Hartford cracks down on curfew

August 11, 2008 5:28:03 PM PDT
Hartford officials said Monday that police will detain anyone younger than 18 who violates the city's curfew in the next month in response to recent violence, including a weekend shooting that left one man dead and six young people wounded. "We must do this because we cannot and will not tolerate innocent people, especially children, to be victims," Mayor Eddie Perez said.

Saturday's shooting erupted after the annual West Indian Day parade in the city's North End around 6:30 p.m. Police said 21-year-old Ezekiel Roberts of Hartford was killed, a 7-year-old boy was shot in the head and 15-month-old Zinia Jackson was shot in the left leg. Four teens were also shot.

No arrests had been made Monday. Police were looking for suspects and asking for the public's help.

"We need their help," police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy said.

"You need witnesses, you've got to build a case and you've got to identify suspects."

One of the police investigators, Sgt. Robert Davis, said authorities were following several leads, but no arrests were expected Monday. He said he couldn't remember another incident in his 14 years with the department in which so many people were shot.

Roberts was affiliated with local gangs and was the intended target of the shooting, police told The Hartford Courant.

Roberts had been found guilty in March of accessory to first-degree assault in the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old boy in 2006. He was released on probation, but charged in June with possession of marijuana and with probation violation in August.

Perez said he has sent a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, asking them to step up state supervision of offenders on probation in light of Saturday's deadly incident.

Perez and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts announced new public safety measures on Monday. Besides the parade shootings, four more people were shot over the weekend in two other incidents.

The beefed-up curfew that will run for 30 days begins Thursday. No one under 18 will be allowed on the streets after 9 p.m. without a parent or guardian, and violators will be taken to one of two locations where they will be kept until their parents or guardians pick them up.

Perez said first-time offenders will receive a warning.

Second-time offenders will face a fine and must appear in community court.

Hartford's regular curfew allows police to only issue citations to anyone younger than 18 on the streets after 9 p.m., according to the city's Web site. Many U.S. cities have permanent curfews, but they often are less restrictive than Hartford's temporary measure.

Perez said the city's curfew ordinance has been in place since 1977 but there hasn't been a need to enforce it until now. Much of the past violence, he said, was isolated, with specific individuals targeted.

"This is not something we take likely, but given the incident of this weekend, we need to take firm action and this is the kind of action that's required in order to ensure the safety of our residents," he said. "But this is aimed at helping young people in our city. This is not an attempt to be punitive."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut expressed concern about the plan. The group hasn't decided if it will file a legal challenge, said staff attorney David McGuire.

"The ACLU of Connecticut opposes juvenile curfews because they're essentially a violation of fundamental rights of innocent people," he said. "Curfews essentially are placing an entire demographic, in this case, youth, under house arrest for the inappropriate actions of a few."

Hartford attorney Jon Schoenhorn, who successfully challenged a similar curfew in Vernon, Conn. with the ACLU in 2003, said Hartford's curfew ordinance is unconstitutional and the city is blatantly violating the civil rights of minors.

"I can't believe they'd be that stupid to try and dust off a statute. It's sort of like trying to prosecute people for adultery or something," he said. "It's been fully litgated and they can't do it. That's all there is."

Hartford officials said they will be forming a "shooting team" with state prosecutors to sharpen authorities' focus on solving shootings, punishing shooters and deterring such crimes.

Perez, himself a former gang member, said the city will be asking the state to increase supervision of people on probation and creating a "Most Watched List" of suspects wanted for crimes or known to be associated with illegal activities.

Rep. Kenneth Green, a Hartford Democrat who marched in Saturday's parade, said he hopes the shootings will renew efforts to address the underlying causes of the violence, such as joblessness, lack of parental oversight and anger management issues among youths.

"It's a bigger picture than just a curfew," he said.

Hartford officials have been struggling to curb violence in the city of 125,000. State troopers are continuing to patrol city streets with local police.

In June, the city's former deputy mayor was beaten and robbed while walking to breakfast, and a surveillance camera recorded cars zooming around a 78-year-old pedestrian who was laying helpless in the street after being struck by a speeding car.

No arrests have been made in those incidents, which prompted Chief Roberts to suggest that the city lost its moral compass.

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