Protesters occupying Latham Park are proud to shed light on Steven Barrier’s death

STAMFORD – One year ago protesters invaded Latham Park, occupying space for a week to demand reforms in the Stamford Police Department. On Sunday, a small group returned to the scene to reflect on what has – and hasn’t – changed.

In October 2019, Steven Barrier, a resident of Stamford, died while in police custody. Last summer, as racial justice and civil rights protests spread across the country, the name Barrier was used as Stamford’s rallying cry.

“I think we’ve absolutely made progress because a lot more people are aware of Steven Barrier’s case and what happened to him,” said event organizer Nicole Pleasants, one of the six people who gathered in Latham Park on Sunday to discuss the civil case Barrier’s mother, Valerie Jaddo, filed, and what more needs to be done.

“I know a lot of people didn’t know this before and we were able to help Valerie find the right lawyer to file the complaint,” said Nicole Pleasants.

“We have shed so much light on this matter,” adds her sister Samantha. “I feel personally connected to Steven because I have my own mental health issues and I’m terrified of what could happen if I have a mental health issue and the police are called to my home.”

The two Pleasants sisters wore t-shirts with Barrier’s photo and their band’s name: Justice for Steven Barrier.

Officers responded to Barrier’s home following a report of a domestic violence incident and a foot chase between him and police allegedly ensued. According to the state medical examiner’s office, Barrier died of a heart attack and the state attorney said there was no sign of injury to his body or any evidence that a taser had been used when police arrested him.

Barrier’s family have repeatedly called for more information about the case to be released while insisting that he should have been taken to hospital and not to the police station after his arrest.

In March, Jaddo filed a “wrongful death” complaint against the town, Stamford Police Department and four police officers. She said her son suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other ailments and needed psychiatric care. In his trial, Jaddo accuses the police of having used “excessive force and inhuman treatment” because of the color of his skin and his mental state.

On July 11, 2020 – amid a nationwide movement of protests and camps – protesters descended on Latham Park and pitched 20 tents.

They called for a ‘demilitarization’ of the Stamford Police Department, money budgeted for the police to be allocated to other social service needs, more transparency on internal police investigations and reform of the police. mental health care at Stamford Hospital.

After a week, the self-proclaimed Latham Abolition Camp left the park after being said by the police that they would be arrested if they did not. No arrests were made during a weeklong peaceful occupation.

Police said the protesters were violating city ordinances by camping in the park. Protesters insisted they did not need a permit as they were voicing their First Amendment rights but eventually dispersed without incident.

Subsequent protests in the city, however, resulted in injuries, including one in August 2020 where protesters and police said they were injured.

The two Pleasants sisters said they doubt the police will change their response tactics or the way the city funds the police.

Nicole Pleasants said that when it comes to the police budget, it is not going enough for training, which is essential for a better response to incidents like Barrier’s.

“As women we should see this and as white women we should see this,” Samantha Pleasants said. “As white women, it is important for us to be here alongside people of color in our community. We are allies.

Stamford resident Brian Merlen also attended Sunday’s small rally.

“It’s a very personal issue for me,” Merlen said. “Look at all the mental health calls gone wrong in the state of Connecticut. It’s not just Fairfield County. It’s systematic and if we had a mental health response team, we wouldn’t have these deaths. “

Following Barrier’s death, the city implemented new mental health initiatives, including a social worker integrated in the police ministry and increased training in crisis intervention for officers.

Looking back, Nicole Pleasants said they were glad they did.

“I think it was really empowering,” she said. “It felt good. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of community. I felt like I was helping people.

Nicole Pleasants said it goes beyond Barrier’s defense. It was also the experience of the camp, like putting up tents for the homeless and sharing meals with them.

“It really created a sense of community,” said another participant, Maria Altamura. “We might not have known each other for very long or even at all when this started, but I felt safe there and we were able to get Steven’s name known.”

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