The State of Connecticut took away Gaylord Salters’s freedom for 20 years.
Stefon Morant’s for 21 years.
Scott Lewis’s for 18 years.
Bobby Johnson’s for 9 years.
None of these men committed the crime for which they were sentenced. The criminal “justice” system in New Haven did not care.
These are just four of the many individuals wrongfully incarcerated by the criminal “justice” system in New Haven. Their stories follow a predictable pattern of police misconduct and prosecutorial impropriety that has rotted away the city’s faith in a system meant to protect it from harm. Fifteen individuals sentenced to over 1,000 years in New Haven courts have now been exonerated according to the National Registry of Exonerations, but not before they collectively served hundreds of years for crimes they did not commit. Half of the overturned convictions in Connecticut originate from New Haven. These numbers do not include the unknown multitudes of people still in prison for crimes they did not commit, nor do they include the individuals who have established their wrongful convictions and been released but not yet exonerated.
One such individual still fighting for exoneration, Gaylord Salters, organized a week-long protest in New Haven to highlight these injustices. “7 Days of Truth with Proof” ran from June 12th to June 18th. The demonstration featured wrongfully convicted individuals, civil rights activists, defense attorneys, and even a former prosecutor speaking out against the injustices conducted in New Haven and the broader nation by malignant actors in the criminal justice system. Stories of threats, lying, obfuscation, and willful ignorance abounded, providing proof of the sickness that corrupted New Haven’s court system and police department from the crack epidemic of the ‘80s through the early 2000s and even today.
Their testimony was powerful, describing the unimaginable loss suffered by wrongfully convicted individuals. The dozens gathered at the steps of the federal prosecutor’s office and the New Haven Police Department listened to these stories daily, but few seemed surprised. The corruption and misconduct of the New Haven police department is not a new story, but what is haunting is the enduring legacy of these actions. Milestones and celebrations were irreversibly ripped away, and relationships, careers, and communities were broken. Even though those who could speak at the protests had achieved the freedom they were fighting for, the scars of incarceration never disappeared. Nothing can compensate for missing your child’s birthdays and graduations. No amount of accountability or money can make the pain of losing the opportunity to say goodbye to your parents disappear.
We have evidence of these shameless acts. We condemn them. And yet, we must grapple with the past sins of officers and prosecutors without seeing the atonement long prayed for by the mothers, children, and communities of wrongfully incarcerated men and women. There is no accountability—corrupt officers still receive their pensions, and so do prosecutors who knowingly took away people’s lives. Despite two years of existence, the state’s Conviction Integrity Unit has failed to release any wrongfully convicted individuals.
Should we be surprised that state prosecutors cannot hold other prosecutors accountable? Gaylord Salters and the other individuals gathered at the protests say no, calling for the federal government to investigate the decades of misconduct and suffering caused by corrupt prosecution in New Haven and the rest of Connecticut. A greater power must check the various systems at play colluding to prevent justice. Only when the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Vanessa Avery listen to the people of New Haven and hold these bad actors accountable will justice be served.
Until then, Attorney Alex Taubes, the New England Innocence Project, and the other organizations who gathered for the 7 Days of Truth with Proof will continue fighting for the rights of all wrongfully imprisoned people.
Attorney Taubes’s office is located at 59 Elm Street in New Haven.