Political Challengers React To Police Accountability Bill Passage
As a summer special session of the Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up this week, three individuals challenging incumbent members of the Newtown legislative delegation offered their input regarding arguably the most high profile and controversial outcomes — the passage of police accountability legislation by both the House and Senate along party lines.
With its 21-15 passage in the state senate early Wednesday, July 29, after approximately ten hours of debate, every Republican in the Senate voted against the bill. Some denounced it as “anti-police” while others were milder and called it well-intended but rushed, flawed, and in need of revision.
A half-dozen Democrats expressed reservations about various provisions of the bill during the debate that stretched past 3:50 am, but only one — Sen Joan Hartley of Waterbury — joined the GOP in opposing passage in a special session. The anger behind the demands for reform was authentic, and the need to act was palpable, Democrats said.
While 28th District Republican Senator Tony Hwang, who represents Newtown as part of the local delegation, voted No on the bill along with GOP colleagues Mitch Bolinsky (R-106), and JP Sredzinski (R-112), Democrat Raghib Allie-Brennan (D-2) supported the bill in last week’s special session House vote (see their reactions in a separate story in today’s print edition of The Newtown Bee).
Hwang’s challenger Michelle McCabe reacted to the statehouse action saying, “The police reform bill takes overdue but measured steps forward towards creating safer communities for all, including our Black and brown neighbors and our police officers.”
“[Its passage] is the result of weeks of discussion prior to this historic moment, and of compromises that included many changes proposed by municipalities and law enforcement,” McCabe added. “I’m looking forward to working with our towns and police officers to implement these reforms safely and responsibly after I’m elected.”
Former 2nd District Rep Dan Carter, who is challenging Allie-Brennan to try and regain the seat, was pointed in his reaction, urging Governor Lamont to veto the bill.
“In the next regular session, we should address these issues with the full attention of the public and the press, not in the dead of night during a pandemic,” Carter said.
Based On Assumptions
He also took issue with Allie-Brennan’s support of the bill.
“Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan condemned police officers across Connecticut this morning and has put our safety and the safety of police officers in jeopardy,” Carter said. The challenger observed that the Police Accountability Bill was aimed in part to get rid of the “bad apples” and “bad actors” in law enforcement.
“The truth is, the legislation is based on the assumption that all police are bad actors. Allie-Brennan’s vote for the bill unfairly punishes our local police and will make it harder for them to protect our communities,” Carter asserted.
Sharing sentiments echoed by GOP colleagues that if sued because protections afforded under current qualified immunity status are stripped, Carter added, “Unless an officer is convicted of doing something malicious, wanton, or willful, the municipality is on the hook for all the legal fees and damages, which means the local taxpayer suffers too.
“This legislation attempts to stop bad actors by defining situations where officers can use force and then hold people accountable for mistakes,” Carter said. “The fact is that the majority of police officers are good actors and creating more complexity introduces more ambiguity, and forces police to second guess themselves, which puts them, and us, at risk. I would encourage people to talk to police officers in their communities about what they face.”
Instead, Carter countered that “Police officers who break the law must be prosecuted, but we must be focused on weeding out the bad apples, not destroying the orchard. This legislation only perpetuates the view that all police are the problem, not a few bad actors.”
'Hard Bipartisan Work'
Newtown resident and Bolinsky’s challenger in the 106th District, Rebekah Harriman-Stites said she is “very supportive of our police officers — the work they do is selfless and hard. The passing of the Police Accountability Bill during this special session helps our police officers who serve the public dutifully.”
Harriman-Stites recognized that “this bill is the reflection of many weeks of hard bipartisan work. While the final votes may not reflect that, this was a bill built bipartisan in the Judiciary Committee up in Hartford.”
“With the passing of this bill, we now encourage more minority recruitment in police departments,” Harriman-Stites said, adding that the bill “also provides increased police officer mental healthcare... greater public review, greater police accountability, choke holds are now banned, and much more.”
Regarding qualified immunity, the local statehouse challenger pointed out that “officers who break the law by committing murder, abuse their power, or engage in misconduct are no longer shielded. As well, this is not an opening to make municipalities liable to frivolous lawsuits. A judge needs to determine that an officer has not acted in good faith. The judge’s determination cannot be appealed, which eliminates nuisance/frivolous suits.”
Harriman-Stites concluded, “This was a difficult decision by those who voted Yes for the police accountability bill. They showed real strength and leadership. If I had been the State Representative for the 106th, I would have voted Yes for the Police Accountability Bill myself. Our community deserves the best efforts in Hartford.”
Connecticut Mirror content by Mark Pazniokis was used in this report.