 60-day paid administrative leave ordered by police officials for Gugliotti. His leave was in effect during an internal investigation by the Police Department, which determined there was not enough evidence to find the officer guilty of violating any departmental policies.
After their arrests the subsequent court fights by O'Neal and Titasheen dragged on. And Gugliotti filed an intent to sue notice against the town, claiming he and his family suffered both financially and emotionally while placed on leave in violation of the police union's collective-bargaining contract.
Recently, the last of the two criminal cases was concluded.
The charges against Titasheen Mitchell, which included interfering with a police officer, were dropped this summer in exchange for her family agreeing not to sue the town, according to Mitchell-Davis and sources close to the case. The case was adjudicated July 17 at Juvenile Court in Bridgeport, they said, although their statements could not be independently confirmed since juvenile records are sealed under state law.
O'Neal, who was charged with breach of the peace and interfering with police, in January had pleaded no contest to a single count of creating a public disturbance and paid a $50 fine.
About the apparent outcome of her daughter's case, Mitchell-Davis said in a recent voice mail message to the Connecticut Post, "I am happy to report the charges are dropped against Titasheen on the grounds that I don't sue the town.
"I feel that's a small sacrifice to make," she said, adding that her daughter also passed a state administered lie-detector test.
While FBI officials have declined comment on the outcome of their investigation, FBI spokesman Ron Barndollar said earlier this year Titasheen had been interviewed, along with other witnesses. O'Neal said he was among those interviewed by the FBI.
While repeated attempts to reach Mitchell-Davis directly were unsuccessful, sources close to the case confirm the deal with prosecutors was made and that the charges against the teen were dropped.
"I cannot confirm nor deny anything that occurred in a Juvenile Court proceeding," said Titasheen's lawyer, Richard Meehan. "Only her mother or legal guardian can agree to release that information."
However, Gugliotti's lawyer, Clayton Quinn, disputed claims the charges were dropped.
"To the best of my knowledge, that is not accurate," Quinn said. "I don't believe the charges were dropped against Ms. Mitchell. All I know is that my client was advised his attendance was not needed at the court proceeding involving her."
Meanwhile, Quinn said that plans to sue the town on behalf of Gugliotti are moving forward, though he would not be specific about a date. But in the notice of intent to sue, lawyers for Gugliotti maintain they will seek unspecified damages against the town for "failing to give Gugliotti hearings to determine just cause or any cause to continue his discipline within 10 days,'' in accordance with the police union contract.
The lawsuit notice also maintains Mayor James R. Miron tried to influence the outcome against Gugliotti.
The town also allowed Gugliotti to be "publicly ridiculed by improperly releasing certain information purportedly from the personnel files'' of the officer, involving previous disciplinary actions against him by the Police Department, the officer's lawyers say. Because of the discipline, the lawsuit notice contends, "Gugliotti and [his wife] Karen Gugliotti have suffered headaches, insomnia, stress-related vertigo, weight gain, anxiety, nervousness and damage to their careers and reputations."
Gugliotti, who last year was promoted to the rank of detective, did not return calls seeking comment.
O'Neal said he agrees that charges against Titasheen should have been dropped.
"I have said all along [Titasheen] was mistreated and manhandled by a police officer during her arrest," O'Neal said. "I am very pleased the charges were dropped against her and believe that with new Police Chief John Buturla taking a pro-active community policing approach that we are moving forward to end racial tensions and, hopefully, police brutality in Stratford."
The Rev. Johnny Gamble, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church of Stratford, who helped organize the Town Hall green rally in July 2006 and serves on the Mayor's Citizen's Committee that was established, in part, to improve local race relations, said he is also "very pleased" with the outcome Titasheen's case.
"In the end justice prevailed because she is not the type of person to have done what police were charging her with," Gamble said. The minister also said he believes racial tensions are improving in town "little by little.
"It's not something that can happen overnight, it's going to take time," Gamble said. "But I have spoken to the new police chief and believe we are making progress with the revival of community policing, and the 'Conversations on Race' discussions we have been having in town."
Miron implemented cultural diversity and sensitivity training for all 500 town employees last year as a result of racial tensions sparked by the O'Neal-Mitchell arrests, despite opposition by the police union and some town employees who believed the extent of the problem was exaggerated.
The mayor said he believes the town is still healing from the brawl and ensuing controversy, and that he has done "everything in my power to help that process along."
Regarding Mitchell's case, Miron said, "Every day prosecutors make decisions they believe are in the best interests of justice, and in this case, they have apparently made a decision they believe is in the best interests of justice."