Hamden police claim Aaron Hebron is a gangster in a notorious Newhallville-based crew. His parents say he was targeted for filing complaints against police officers who were harassing him. Hebron filed many complaints. The cops stopped and searched him many times in his vehicle. Now the state-run Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is going to sort out the facts.
The family assembled a press conference and rally last Wednesday to announce the CHRO investigation. Among the allegations was that Hebron was arrested for "making false statements" after he filed a complaint with Ethics and Integrity, the unit that oversees allegations of police misconduct.
"Every time we made a move for justice," says Marnie Hebron, Aaron's mother, "the police department moved back on us."
Hebron and her husband Charles (a Yale police officer) were joined by about 15 other people from the groups New Haven Against Police Brutality and My Brother's Keeper outside the Hamden government center.
Twenty-one year old Aaron Hebron is currently incarcerated in Cheshire. Over a two-year period, Hebron was stopped by Hamden police 53 times, often having his car searched for drugs and weapons, according to his lawyer. The police never found drugs or weapons. A number of those incidents resulted in Hebron or his mother filing a complaint.
Hebron was also arrested more than once. In one instance, Hebron was Tasered after a dispute with his girlfriend and charged with assault on a peace officer.
In another instance, Hebron was arrested at Hamden High School after a fight broke out at graduation ceremony. He says he wasn't there when the fighting happened, and he again filed a complaint with the Integrity and Ethics Unit. Then he started getting pulled over and having his car searched. Again, he filed another complaint. Finally, he wound up getting arrested for the complaint he filed.
The activists say Hebron was "railroaded" into accepting a plea bargain.
Lt. Michael McNeil was on the scene when Hebron was arrested at Hamden High. He was also the officer who investigated Hebron's complaint. McNeil could not be reached for comment.
Benita Lee is the attorney representing the Hebrons. She says there is a clear conflict of interest in McNeil's investigation.
"How can you investigate something that you were a part of?" Lee says. "It seems to me he should have removed himself from the case. Otherwise you are asking him to reevaluate his own decisions."
Hebron was arrested again for "making false statements" after a traffic stop off Dixwell Avenue. His mother was also there. She says an officer stuck a Taser in his face and in her face and called her a bitch. Both filed complaints. Aaron was later arrested for that complaint.
On Tuesday, Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) spokesman Jim O'Neill confirmed the case was filed, but won't be concluded for some time. "In this instance it's not very clear what we can do. If someone wants to file a complaint, we have to accept it," O'Neill says. "What we can actually do about it? I don't know."
CHRO is a quasi-judicial branch that typically investigates employment issues. If an employee has been discriminated against, the Commission can order the company to pay back wages, reinstate them if they have been fired or pay some form of restitution.
But incidences of alleged police misconduct are different. The commission cannot force Hamden to pay restitution. It can't order the police to fire an officer either. At most, it can suggest training for the department or order re-training of an officer.
So if the family can't get paid and can't get the officer fired, what's the point?
Benita Lee, the attorney representing the Hebrons, explains: "If you're looking for a big money lawsuit, then no, it's not the right place to go. What I like about the CHRO is that they can make the officers answer questions. I can't do that on my own. The commission can also look at all the records and see if there's really something systemic going on. We're hoping this opens a whole can of worms."
Lee and O'Neill both say a CHRO complaint is also a necessary first step before a lawsuit.
"Does it help Aaron? He's sitting in jail. We are hoping that when all is said and done some evidence from this investigation can be brought in and used in his defense," Lee says.
Chief of Police Thomas Wydra and Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson did not return phone calls.