Policing the police: one mother speaks out
BY BENITA SINGHAlmost four years ago, East Haven Police Officer Robert Flodquist fatally shot East Haven resident Malik E. Jones. After a local and federal investigation, Flodquist was exonerated of all charges, but the incident's aftermath remains far from resolved.
In the wake of the shooting, Emma Jones, Malik's mother, created the Malik organization, devoted to creating a civilian review of police action in New Haven. With the help of Yale law students, Ward 3 Alderman Anthony Dawson, and attorney Reginald Boddie of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, Jones wrote a proposal, "A Response to Police Brutality: An All-Civilian Complaint Review Board." Jones and supporters envision a board that will investigate alleged police misconduct. Among her plans, Jones and the Malik organization propose that the board have subpoena power and remain independent of the police departmenttwo ideas that have brought Jones' proposal to a standstill in recent weeks.
Crossing the divide
Jones presented a revised proposal of the civilian review board at an aldermanic meeting on Mon., Jan. 22. Describing the meeting as "constructive," Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez, CC '99, said, "I think we'll get to consensus very soon."
At the meeting, Dawson and Jones gave a joint proposal, naming suggested members for their proposed board. Jones cited a report by the Human Rights Watch stating that police brutality and outrageous abuse of power by police is the single and most divisive issue confronting America today. In a voice that echoed through the chambers, Jones cried out, "We close our eyes and don't hear what they have to say," and began crying. When she regained composure she continued her statement: "And there is no effective mechanism holding [police] accountable for their actions."
The Malik organization's proposed board precludes officers from serving as members or as investigators. "The exclusion of police from the board," according to Jones' proposal, "is a first and necessary step toward restoring public confidence in the police department and in the justice department."
Another key aspect of Jones' proposal is the issue of subpoena power. Jones and her advocates believe it is essential for the board to have the power to subpoena both police officers and witnesses to testify against those alleged to have engaged in misconduct. Finally, the proposal requests the authority to make recommendations of discipline.
Beating the system
But it is the issue of subpoena power that has been the biggest obstacle for Jones and the realization of her proposal. Not only is she faced with local opposition to such a grant of power, but as James Horan, executive assistant to Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., said, achieving such a goal would require "a change in legislation at the state level." By Connecticut law, a municipality cannot create a body that has subpoena power.
Furthermore, granting an independent body subpoena power poses potential labor complications, as it necessitates testimony from unionized workers. Officer Lou Cavalier, president of the police union, expressed his discontent about such a proposal of subpoena power. "The biggest problem here is that we're not going to allow our officers to incriminate themselves," he said. "As a union president I totally disagree with a board made up of civilians who can't wait to get a rope around a cop's neck." Pointing to the record of New Haven cops, Cavalier stated, "Someone like Emma Jones went to the FBI with the Flodquist incident and concluded that they're going to get the results they want, not what the evidence supports."
Horan reiterated Cavalier's concern, pointing to the impeccable record of New Haven cops. "None of the incidents have involved New Haven police," Horan said. Malik Jones was shot in East Haven.
In response to such complications, Horan represented the city when he wrote a revised proposal for civilian review. Yet to be confirmed, the city's proposal is based on the "audit model" implemented in Portland, Ore. Emphasizing the education of civilians, Horan's proposal would allow effective and accessible ways for civilians to file complaints. This effort includes the creation of a new police website. The city's proposed board consists primarily of civilians who represent all constituents of the New Haven communityone spot would be reserved for a Police Local 530 member.
The issue of subpoena power is one that resonates throughout the civilian board process. Gonzalez stated that the aldermanic leaders and activists are "in support of having subpoena power, but it is going to be a long-term fight." Jones maintains hope for a board with subpoena power. "State officials are very much in support of what I'm doing," Jones said in an interview. Yet the New Haven Register reported on Mon., Feb. 5, that the proposal of civilian review boards with subpoena power "will be a tough sell this year at the General Assembly." Jones and the Malik organization still assert that the institution of an interim board lacking subpoena power would sacrifice everything that they are fighting for. "We should not compromise our principles," Jones said.
An indecent proposal?
The question of how the Yale Police Department would be subject to civilian review remains unclear. When Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce alexander and University President Richard Levin, GRD '74, were asked about the possible impact of Jones' proposed board on the Yale Police, neither was aware of whether any review of Yale police by a New Haven board could take place.
Donya Khalili, SM '02, is under the impression that a New Haven civilian review board would have the power to review Yale police. After taking "New Haven and the Problem of Change in the American City" last semester, Khalili worked with city officials and wrote her own proposal for civilian review at the end of the semester. Khalili was invited to present her proposal at the aldermanic meeting held on Mon., Jan. 22. The same day, the Yale Daily News published an op-ed by Khalili, in which she maintained that "the Yale Police Department will be affected by this board, and it is important the college community be involved in its design and decision making." When asked to comment on the apparent confusion surrounding the issue, Khalili said, "I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Yale Police would not be under the jurisdiction of this board."
The issue of Yale police being subject to review comes in the wake of mounting concern about the actions of the department. Throughout the year, New Haven's homeless have brought forth complaints of alleged harassment by Yale University Police. Annette Walton, the "flower lady," was charged with disorderly conduct by Yale police this past summer. In response, a group of homeless individuals and Yale students have formed Respect Line, a homeless empowerment group. Under the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, the group spent the first semester raising awareness of alleged harassment of New Haven's homeless by Yale police, trying to combat the problem.
When asked what influence her proposal would have over Yale police, Jones responded, "I'm not sure legally what that would mean. [Yale Police] have a separate jurisdiction." But Jones expressed deep interest in working with Respect Line, saying, "It would be shameful if we didn't make things happen for them as well."
Jones and Dawson have stated that they are ready to present another revised proposal on Tues., Feb. 13 at City Hall.
And after four years of politics, Jones continues her fight for a civilian review board. "You have to wait forever for justice," Jones reflected. "And you never know when it's coming."
All materials © 2000 The Yale Herald, Inc., and its staff.
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