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Glastonbury - Search and Destroy

Posted on Nov 23 2006

The events described in the legal complaint William Gonzalez v. Town of Glastonbury are horrifying. The legal document, filed in United States District Court in Hartford on November 2, reads like an encyclopedia entry on police racism and abuse.

According to the complaint, while 45-year-old Glastonbury resident William Gonzalez was taking a shower in his Glastonbury home on the morning of May 10, 2006 over 10 officers from the Glastonbury police demanded entry into his tree-lined suburban home.

Gonzalez couldn’t hear the police over the shower, the complaint asserts. When they didn’t hear a reply, the police - who had a warrant for Gonzalez’s arrest- entered his home, according to the complaint

The officers entered the bathroom, startling Gonzalez. Three officers allegedly grabbed the naked Gonzalez, threw him onto the bathroom floor and forced him into handcuffs. The complaint says the police refused to let Gonzalez dressed. While he was lying naked on the bathroom floor, and the complaint claims that the police told Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican with Hartford roots, they “don’t “want people like you in this town.”

According to the complaint, Gonzalez was then left on the kitchen floor for about 15 minutes while the police searched his home. The officers then pulled him into his bedroom and told him he was under arrest. According to the complaint, police tore through closets, drawers, vehicles, legal documents and Gonzalez pornography collection. Later, Gonzalez claimed that approximately $3,850 in cash and a diamond bracelet belonging to his wife, Sara, were accused of tampering with his home’s electrical meter.

According the Glastonbury police arrest warrant affidavit, Connecticut Electric Light & Power, after noticing “suspiciously low electric usage” at the house in July, 2004, installed a surveillance device to monitor electric use at the house.

The affidavit states CL& P estimates that between August, 2004 and May 1, 2006, the Gonzalez household had scammed them for about $5,000. CL&P filed a larceny charge with Glastonbury officials.

CL&P spokesperson Mitch Gross said searches prompted by the power company are handled by the local law enforcement.

“If your investigation shows a confirmed theft, then we bring in local police or the state police depending on the situation, and we take the necessary legal steps that need to be taken,” Gross said.

William Gerace, the attorney defending the Gonzalezes on the criminal charges declined to comment for this story. Paul Spinella, who is handling the civil rights case, said that even if Gonzalez us guilty of stealing power, the police search was excessive.

“The charge is so bugos. Think about it. Fifteen police officers descend on a house because of minor transgression, a claimed theft from an energy meter. That’s ridiculous,” Spinella said.

The complaint accuses the police of exceeding the scope of their search warrant, using excessive force, unlawful detention, assault and battery and other charges. Despite the severity of the allegations, it may be a tough case to win.

“ Police departments defend claims pretty strenuously. They’re not looking to encourage people to sue.” Hartford based litigation attorney Frank J. Szilagyi said. “There’s a lot of law on the side of the police officers. They’re entitled and authorized to use force to make an arrest. It just can’t be excessive force.”

Glastonbury Police Chief Tom Sweeney declined to comment, other that saying he was sure his officers would eventually be exonerated once the matter was brought to trial.

The May 10 search wasn’t the first time Gonzalez was in the Glastonbury police’s radar. In February, 2005, Gonzalez, a real estate professional, was accused of stealing about $1800 in merchandise from the Glastonbury Home Depot. According to Glastonbury police records, Gonzalez allegedly conspired with a Home Depot Employee - whose name, coincidentally, was also William Gonzalez - in a year-long larceny scam.

According to police, the employee helped Gonzalez steal just under $50,000 worth of merchandise from store. Allegedly, Gonzalez visited the Home Depot two to three times a week and brought an average of $2,000 worth of items to the cashier Gonzalez, who would pretend to scan them on his register. In exchange for the goods, the cashier said in a signed statement, customer Gonzalez gave him $200 per visit.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, William Gonzalez gave a Hartford address as his residence. The affidavit states the police later determined that the address was not Gonzalez’s residence, but where his company, Gonzalez LLC, was registered. The affidavit also states that several items allegedly stolen from the Home Depot were found in Gonzalez’s truck.

In addition to the charges concerning the Home Depot and the CL&P accusation, Gonzalez was involved in another criminal case now sealed by the courts. The litany of arrests seems to cast suspicion on Gonzalez’s claim that the May 10 search was an isolated event.

Spinella asserted his client’s innocence in the electricity theft allegations and said the police department has unfairly targeted the Gonzalez family. The May 10 search, Spinella said, had nothing to do with allegations of stealing power.

“What you have here is nothing that falls within reasonable law enforcement practices. What you have here is a campaign of harassment designed to push this person out of the town,” Spinella said.

Spinella further suggested that the Glastonbury police have unfairly targeted the Gonzalezes as drug dealers and that the allegations over electricity theft were used a pretext for a search for narcotics. That supposition is borne out, Spinella said, by the presence of inter-town drug task force in the Gonzalez search.

Spinella said the Gonzalez’s home remained under police surveillance (I should note that I’ve been to the home twice, and haven’t seen cops outside either time).

According to the most recent U.S. census, the population of Glastonbury, the wealthiest town in the state east of the Connecticut River, is 93 percent white and only about 2 percent Hispanic. Spinella said racism is at the root of Gonzalez’s police troubles.

“That seems like a pretty clear inference from all this,” Spinella said. “When they make statements like we don’t want your kind around here, it’s pretty clear.”

by: Adam Bulger