BRIDGEPORT — A Hearst Connecticut Media reporter was briefly taken into custody Thursday night as police cracked down on a demonstration on the second anniversary of an officer-involved shooting that killed a 15-year-old city youth.
Reporter Tara O’Neill was observing from the sidewalk on Fairfield Avenue as a line of police officers ordered everyone off the street. O’Neill, who identified herself as a journalist, was handcuffed and taken in the back of a police cruiser to headquarters. After being detained for about 30 minutes, she was released without being charged.
“The fact that a local journalist was arrested for doing her job and reporting on the actions of police and protesters is extremely troubling, and the public deserves a full explanation of how it happened and what steps will be taken to make sure that the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know is not infringed upon like this in the future,” Matt DeRienzo, vice president of news and digital content for Hearst Connecticut Media, said after O’Neill’s arrest.
“Tara O’Neill is a dedicated reporter who is well-known to Bridgeport police and police leadership. There’s no chance this was a case of mistaken identity. They arrested a reporter while she was doing her job.”
Mayor Joe Ganim called the protest a “very difficult situation.” Ganim told DeRienzo he didn’t want to interfere or tell Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez what to do, but he said he urged the chief to consider that O’Neill was not part of the protest and would be “violating her job” if she was doing anything other than covering the story.
O’Neill had filed a story just before 9 p.m. on the protest, which had proceeded peacefully.
Two years ago, 15-year-old Jayson Negron was shot and killed by Bridgeport Police Officer James Boulay. While in the newsroom, she heard a police report of a 10-32 (officer needs help), calling all available officers to the scene of a disturbance on Fairfield Avenue where the protest was being held. She went back to the scene, where many of the same people had remained.
“There were a ton of cops in the Walgreens parking lot,” near the spot where Negron had been shot, and about 35 protesters in the middle of the street, “singing and chanting, and everything was fine,” O’Neill said.
“One of the protesters threw a candle or a glass or a vase in the direction of the cops who had lined the street,” she said. “It shattered in the street and the cops told them they had five minutes to clear out.”
After that time elapsed, “in a line formation they started walking down the street and telling people to get off the street .... they just started arresting people who weren’t complying, which apparently included me, because I was on the sidewalk.”
O’Neill said she told an officer who approached her, “This is a public sidewalk and I’m the press. He said ‘OK,’ and cuffed me.”
Many of the protesters were arrested; the exact number could not be determined Thursday night.
“We were out there tonight in Bridgeport demanding justice and answers (for) Jayson,” the Justice for Jayson organization said in a statement late Thursday night. “Police acted without provocation and aggressively moved in on our memorial and arrested a lot of friends and family of Jayson.”
Negron was shot while driving a stolen Subaru Forester on May 9, 2017. He died and a passenger in the car was wounded. Police said Boulay, who was hanging onto the door of the vehicle, opened fire when Negron backed up, endangering the officer.
A state police investigation culminated in a report by Waterbury State Attorney Maureen Platt that cleared Boulay of any criminal wrongdoing and said he was justified in firing his weapon. Members of Negron’s family and others have not accepted the investigation’s findings, and have contended that his death was not justified.