HARTFORD — The same day legislators were asked to consider changing laws regarding the use of deadly force by police, the new Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force heard from a man who said an officer laughed at him as he was Tasered five times.
“I was in a fetal position and he tased me five times and laughed while I screamed,” said Daryl McGraw, chairman of the task force. “It would be wrong of me to sit here and not try and fix that stuff.”
McGraw, who had his run-ins with law enforcement, is chairing the task force charged with providing recommendations to the legislature on more police accountability and transparency when deadly force is used by officers.
Other task force members include state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella, Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, retired New Haven Police Sergeant Shafiq Abdussabur, and Wallingford Police Chief William Wright.
The law creating the task force was passed on the last day of the 2019 legislative session after two police-involved shootings that left one man dead in Wethersfield, and a woman injured in New Haven.
The task force was supposed to start meeting in 2019 and have a report ready on Jan. 1 on issues regarding police accountability, particularly on how officers deal with those with a physical or intellectual disability.
But appointing task force members took longer than expected, legislative leaders said. Since Jan. 2, three men have been killed by police in three separate incidents, including Mubarak Soulemane, a 19-year-old struggling with schizophrenia.
The task force held their first meeting Thursday – the same day Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, issued a statement asking the Judiciary Committee to review the state law regarding when an officer is justified in using deadly force.
“The unfortunate death of Mubarak Soulemane reveals exactly why the law needs attention and examination,” Looney said. “Although I am eager to review the State’s Attorney’s report once the investigation is complete, having viewed the body cam footage released to the public, it is immensely disturbing that a person sitting in the driver’s seat with the windows closed, surrounded by officers with guns drawn, was shot in the manner he was.”
Looney said the videos indicated that there was no “imminent” threat to the officers or bystanders when the officer used deadly forced. “A teenager is now dead, his family has suffered a great loss and trauma, and the question many of us are asking, as we have after so many incidents, is why?” Looney said.
The senator is asking Judiciary Committee Chairs Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, and Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, to examine current law “to ensure police are held accountable when force is not justified,” and make sure “our laws permitting use of force are not unnecessarily broad, and that police are trained to avoid actions that increase the likelihood deadly force will be used, whether justified or not.”
Out of more than 72 deadly use of force investigations that have taken place in Connecticut since 2001, only one officer has been charged. That officer was later acquitted after a trial. The Hamden officer who shot a woman in New Haven in April while investigating what he believed to be a robbery attempt was also charged. That case is pending.
McGraw, who now works for Central Connecticut State University’s Children of Incarcerated Parents initiative, opined that he wants the group to examine use of force incidents.
“People are dying in their interactions with police,” he said. “If you pull your weapon and use it, you should do it for the right reasons, not because they are black or brown or you were scared.”
The use of force is never a pretty sight, Mello said. “Force is ugly, it never looks good,” he added. “It’s important that the discussion includes the perspective of a police officer.”
That’s when McGraw told the story of his arrest and how he ended up at the hospital to have Taser prongs removed from his back.
The group discussed the possibility of having more Connecticut police departments attain accreditation from the state or from the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Only 16 or 17 departments in Connecticut are nationally accredited which includes rigorous policy and keeping standards. Between 40 and 50 departments in Connecticut have received state accreditation, which also requires rigorous standards.
Changing standards for how police deal with incidents isn’t going to be easy, Abdussabur said.
“We were taught to get that gun out of the holster without even thinking about it, it’s muscle memory,” he said. “You can’t change that overnight.”