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Connecticut Protesters Spotlight Police Shooting Of Latino Parolee

Pat Eaton Robb
Associated Press
Clergy from around the state gather in front of the state Capitol in a protest fast, calling for a special session on police reform.

Scattered among the banners reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” at Connecticut rallies against police brutality have been signs calling for “Justice for Jay.”

Jose “Jay” Soto was a 27-year-old Hispanic man shot to death by a SWAT team on April 2 as he left his mother’s home in Manchester following a standoff that began when he refused to surrender to a parole officer. His family says he was not carrying a weapon and was putting his hands in the air when he was shot.

Amid the protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Soto’s family and activists have called for more attention to his case and accountability for the officers involved.

Soto was acting erratically and had threatened to shoot anyone who tried to take him out of his house, authorities said.

Soto’s stepfather, Anthony Vazquez, said the family told police there was no gun in the house. He said that they offered to talk to Soto and take him out to police but that the officers refused. The family told authorities he had mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He’s not a murderer. He’s not bin Laden. He’s just a confused boy. That’s all,” Vazquez said. “Do you think this would have happened if he was white?”

At the time, Soto was supposed to have been living in a halfway house while on parole for a 2013 robbery. He was listed by the Department of Correction as an parole absconder in October 2019. His family said he was at home isolating with them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The standoff, which lasted several hours, began after a parole officer went to the house in Manchester and called the Capitol Region Emergency Services Team when Soto did not come out and made threats, police said.

A video from a police cruiser shows the door swinging open but did not capture the shooting. The four officers who fired shots at Soto have been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is being investigated.

In April, the prosecutor investigating the shooting, Tolland State’s Attorney Matthew Gedansky, issued a statement saying the preliminary investigation indicated that Soto “manifested an intent to emerge from the residence in a manner which rejected the negotiator’s advice to surrender peacefully.”

Bishop John Selders, founding pastor of the Amistad United Church of Christ and leader of the social justice group Moral Monday CT, said Soto’s death is part of a pattern that has seen Latinos killed by police.

“It’s important to me in a Connecticut context that people understand that black and brown folk are at risk equally,” said Selders, whose group is affiliated with the national Black Lives Matter network. “White supremacy is the overall problem, with its action arm, racism. We all get caught in that net.”

Selders and other clerics are in the second week of a fast on the grounds of Connecticut’s Capitol, demanding the governor call lawmakers into a special session to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system, putting more money into social and mental health services.

Each day, they mention Soto in their prayers, along with others killed by police. One of the issues Moral Monday wants to see addressed is the amount of time it takes to investigate such shootings.

Investigations in Connecticut have taken months or years to complete before authorities decide whether charges are warranted.

“We know that prosecutors are capable of making decisions and filing charges quickly, because they do it all the time against regular people,” said Kelly McConney Moore, the policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. “Their failure to do so against police when they commit acts of violence confirms that state’s attorneys in Connecticut are complicit in a system designed to shield police from accountability.”

Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. said there are new policies to speed up that process and require that a report be issued within 120 days of the completion of the police investigation. It’s not clear when that investigation will be finished.

Colangelo said he would support a prosecutorial unit dedicated to the investigation of such shootings but not an independent board to oversee the probes. Prosecutors, he said, have the expertise to properly examine and weigh evidence.

“I’m looking at the facts as the investigation uncovers them, applying it to the law and making a determination if I can prove a charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “I’ve prosecuted police throughout my career. I’ve found that while we play on the same field, we don’t get dressed in the same locker room.”

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