Demonstrators demand changes in name of Black Stamford man who died in police custody last year
STAMFORD - Black Lives Matter protesters who gathered in front of the Stamford Police station on Saturday to mourn the death of a 23-year-old Black man in police custody last year, had a message for national and local law enforcement officials.
“Don’t come out here and get on your knees when we don’t need you,” said Darnell Crosland, a Stamford attorney who joined the protesters. “If you want to do something, do something for real.”
Crosland said he wasn’t interested in watching police officers take a knee in solidarity with demonstrators — as police officials have done in Stamford and elsewhere. He wants to see radical change within the law enforcement system, he said.
The group of about 100 gathered outside police headquarters Saturday afternoon to demand justice for Steven Barrier, a Black Stamford man who died in police custody in October.
On Oct. 22, 2019, Barrier’s sister had called the police to report that she was assaulted by her brother.
When officers arrived at their Stamford home, Barrier had already fled the scene. Police returned to the home hours later, when Barrier’s family members reported that he had returned.
Barrier led officers on a foot chase before he was apprehended. According to body camera footage, Barrier told police that he couldn’t stand up and was too tired to walk to their nearby patrol car, so officers carried him toward the vehicle.
The video shows the officer driving the cruiser ask whether he should take Barrier to Stamford Hospital or the police department. The arresting officers tell him to take Barrier to police headquarters for booking on domestic assault charges.
On the drive to the police station, Barrier asks an officer to turn on the air conditioning, but rather, the officer rolls a window down. In the footage, Barrier can be heard moaning at times.
When officers remove him from the vehicle, Barrier is unresponsive. Inside the police department, officers joke that Barrier should win an award for playing dead.
“My son Steven Barrier needed help,” said Barrier’s mother, Valerie Jaddo.
“Instead of receiving help, he lost his life,” she said. “I received the news that no mother, no grandparent, no parent at all, should ever have to hear. I’m left with grief, emotional distress and thousands of questions (about what) happened to my son on that last hour.”
Medics arrived more than five minutes after officers found Barrier unresponsive that day. He was pronounced dead at Stamford Hospital 85 minutes after he was taken into police custody.
Stamford Police leaders have said officers did not use force on Barrier. An autopsy determined the 23-year-old had died from suffering a heart attack — more precisely atherosclerotic coronary artery disease with contributing factors of bipolar disorder, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.
Barrier’s mother has said many times in the past, that she doesn’t believe city and state officials’ version of events and that she still has not received justice for her son.
She stood with protesters on Saturday to demand more answers into the cause of her son’s death, she said.
“Why was my son taken to the police station when he should have been taken to the hospital?” she said to the gathered crowd. “All of this could have been prevented, knowing that the police officers’ duty was to protect us, the citizens of this community.”
Barrier’s loved ones said Barrier’s mental health condition was well-known to local police, who they had called on in the past, for assistance.
Following the event, Stamford Police Chief Tim Shaw said he listened to what the protesters had to say.
Shaw started in his current position a few months ago after years leading another department. He said it is challenging to comment on a case that took place before his tenure, but that officers within the department feel “awful” that Barrier died in the event.
“For the officers on the call, they feel awful too,” he said.
Protesters expressed disgust that some officers had joked that Barrier was faking at the time.
Shaw said the officers’ responses were inappropriate. After Barrier’s death, Thomas Wuennemann, acting chief at the time, had convened an incident review panel to study how police handled the incident, Shaw said. The summary of those findings will be released in a report soon, Shaw said.
Wilner Joseph, of Stamford, told fellow demonstrators that Barrier’s death reminded him of an incident he had experienced years ago at 16. Joseph said he was beaten and pepper sprayed by Stamford police officers, who falsely accused him of selling drugs.
On that day it had been 85 degrees, he said. When he got into the police cruiser, the officer rolled up the windows. Joseph said he told the officer her could not breathe, but the officer said he didn’t care.
“I was praying to God that I’d make it back to my family,” Joseph said.
He and others at the protest are calling for the officers involved in Barrier’s death to be fired, saying the officers neglected to render immediate and appropriate aid to Barrier. They also called on Mayor Martin to take funding away from local police and move it to community social services programs, schools, affordable housing options and the health care system.
“If this was anybody else’s kid on the police force, I guarantee you we would not be out here marching,” Joseph said. “Someone would have been held accountable for it.”
Local attorney Tricia Lindsay said the fight for justice is not over.
“The case has been closed as far as what the police department has done,” she said. “But at this present moment, there has been no civil complaint that has been filed yet.”
Attorneys are preparing to file a complaint, and through their discovery process, they will demand more information about the case, she said.