OLD SAYBROOK — Some 50 residents gathered outside Town Hall Thursday night calling for greater accountability and an apology from the Old Saybrook Police department over an alleged incident involving a local man with Down syndrome.
The protesters also demanded more accountability from the town’s Board of Police Commissioners, which they said has not been responsive to residents.
The protest was sparked by a report by a local woman, Rebecca Roy, who said some local officers treated her brother — who has Down syndrome — “aggressively” while investigating the theft of a street sign. She later filed a complaint with the police and got a statewide Down syndrome support group involved.
Mark Hand, a member of the Citizens’ Police Review of Old Saybrook, which organized the event, said the group is concerned about “the lack of transparency with the police commission and their oversight of the Department of Police Services.”
The group, which formed several months ago, organized the rally within 24 hours of the incident with the Roy family.
“Abuse of authority by the police department and the chief, as well, is just not something citizens want to sit by and watch and accept,” Hand said.
“We want to stress our pain and outrage and hope and demands for change,” he added.
Roy had alleged in a Facebook post that police came to her family’s cottage after receiving a report that a male driver had stolen a street sign. The officers “aggressively” questioned her brother, Roy alleged, adding that she told the officers he could not be the person they were seeking as he is unable to drive.
Elijah Manning, an activist who grew up in Old Saybrook, addressed the crowd and said, “The pain you feel is real. The pain that Rebecca and C.J. felt is real.” Her brother, he said, “didn’t deserve being talked to like that, neither did Rebecca.”
Earlier this week, however, police had met with Roy and had come to “a better understanding,” according to the Down Syndrome Association of Connecticut.
Originally critical of the department over the allegations, the Down Syndrome Association later praised the Roy family for speaking out but applauded the Police Department for its “swift response.” The association earlier had called for a public apology from Old Saybrook.
Members of the Roy family were not at that event.
Linda Mahal, one of the organizers, asked that the Roy family’s privacy be respected at this time. She stressed that the family requested to be left alone.
“Please allow the family to heal,” she said.
The protesters marched to the police station, chanting and demanding the police chief’s resignation.
“When they are called out to assist, they should treat people with respect, especially if they want to be respected in return,” said Laura Gray, a member of Citizens’ Police Review.
“Frankly, I don’t see this is going to be possible as long as Mike Spera is chief of police,” she added.
Police Chief Mike Spera did not return several phone calls or respond to emails regarding the protest.
First Selectman Carl Fortuna declined to comment and said he would issue a prepared statement on Friday.
When asked for specifics about the change they are seeking, Hand said it involves the relationship Spera has with the police commission.
He expressed concern that the only contact name, phone number and email address on the police commission website is that of the chief of police.
When asked if the police knew that the protesters were outside their building, Dispatcher Daniel Adams said, “obviously, yes we did.”
He added that Spera was not at the station and that, “I don’t believe we are releasing any comment or any statement.”
At the end of the rally, Hand highlighted what he would like to see happen.
“Access is the first way we will change the way we hold our elected officials accountable,” said Hand. “When they start being held accountable, I think they’re more likely to do their job.”
ShoreLine Times editor Susan Braden contributed to this story.