Bridgeport settles lawsuit over family’s arrest
BRIDGEPORT — Nearly six years after police officers arrested a black family of five at their East Side home, used a Taser to stun the father and forced their way into the house, the City Council has settled a federal lawsuit filed by the Jennings clan.
Jury selection had been scheduled for Wednesday in the Jennings case. But on Monday night the council voted to instead pay the family — parents Horace and Margaret and sons Bernard, Dennis and Eric — $35,000.
The family, according to city sources, had sought $600,000 for claims that included false arrest, excessive force, battery, unlawful entry into a home and property damage, and fabrication of evidence.
The city had initially sought to have the charges dismissed. The main officers involved — John Carrano and David Rivera — were cleared in 2014 of wrongdoing following a probe by Bridgeport’s Office of Internal Affairs.
The City Attorney’s Office could not immediately comment Tuesday on the settlement. But a memorandum to the council had stated “it is our professional opinion that resolving this matter ... is in the best interests of the city.”
According to the judge’s February ruling which allowed much of the lawsuit to proceed, the Jennings’ filed their case following “an apparently fast-moving, chaotic situation” that occurred between the family and a handful of cops around 8:30 p.m. Jan. 23, 2013, outside and inside the Jennings’ home on Pleasant and Stillman streets.
It began when Carrano and Rivera, who were patrolling the neighborhood, stopped their car on the Stillman Street side of the Jennings’ house when they saw Eric and Dennis standing on the sidewalk.
The city, according to the February ruling, claimed there had been robberies, burglaries and narcotics activity in the neighborhood and that the sidewalk was “a busier area with regard to people walking to and from a nearby corner convenience store.”
The court document states that the officers “requested that the brothers move onto their property” inside a chain link fence and the Jennings claimed Rivera “instead immediately began ‘yelling commands with expletives,’”
“Dennis responded, ‘Why? We’re not doing anything,’” according to the court document. “Eric stated that the police were always ‘harassing (the Jennings)’ and made a hand gesture at Rivera.”
The cops tried to arrest Dennis. Eric went inside the home while Horace, Margaret and Bernard came out. And Horace was Tased twice by an officer later identified as Sgt. Sean Lynch who had responded to a call from Carrano and Rivera for backup.
The family claimed Horace was stunned while complying with orders to return to his property. Horace alleged that one of the officers yelled “take that (racist term) down.”
The city claimed Horace had “grabbed” Officer Rivera.
Margaret was hand-cuffed for, allegedly, disobeying police orders and “going through Horaces’ pockets and removing items as the defendants were taking him to an ambulance.” Margaret said Rivera asked her to check her husband’s pockets for keys for the police to enter the house.
Rivera and Carrano alleged that Eric, who owned a firearm, threatened them from a first floor window, stating: “I’m going to kill both of you. You both are (expletive) dead. I’m going to light you guys up.”
At that point Lynch, according to the February ruling, “authorized officers to force entry into the home” and Eric and Bernard complied with orders to come downstairs.
“Carrano claims that he ‘observed a loaded firearm on top of a stereo speaker in plain view in a second floor bedroom,’” reads the court document. “The Jennings claim that the gun was not in plain sight, and, instead, the officers kicked down Eric’s and Bernard’s bedroom doors, which had been locked.”
Sgt. William Simpson also responded to the scene.
Ultimately, Horace and Eric Jennings pleaded no contest to charges of second degree breach of peace. Prosecutors declined to pursue similar charges against Margaret, Bernard and Dennis.
The Jennings had subsequently filed excessive force complaints with Bridgeport’s Office of Internal Affairs against Carrano and Rivera. In April 2014, the officers were exonerated following an investigation.
Internal Affairs found “there were no independent witnesses to the incident, and all police officers’ versions of the incident were consistent with the account of events as noted by Officer Rivera and Officer Carrano. ... Officer Rivera and Officer Carrano established probable cause to effect an arrest for interfering with an officer and breach of peace.”
Rivera in his statement to Internal Affairs said there had been complaints of drug activity involving the family’s home. He had also said he feared for his safety “because most of the (Jennings) family involved were six feet or taller and between 230 to 250 pounds.”
In an interview after the internal probe was concluded, Bernard Jennings told Hearst Connecticut Media that the family “figured (filing the Internal Affairs complaint) wasn’t going to make a difference.”
The Jennings’ attorney, Sally Roberts of New Britain, could not be reached for comment for this story.
City Councilman Ernest Newton, who is black, in a brief interview Tuesday called the incident involving the Jennings “a tragedy, a real sad situation.”
“I’m just hoping we can begin to do training on deescalating situations, talking to people,” Newton said. “I think police officers have a higher bar because they are the professionals. We’ve got to learn how to talk to people ... so these kind of things don’t happen.”
Another council member, Kyle Langan, who is white and who has been calling for better training and more policing reforms, did not want to talk specifically about the Jennings’ settlement. But, Langan noted, one difference between 2013 and now is that the police department has moved forward with equipping officers with uniform cameras.
Langan said he “looks to the leadership” of Chief Armando Perez to try to avoid future such incidents. Perez has been acting chief since March 2016 and was recently named permanent chief by Mayor Joe Ganim. Perez’s five-year contract must be voted on by the council.