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Connecticut NAACP Pushes Civil Rights Probe in Jashon Bryant Killing

CHRISTINE DEMPSEY

December 16, 2009

HARTFORD - More than 20 supporters of Jashon Bryant vowed Tuesday to urge the federal government to take a closer look at the 2005 fatal shooting of the black 18-year-old by a white police officer.

Less than a week after former Det. Robert Lawlor's acquittal of manslaughter and assault charges, family members and friends gathered in front of the federal courthouse on Main Street with the state's NAACP president, who said he will push to breathe new life into an ongoing federal probe of the shooting. Scot X. Esdaile said he sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder the nation's first black attorney general asking for a meeting about civil rights violations.

Esdaile said he also wants the U.S. Justice Department to oversee the city's compliance with a federal court order that grew out of a 1973 police brutality case, and he wants help "mediating the tensions in the Hartford community."

Noting that Lawlor was acquitted by an all-white jury, Esdaile said, "We feel that this is a major, major miscarriage of justice." The city needs to "step up" and bring justice to the Bryant family by "immediately" resolving a civil lawsuit that has been filed, he said.

Esdaile held his hands up during the press conference to illustrate how Bryant's hands were behind his head at the time of the shooting.

Asked whether she's optimistic about the federal government's involvement in the case, Bryant's sister, Shirin Bryant, answered, "I'll keep my fingers crossed."

Alejandro Miyar, a Justice Department spokesman, stated in an e-mail that the ongoing investigation is to determine "whether Officer Robert Lawlor violated Bryant's civil rights under color of law." He declined to comment further because the investigation continues.

On Monday, turnout was sparse for a discussion about the Lawlor decision and what it means to the community.

The Clay Hill Improvement Association had organized the meeting to listen to residents' concerns about the healing process and the community's relationship with police going forward.

But with fewer than a half-dozen residents in attendance, the discussion quickly turned to the issue of the all-white jury deliberating a case in which a black man was killed by a white police officer. Meeting organizers said that they would bring in guest speakers at the next meeting to discuss the jury selection process.

"It has nothing to do with the police, it's a matter of justice," the Rev. Henry Brown said. "Why didn't they have an African American or Hispanic on that jury?"

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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