April 21, 2011
By Ken Krayeske • 6:40 PM EST
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Empty street, bike, and camera. The intersection of Ford and Pearl Streets, downtown Hartford. This is the spot. It doesn't care what happened here. Why should we?
T he jury came back with its verdict in about 30 minutes: the Hartford police officer who arrested me at Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Inaugural parade on January 3, 2007 did not violate any federal statutes, and had probable cause to arrest me for any crime.
Four and a half years of hard work – blood, toil, sweat and tears - I put into my false arrest lawsuit, only to watch it disappear before my attorney could finish a cup of tea.
My attorney and I and some helpful friends spent two days on trial last week in the Bridgeport federal district court, prosecuting my two remaining claims – false arrest and free speech retaliation. I didn’t win either count.
I expected this verdict, but hoped against it. Other lawyers and the judge warned me I should settle. But I wanted an apology, a recognition that what Hartford police conspired to do and did in fact do to me on January 3, 2007 was beyond the pale of a free society.
What happened to me was a police state moment, and the jury accepted it. Perhaps they felt bad that the Defendant was getting thrown under the bus by a dozen other cops.
Perhaps my evidence – witnesses including an attorney and a middle-aged woman with no ax to grind and my photographs – was insufficient. Video didn’t work for Rodney King. Why should I be any different? But I had to try, because the precedent is too dangerous for liberty.
In mid-March, at a settlement conference, I rejected $20,000.00 and a public statement “we are glad to put this episode behind us” from the City of Hartford. The City indemnifies its officers. The cop wasn’t paying. This was coming from taxpayers. But I didn’t want it.
Without an apology from the City, money meant nothing. Without an apology, I had no choice but to persevere to trial. I understood my slim chances, considering the pro-police sentiment among the public, and considering how the judge restricted the evidence.
I liken it to asking someone for the final score of a baseball game, but they can only watch the second inning and a few pitches from the third. Or seeing only a few square inches of a large art work on canvas and asking “What is the painting about?”
The federal judge bifurcated the trial – split it into liability and damages. So in the first liability phase, I couldn’t talk about anything that happened after the immediate arrest because everything that happened after the arrest went to damages.
Thus the jury could not hear how I was stuck in jail for 13 hours on $75,000.00 bond. I couldn’t talk about the cop who tried to get me to bargain away my Miranda Rights. I couldn’t discuss what I heard cops saying about being on a list.
And since the cop who arrested me, Detective Jeff Antuna said he never knew I suggested protesting the Inaugural Ball, the jury never heard about my call to protest the inaugural ball.
Once Antuna claimed the briefing he received the day of the parade was different than what the state police actually handed out, I had no chance on the free speech retaliation claim.
Somewhere along the line, the actual one-page briefing on me state police distributed before the parade was replaced with a two-page dossier. Antuna testified he only got the first page of the two-page dossier, which contained no data about my speech.
The federal judge made it clear in a pre-trial conference: it looks like the state police snuck one by you in discovery. The actual document state police used before the parade about me was destroyed, but I didn’t learn about this until January 2011. Although it appears the attorney general's office knew about it two years prior.
The whole time, I was fighting with two hands tied behind my back. And that doesn’t even get to the facts that the cops fudged. Cops don’t lie to eight jurors all-white jury over 45 years old, do they? If the jurors thought this couldn't happen to them. It can. I hope it doesn’t. And perhaps we failed to make that point.
Attorney Joseph McQuade took offense during his cross-examination of me when I suggested cops created a gap in the truth, like two different arrest reports, neither of which was signed. As if he didn’t know there was a huge difference between what I said and Antuna said.
The City paid him to know everything about my arrest. McQuade, of Kainen, Escalera and McHale, the Hartford firm that easily billed $100,000 to the City on my case, painted me as a money-grubbing liar.
Never mind that I spend countless hours of unpaid time on my case, or that I spent thousands of my own money for costs. He portrayed me as a greedy guy who changed his story when damages were on the line. Did I? No.
After he sang the 9-11 chorus to the jury and wrapped Antuna in mom, apple pie and the flag, McQuade threw the meatball: if we didn’t stop Krayeske, and he had hurt the governor, what you be saying about us now?
The day after, we can say we should have said: What if the police arrested everyone on the parade route? But I won't. I have no regrets. I fought hard. You can't beat City Hall, not when they rig the game from the get-go.
Yet there can be no honor in a victory tainted with mistruths, half-truths and document destruction and corruption. If that is what it takes to win, then I am fine with losing. In a rigged game, triumph must not be respected.
For more than four years, I wondered how the people charged with defending the indefensible – with defending police state tactics - go to sleep at night. How do they reconcile it with defending the Constitution? But they did. Anything in the name of government service, right?
I have to take solace in what occurred moments after the trial ended. I shook hands with Defendant Antuna. I looked him straight in the eye. I told him both he and I know what he did on January 3, 2007 was wrong, and that you can’t throw people in jail for no reason.
He recoiled, like Frankenstein popping both bolts out the side of his neck. He wanted to say something, but McQuade stepped in between us.
Sure the jury had spoken, but I don’t believe the verdict was just or fair, not when juror number three had to be woken up twice during the trial. Many wise people have told me if you want justice, don’t look for it in a court.
I figure that the lawyers who tried the Dred Scott case in 1857 never in their lifetimes saw justice for the freed slave seeking citizenship. The lawyers who tried Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that Constitutionalized segregation in 1896, never saw justice either.
This was a bitter pill. Maybe the silver lining is that thousands of people now understand cops lie and get away with it. We have to be concerned about what happens next, though.
Figure that Defendant Antuna went back to HPD headquarters on Jennings Road and told all his buddies behind the blue line that he got away with that parade arrest of that rotten hippie kid. Chief Darryl Roberts will no doubt tell other chiefs across the state what a jury is willing to accept. And what will cops do next?
This is bad for democracy. This is bad for the next person who seeks to protest and is targeted by police. This is bad for free speech. I wish the narrative was different, but it appears this police state is the country some Americans want.