July 5, 2007
By HELEN UBINAS, Courant Staff Writer
It'll be a while, if ever, before we know what really happened inside the Belden Street apartment building where a man plunged to his death from a three-story window.
Did he fall?
Was he pushed by police?
It almost doesn't matter. Everyone's already staked out their positions, and no official finding is going to change their minds.
By Monday, residents were certain Carlos Alvarado was pushed. One woman saw cops chase him into the building early Saturday. Another saw an officer push him from the window. And the guy across the street - he saw Alvarado with his back to the window and two officers facing him.
This at 2:20 in the morning. Doesn't anyone around here sleep?
About the only person not claiming to be an eyewitness was the young man walking me through the building's hallways. And even he insisted there was no need to see what happened to know the cops are guilty.
"That's just the way it is," Daniel Maldonado said. "The cops can do whatever they want and they get away with it."
In fact, none of the residents I talked to this week doubted that Hartford cops were capable of such an act.
"Not for a second," said Mildred Ortiz, who lives several streets away.
For sure, Alvarado's friends and family believe that police killed the 22-year-old. The sentiment was right there on the graffiti scrawled all over the building: "HPD Killed Me."
But police were just as certain about their version. Alvarado was a drug dealer who'd jumped from windows in the past to elude police, and that's what happened Saturday.
Eyewitnesses who say that Alvarado was facing the window when he fell? He must have been hanging from the ledge, Police Chief Daryl Roberts said confidently.
Reports that cops were standing at the window right after he dropped? They were only peering out looking for their suspect, he announced.
"Why would we throw a man out of a window? That's crazy."
Look, the cops and the community have long had an uneasy relationship. But for people to so readily believe that police would engage in this type of lawlessness means that the interaction between them has plummeted to a dangerous level of mistrust.
Consider the source of the mistrust, Chief Roberts later told me.
I did, which is why I crossed the street to speak to residents in the pretty, well-kept homes.
Carmen Vega, who has lived there for 25 years, said the Belden Street building has long been known for blatant drug activity. She's right about that. As I walked up the stairs, I had to sidestep a guy shooting up.
If it was bombed tomorrow, Vega said, she wouldn't be sorry.
She had no complaints about police. Neither did her neighbors. But many did agree tension between police and the community is an ongoing reality.
Here's another reality: At the very least, Hartford cops suffer from a major image problem, and this latest incident doesn't help.
Roberts wasn't moved. For every one resident who complains, he said, there are 10 others who think the department is doing a fine job.
OK. But when residents think Hartford cops aren't beyond throwing a man out of a window, you have a ways to go to regain the department's reputation.
By Tuesday afternoon, the crowd of mourners outside the Belden Street building was gone. Only one man stood before the graffiti that still hadn't been removed.
Do you live here? I asked.
"No," he said. "I just wanted to come and see the cops' latest handiwork."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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