BRIDGEPORT – Nearly 50 days after Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls’ deaths, Mayor Joe Ganim directed Deputy Police Chief James Baraja to suspend two detectives involved in investigating their cases. To the national news media this might have looked like leadership, but to the people of Bridgeport we saw it clearly for what it was: a political stunt.

During Mayor Ganim’s tenure, the Bridgeport Police Department has gone from crisis to crisis, with no meaningful oversight and no accountability. Bridgeporters are sick and tired of police misconduct, poor leadership, and the disparity between the Bridgeport Police Department’s ever growing budget and that of our public schools. 

The truth is Mayor Ganim has not shown any reason for the people of Bridgeport to believe he cares about Lauren Smith-Fields, Brenda Lee Rawls, their families or Black lives. If he did, the policies advanced by his administration over the past seven years would demonstrate it. Instead, we have a long list of evidence pointing to his administration’s complicity and silence in upholding racism, abuses of power, and the corruption of the Bridgeport Police Department:

March 2016: Mayor Ganim was COMPLICIT when he appointed his unqualified friend, Armando “AJ” Perez, to the Acting Police Chief position, removing both Chief Gaudette and Assistant Chief Nardozzi.

Assistant Chief Nardozzi sued the city of Bridgeport, contending he was “terminated for political reasons and without just cause.” The City was forced to settle for $240,000. At Ganim’s direction, taxpayers also paid out a $125,000 three-year contract to Gaudette to overhaul the 911 system in exchange for him leaving as Chief.

October 2017: Mayor Ganim was SILENT after 46 Bridgeport police officers responded to a noise complaint at a party on Colorado Avenue. 17 officers were eventually cited by the Office of Internal Affairs for misconduct. Five officers and a civilian detention officer used excessive force and 10 officers lied about their actions

Mayor Ganim made no public comments at the time of the initial incident. It took almost two years for the Internal Affairs report to be completed and publicly released, after being requested by Hearst Media through a Freedom of Information Act Request. Mayor Ganim was also silent in November 2021 when  a judge upheld an arbitrator’s order to rehire one of the officers, Michael Stanitis, who used excessive force. 

September – December 2017: Mayor Ganim was SILENT on election fraud that implicated Acting Chief AJ Perez.

Acting Chief AJ Perez was implicated in “Keeley v. Ayala” for the illegal collection of absentee ballots by a Bridgeport police officer, at the direction of Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mario Testa and former City Councilman Michael DeFilippo, who was later indicted in 2021 on federal election fraud charges.

August 2018: Mayor Ganim was SILENT when former Captain Mark Straubel was allowed to retire after sending racist text messages. 

In one of the texts obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media in late July, Straubel, who is white, allegedly wrote: “I asked (an African-American officer) if he had seen (the film) Planet of the Apes. He said…yes. I asked him if it made him homesick.” In another text, Straubel stated that he hates African-Americans and hopes for a race war. Mayor Ganim had no comment at the time.

April – November 2018: Mayor Ganim was COMPLICIT when he oversaw a sham “national Police Chief search” only to gift the permanent Police Chief position to AJ Perez.

During this time, Bridgeport Generation Now led and organized a coalition of community organizations calling for Mayor Ganim to hold an open and transparent Police Chief search, but was met with indignation, stall tactics, and silence at every turn. This process resulted in the least qualified candidate, Acting Chief AJ Perez, getting the permanent job of Police Chief with a five-year contract along and sizable payout for unused vacation, sick, personal days, holidays and compensatory time from Perez’s lengthy career

February – July 2019: Mayor Ganim was COMPLICIT when Bridgeport taxpayers footed the bill while the FBI investigated him, Chief of Staff Dan Shamas, Police Chief AJ Perez, and Personnel Director David Dunn for rigging the 2018 national Police Chief search in order to give Perez the job. 

During his 2019 re-election bid for Mayor, the FBI was actively investigating the Ganim administration for conspiring to cheat during the search process to give AJ Perez the job. Mayor Ganim kept the investigation and the federal subpoenas a secret. City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer hired – without City Council knowledge or approval – outside counsel (Attorney James R. DeVita, a white collar criminal defense attorney based in White Plains, New York) to represent Mayor Ganim, Chief of Staff Shamas, Police Chief AJ Perez, and Personnel Director David Dunn. 

February 2020:  Mayor Ganim was SILENT on accusations that Chief AJ Perez was obstructing justice in a criminal investigation involving the sexual assault of a minor at Vazzy’s Restaurant. 

Captain Brian Fitzgerald accused Chief Perez of obstructing justice in a criminal investigation, involving the sexual assault of a minor at Vazzy’s restaurant.  In response, the City hired another outside law firm that specializes in employment law. The complaint alleged that John Vazzano, the owner of Vazzy’s, asked Perez to intervene. Vazzano, a donor to Ganim’s mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns, was eventually arrested on charges of bribing a witness and hindering the prosecution of a sex assault investigation. Mayor Ganim declined to comment. 

June 2020: Mayor Ganim was SILENT after the national outrage over the murder of George Floyd and was absent during Bridgeport’s protests.

Ganim was absent during a Bridgeport protest, attended by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, and was criticized for being slow to respond to the local outrage. In an interview with Hearst Media, Ganim tried to explain his silence, but had nothing to say regarding zero tolerance policies towards racism, excessive force, and misconduct within his own department. 

September 2020 – April 2021: Mayor Ganim was COMPLICIT when Chief of Police AJ Perez and Personnel Director David Dunn were arrested on federal charges that they conspired to rig the 2018 Police Chief search for Perez. 

After overseeing more than a year of subpoenas and taxpayer-funded defense attorneys, at the time of Perez and Dunn’s arrests on September 10, 2020, Mayor Ganim said on a Facebook video that he only learned about the charges that morning. “Certainly there is a grappling for some of the answers as to what has happened, disappointment, uncertainty,” he said. Perez and Dunn both pled guilty and were sentenced to prison

April – November 2021: Mayor Ganim was COMPLICIT in his administration’s failure to follow the City Charter and civil service rules when he appointed the current Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia to her previously held position of Assistant Chief of Police. 

In a lawsuit filed by Captains in the Bridgeport Police Department, “Fitzgerald, et al v. City of Bridgeport, Superior Court Judge Stevens concluded in his ruling that “the city of Bridgeport, Mayor Joseph Ganim, and Chief of Police A.J. Perez failed to adhere to the Bridgeport City Charter and rules of the Civil Service Commission” stating that “the city’s overarching intent and goal…was not so much to comply with the civil service rules but rather to allow [former Police Chief Armando] Perez to choose from the ranks whomever he wanted in whatever manner he desired.”

April 2016 – April 2021: Mayor Ganim was and remains COMPLICIT in his proposed annual municipal budgets. In 5 out of 6 budget cycles, he proposed increasing funding to the Bridgeport Police Department while flat funding our local public schools.

Criticized for his hands off approach during his re-election campaign in 2019, Mayor Ganim announced he was forming two task forces dedicated to education, only to recommend flat-funding our public schools in 2021 after he was re-elected. 

September 2016 – November 2021: Mayor Ganim was SILENT when the following serious incidents of police violence, abuse, and misconduct occurred:

Officer Omar Jimenez, charged in 2016 with second-degree assault, second-degree threatening and disorderly conduct and driving under the influence (the City was forced to rehire Jimenez in 2018); Officer Christina Arroyo, caught in 2017 on video hitting a Black teenager in the face while he was restrained; Officer Gianni Capozziello used excessive forced in 2018 when he tasered the Black teenage son of a Bridgeport City Councilwoman (Capozziello is later caught on video in 2019 pistol-whipping another teenager); Officer John Carrano, charged in 2018 with second-degree assault with a motor vehicle, operating under the influence, driving the wrong way and failure to drive right; Officer David Garcia, accused in 2018 of sending unwanted sexually explicit texts to a female crime victim; Officer Steven Figueroa, charged in 2019 with sexual assault and arrested on domestic violence charges three times; Officer Christopher Martin, charged in 2021 with stealing cash from a drug arrest; and Officer Kailtyn Edwards, terminated in 2021 after she attended (and left her badge at) an illegal nightclub party at which two people were shot and killed.

May 2021 – February 2022:  Mayor Ganim was and remains SILENT as his administration continues to stall on implementing key public safety reforms – including a new social services unit – recommended by the Bridgeport Advisory Task Force on Public Safety. 

In May of 2021, the City Council approved $760,000 in the municipal budget for a social services unit to handle sensitive police calls. At the time, it was heralded as a major milestone in reforming public safety, based on key recommendations from the task force. By November, it was reported that “city officials are struggling to keep promises to reform the police force they made after national protests last year” and Mayor Ganim had no comment. As of today, these reforms have not been implemented. 

In 2020, after George Floyd was murdered, we marched not just in protest, but for Black humanity. We marched because Black lives have been under constant violent assault. We marched because racism, abuse of power, and the corruption of policing is the root cause of so much of the violence in our country. We marched because it is true here at home, in Bridgeport, too.

Ganim didn’t see us then. He doesn’t see us now. But we certainly see him. His years of complicity and silence is a dereliction of duty and it’s finally time for him to be held accountable. The incompetence, racism, and corruption spewing out of the Bridgeport Police Department is ultimately his responsibility – and he has failed at the job. We will not let Mayor Ganim use the death and righteous public outrage at the treatment of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls’ families to gaslight Black people and the nation as he readies himself for a re-election campaign next year.

His empty gesture to “order” the suspension of the officers involved in these cases is an insult to Black women. Time’s been up for Joe Ganim. He should resign. 

JOIN US! Women across Connecticut are showing up on Saturday, Feb. 19th at 1:00pm at Bridgeport City Hall to march, stand with and center Black women’s voices as we demand our humanity be recognized! We must hold Mayor Ganim and other elected officials accountable for their complicity and silence in upholding racism and corruption in the Bridgeport Police Department. More information here!

Greater Bridgeport Ed Gomes Black Democratic Club
Bridgeport Generation Now Votes
Bridgeport Strong
CT Black Women
Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund
Moral Monday CT
PowerUp CT
Women’s March CT