November 6, 2009
By Ken Krayeske • 11:15 AM EST
John Zito's wrists red from handcuff marks. Hey, at least he wasn't tasered, right?
Disclosure: I have done business with John Zito previously, and I consider him a friend. But the story he told me on Monday night has nothing to do with our relationship, and my dealings with him lead me to believe that he is a credible source of information.
John Zito called me a few minutes after this incident was over, while the handcuff marks still indented the flesh on his wrists. The incident, as reported here, was fresh in his mind.
Furthermore, at the outset, I will indicate that I reserve and hereby exercise the right not to call the Hartford Police Department for comment on this matter. First and foremost, I would have to go through Nancy Mulroy, the HPD spokesperson (read: paid prevaricator).
If anyone considers Ms. Mulroy to be credible in representing the truth, I point them to her lies about my political arrest in January 2007. I understand that my personal history necessarily colors my perceptions. But the fact that prosecutor dropped the trumped-up charges brought by the HPD lays waste to her version of what happened.
So rather than waste Ms. Mulroy’s time and mine, I’ll save us all the aggravation and fabricate her response in my best bureaucratic legalese. Ms. Mulroy would not allow me to speak with the line sargeant or the officers. Instead, she would likely say:
"The interaction was as a reasonable police reaction to aggressive behavior. We're in the business of protecting and preserving the peace. We're not in the business of handcuffing innocent people."
Simultaneously, I beg my audience, especially those who commented to me last week about how moved they were by Joe Santana’s Report from Inside the Belly, that this is what happens every day to people like Joe before they end up in jail.
Because law enforcement is often tainted by race, I should point out that John Zito is white.
Beyond race, Zito is president of the New Britain Avenue Merchants' Association. He runs Beij, Williams and Zito, a respected, hundred-year-old small business specializing in engraving headstones.
John and his wife Imani are leading the charge for sustainable small businesses with their restaurant Alchemy Juice Bar and Café. They are raising a large family together.
On Monday night, November 2, 2009, at about 8:40 p.m., John needed to exit his driveway in order to pick up one of his daughters at her dance class across town.
As he walked out of the front door of his storefront, towards his car in his lot, he noticed two officers coming out of his parking lot, crossing New Britain Avenue, heading towards a house.
"They were in my parking lot, blocking the gate," Zito said. "The vehicles were running with the lights on."
So John raised his voice to be heard across the street. "Hey guys," he shouted. "I need to get my car out, and I don't believe I gave you permission to park in my lot."
They said something aggressive back to him, and he said they ignored him. Then they went inside the building.
"I was forced to wait. I had no choice but to wait," Zito said, noting that his daughter was waiting for him.
So he called 911.
"I said something like 'I am having a problem with two officers. They are parked on my land, and they won't leave and I need assistance and I want a supervisor here immediately,'" Zito said.
When the officers came out of the house, the problems escalated.
Zito reiterated his position that officers didn’t belong parking on his land.
"I said 'I don't think you are supposed to be parking on private property unless you have permission, and you don't have permission. I think you are breaking the law,'" Zito told me.
One of the officers waved a nightstick at him. The other said "We'll show what you breaking the law is."
They cuffed him and put him in the back of a cruiser.
"I have never had cuffs put on me," Zito said he told the cops. "I am not giving you any reason to cuff me."
"You were yelling at us," the cops allegedly said to Zito.
"They were yelling at me so ferociously, loud and close that I was getting spit on," Zito said.
He asked what he was being charged with. Disorderly conduct and breach of peace, they responded.
"They dragged me alongside the building and tossed me in the back of the cruiser," Zito said. They frisked him, and put his cellphone on the trunk. Sitting inside the car, cuffed, he could hear and see the phone vibrating, ringing, on the trunk.
"They left me in the cruiser and went over to the other cruiser, with the white cop standing outside, the black guy inside, laughing, let me suffer and sit there," Zito said.
Then the supervisor showed up. Sgt. M. Burke, Zito said. After talking to the officers, Sgt. Burke opened the door and let Zito out. As soon as he was out, Zito asked for his cuffs to be removed, as they were starting to hurt. The cops refused.
"Everyone asked me if I was drinking. I said absolutely not," Zito said.
He asked again what he was being charged with, and disorderly conduct was repeated. Zito doubted the veracity of the charges.
"Are you calling my men liars? They are good guys," Sgt. Burke allegedly said to Zito. "They both tell me the same thing."
"Do you really think I am a fool? Do you really think that one of these guys would have a different opinion and they would not agree and get their story straight before you came?" Zito said he responded to Sgt. Burke.
"It sounds like you shoot off your mouth," Sgt. Burke allegedly said to Zito.
"I didn't raise my voice, these guys were screaming at me, they are bullies, and now they are lying," Zito said he responded.
Zito further told Sgt. Burke that he wasn’t sure what they were going to do, especially when they said "We'll show you what breaking the law is."
The whole time, the two officers stood behind Burke, staring at Zito, with their shoulders hunched up. Zito mentioned to Burke that he was really uncomfortable with the officers standing there, staring. Zito at some point seems to have suggested he would sue for wrongful arrest.
After Burke heard the whole story, he allegedly told Zito "I came down here to resolve the situation, and my guys want to bring you in for disorderly, and they are going to be unhappy if we can’t book you tonite. But I am worried about your daughter being by herself."
"Are you covering for your guys? I am sure I didn't break the law," Zito said he responded.
Burke put him back in the cruiser. "Wait a minute," Zito said he said. "I am not interested in getting arrested. I have way too much to do. As much as I would like to get justice, I don't think it is going to happen. I will go, get my truck, and get my daughter."
Sgt. Burke looked at the officers, and said "Are you alright with this?"
Zito said the officers said no. But Burke let him go.
"You can do what you want. You can file suit if you want. We resolved this tonite," Sgt. Burke allegedly said to him.
So they let him go. Zito would not have grounds for a federal lawsuit, because he suffered no damages. But I encouraged him to file a citizens complaint. And hey, at least he didn't get tasered, right?