The winners have been selected! Fifteen of your neighbors in the community will be honored with a Beacon Award on Nov. 17 at WoodWinds. Join the celebration.
FOIC to Review Bodycam Footage Release Request in Old Saybrook Incident
On Oct. 15 the State’s Freedom of Information Commission will hold a hearing about body cam footage of Old Saybrook Police officers (OSPD) interrogating a man with Down syndrome, who was wrongfully accused of stealing a street sign last year, to determine whether it should be made public.
Almost exactly a year ago, OSPD officers including Chief of Police Michael A. Spera questioned a man with Down syndrome and his family over a stolen street sign. The way the police treated the man, who was innocent, angered the family and many in the community after a Facebook post by the man’s sister describing the ordeal went viral.
Dispatch and body cam records from the incident were requested almost immediately, but the OSPD declined to make the footage available.
In response to complaints made by Old Saybrook Police Commissioner Alfred “Chub” Wilcox along with several news outlets, the state’s Freedom of Information Commission will decide if the requested footage must be made public.
Under the 1975 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the public has a right to access public records and meetings of public agencies. In the event that a person believes the information being sought is wrongfully denied to them, a FOIA complaint can be made and a state’s commission will have a hearing to determine whether the requested information must be released or if it should remain protected.
Wilcox told the Harbor News that he expects it will still be a long process before a decision is made.
On Oct. 10, 2020 OSPD received a complaint about a male stealing a street sign and driving away in a car with Rhode Island plates. Rebecca Roy, her mother Colleen, and brother CJ, were about to have lunch outside their summer cottage when a police car pulled up.
CJ Roy, who has Down syndrome, was said to look similar to the person alleged to have stolen the sign, but as Rebecca Roy noted in her Facebook post, CJ Roy “is not capable of moving deftly enough to steal a street sign, nor does he have any motive to do so.” Furthermore, the Roys’ car has Maine license plates, not Rhode Island plates like the complaint had described.
Eventually three other police officers, including Spera, showed up at the Roy’s house to question CJ Roy. For nearly 45 minutes in total, the officers questioned the family and, as Rebecca Roy wrote, “They aggressively questioned my brother, who is clearly developmentally delayed, with no regard for his handicap or assumption of his innocence.”
Eventually the police left after information on the make and model of the thief’s car came in that was different than the Roys’ car.
In OSPD radio communications that the Harbor News obtained last year, the only piece of information about which the witness was definitive was that the car the perpetrator got into had Rhode Island plates. This information was relayed to police, but during the time spent interrogating CJ, Rebecca Roy wrote that Spera asked her, “‘How many Honda CR-Vs do you think are driving around Old Saybrook with Maine plates?’”
Rebecca Roy wrote a Facebook post about the incident that went viral with people across the country offering support for the Roy family and ire for the OSPD. People became upset at the way the department handled a suspect who had a mental handicap, the way the police questioned someone who was innocent, the lack of apology when the mistake was discovered, and what some feel was an overzealous response to a minor incident.
Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl P. Fortuna apologized to the Roy family on behalf of the town after the incident. Spera and two other officers met with the family after the incident, but did not release a public apology.
“We appreciate their willingness to have a conversation with us and are relieved to report that CJ left the meeting with a stronger sense of security and safety,” Rebecca Roy said at the time.
Clear the Record
Wilcox said that he has been seeking the requested information so that the commission can make a thorough examination of the incident through primary records instead of second-hand accounts.
Wilcox said that it’s entirely possible that the footage could show that OSPD acted responsibly. However, if the footage shows mistakes were made or the officers acted inappropriately, Wilcox said the incident deserves to be further examined.
“I don’t know until we see it,” said Wilcox.
Wilcox, a Democrat, is seeking re-election to the town’s police commission in the November elections.