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Protesters launch weeklong protest in New Haven, speaking out against wrongful convictions

Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public

A weeklong protest designed to raise awareness about wrongful convictions in New Haven is underway. The ACLU, NAACP, Yale Law School and criminal justice reform advocates say there needs to be accountability. They are protesting outside of the Department of Justice location in New Haven and the New Haven Police Department.

Gaylord Salters, who was once wrongfully convicted of a shooting, came out to join the protest. Salters is now advocating for other wrongfully convicted people in Connecticut’s prison system.

He said it’s time for the government to step in.

“We are seeking a Department of Justice investigation into this pattern in practice of police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct between New Haven's State's Attorney's Office and New Haven's police officers,” Salters said.

He said out of the 31 exonerations in the state, 15 come from New Haven.

Salters and many others believe not enough has been done to lower that number. However, he said he was heartened by his recent interaction with Vanessa Avery, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. Salters said Avery was sympathetic to his cause.

“She was so receptive, and also the good thing about her, she's a woman of color. And she comes from Newhallville,” he said.

Salters said many of the wrongful convictions span three decades, starting in the 1980s into the early 2000s. The Yale Investigative Reporting Lab, which has previously reported on Salters, reported many criminal cases in New Haven were obtained through questionable police interrogation and investigation procedures.

Salters didn’t name the prosecutors responsible for convicting him and said that’s by design.

He names them by a corresponding number because naming them would be antagonistic and he wants to work towards a solution.

“I can't come out here and just start screaming everything then I'll get all kinds of people coming through with frivolous claims and watering down something that truly needs a resolution,” he said.

Darcus Henry, another protester, wore a white t-shirt with the words, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” printed on the top left side.Henry was convicted in 1999 for two murders. He was sentenced to 100 years in prison based on the testimony of a man who wanted to avoid facing a gun charge.

But he was innocent and had his conviction overturned in 2013.

Henry was paid $4.2 million as a result. He says the money is a small comfort for what he lostn. His mother and grandmother died while he was in prison.

He was practically a stranger to his own children when he was released.

“My kids grew up without me, they didn't know me. So it's a struggle to try to get them to know who you are,” he said.

Another protestor, Gus Marks-Hamilton, said people need to know about the role prosecutors have in sending people to prison.

“Prosecutors play a very influential role in how people end up being incarcerated here in the state of Connecticut. And we need more transparency and accountability for that role.”

Marks-Hamilton said the outsized role that prosecutors play, continues even after someone is released from prison. He said prosecutors are influential in the pardoning process as well. But there’s so much nuance and information that it would be virtually impossible to boil the issue down to one day of protests. .

He said he hopes people continue to show up.

“There’s going to be a lot of information that's going to be shared this week,” Marks-Hamilton said.

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