Beatrice Codianni said she assumed that, if two separate sex workers spoke up about being raped by the same police officer, and if that officer then confessed to having had sex with both women, the officer would wind up arrested and in court.
“I stand before you today because I was wrong,” she told a crowd gathered on the state courthouse’s steps downtown. “I’m crushed.”
Codianni is the founder and executive director of Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN), a local nonprofit that advocates for and distributes clean needles, food, and medical supplies to city sex workers.
She and roughly 30 SWAN members and supporters rallied outside of the state courthouse at 235 Church St. Wednesday afternoon to protest the state’s attorney’s office’s decision not to press charges against former New Haven Police Officer Gary Gamarra, who has been accused by two city sex workers of raping them.
“They were coerced. That’s rape,” Codianni said. “Why wasn’t this person arrested?”
Codianni played a key role in the two Internal Affairs investigations that ultimately led to Gamarra’s resignation from the New Haven Police Department in December under allegations that he sexually assaulted two different Fair Haven sex workers.
She encouraged the women, typically wary of the police, to work with city investigators. She helped set up interviews over the course of the 14 months of investigations. And she helped the police track down and identify people who might have helpful information but were difficult to stay in touch with because of their unstable housing or drug addictions or employment as sex workers.
Thanks to over 100 pages of documents released by the police department in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request earlier this month, the Independent recently published on what those two city police investigations found:
• Two different sex workers described in strikingly similar detail their separate sexual encounters with Gamarra, which occurred over nine months apart.
• Both women described these encounters as rape and as an abuse of Gamarra’s authority as a then-police officer.
• Gamarra repeatedly lied to city investigators when questioned about his on-duty and off-duty activity.
• Gamarra ultimately admitted to having had sex with both of these sex workers, though he insisted—and continues to insist, even as he fights to get his job back—that both sexual encounters were consensual. The city’s acting police chief, meanwhile, has asked the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) to cancel Gamarra’s police certification, so that he can never work as a police officer in Connecticut again.
As part of that FOIA response, the police department provided the Independent with a March 18 letter from Supervisory Asst. State’s Attorney Lisa D’Angelo to Lt. David Zannelli, who heads the city’s Internal Affairs division.
In that letter, the state prosecutor wrote that the state’s attorney’s office would not be pressing charges against Gamarra because the city police investigators did “not assert that there is probable cause to make an arrest.”
While both city investigations found that Gamarra violated a host of departmental orders—including regarding rules of conduct, incident reports, body worn cameras, patrol operations, and radio communications—neither city detective explicitly concluded that Gamarra should be arrested and charged with any criminal offense, including rape.
New Haven State’s Attorney Pat Griffin told the Independent Wednesday that there was insufficient evidence to support bringing criminal charges.
“If addition evidence is forthcoming, we will look at it,” Griffin added.
Gamarra’s incriminating statements made during the internal affairs investigation are not admissible in a court of law, under special protections for public employees laid down in the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Garrity v. New Jersey.
“This Isn’t Consensual. This Is Coercion”
During Wednesday’s protest on the courthouse steps, Codianni and dozens of colleagues and advocates expressed their frustration, anger, disbelief, and hurt at the state’s attorney’s office’s decision not to prosecute.
SWAN volunteer and Yale Global Health Justice Partnership Clinical Fellow Francesca Maviglia described a meeting that she and Codianni had on Tuesday with several prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office.
“We were told that the evidence isn’t strong enough to hold up in court. That there isn’t probable cause for arrest,” Maviglia said.
Because one of the victims failed to identify Gamarra by photograph, she said, and because, even though the other victim did identify him, a third party said that her encounter with Gamarra was a consensual act, “this makes the evidence inconsistent.”
“We think that the victims’ testimony is more important than the testimony of a third party,” she continued. “And that the victim is the one who should be believe.”
Maviglia noted that both victims’ testimonies to the police match.
“They both described the same car. They gave the same physical description of Gamarra. They describe the same dynamics of coercion and harassment and intimidation. The victims’ account of events also matches Gamarra’s. The only difference is that he claims that it was consensual. But how can you be consensual when the victims have been subjected to harassment, to intimidation.
“They were told that they needed to provide sexual acts as a payback for not being arrested. This isn’t consensual. This is coercion. It’s clear to us that coercion happened, that he used his power and authority as a police officer, and this means that this act is rape.”
Maviglia said that the state prosecutors were wary of how the police found the victims difficult to work with: how the women sometimes didn’t answer calls and disappeared for a long period of time, how they were hard to reach.
“But when somebody’s unstably housed, when somebody struggles with unstable employment, with lack of money, with health issues, with food insecurity, when they’re afraid of retaliation, when they do not trust the police, it’s hard to meet the standards needed to be a good, credible victim. So the burden shouldn’t be on the victims to make themselves good enough or compliant enough to be protected. The burden should be on the system to protect them” regardless of their current job, the neighborhood they live in, or the stability of their life.
SWAN Director of Advocacy Karolina Ksiazek (pictured at right) agreed.
“The police are supposed to keep us safe,” she said.
“What does it say about them that some of the most marginalized people in this community, the people that need that protection the most, feel less safe when the police is around? What are we supposed to do when the people who are supposed to protect us are the ones who are harming us?”
SWAN member Christine (pictured) said that she is currently an active sex worker and drug user in New Haven.
She and Codianni said that the two women who wound up collaborating with city police on their months’ long investigations into Gamarra aren’t the only two who have spoken up to SWAN about allegedly being assaulted by Gamarra.
“There weren’t two women. There were five women assaulted by this police officer, and some didn’t want to come forward,” Christine said. “I had to hear these stories. We had to hear these stories. And the only word I heard over and over again [was] ‘retaliation.’”
Christine said that she regularly hears from fellow sex workers about being assaulted on and off the job. All she can do when she’s told such a story, she said, is hold that woman in her arms, tell her she believes her, and ask if she wants to go to the hospital or speak with the police.
All too often, Christine said, the answer to those latter questions is, “No.”
“It’s just not worth the trouble. These two women who did come forward, they got let down. They got let down by our system. They got let down by everyone but SWAN and Beatrice.”
SWAN outreach worker Sally Graveline (pictured) said that she knows the two women involved in this case. She said that both have descended into even more severe drug use after they found out that Gamarra would not be prosecuted.
“They felt like they had to do it,” she said about their respective sexual encounters with Gamarra. “If they’re raped, they’re raped.”
Fellow SWAN outreach worker Elida Paiz (pictured) said that just because these women are sex workers doesn’t mean that anyone—especially a police officer—has the right to assault them.
“It doesn’t mean it entitles anyone to abuse and exploit them,” she said. “For a police officer to do this, it shows how badly criminalization has made it for sex workers.”
Everyone who spoke up on Wednesday said that they wanted the state’s prosecutor’s office to press ahead with charging Gamarra, and they wanted the city police department to find and provide more evidence to bolster the case, if state prosecutors indeed believe that the current slate of evidence is not enough.
SWAN volunteer Nika Zarazvand (pictured) led the group in a call and response towards the end of the protest. Consent is “something that you say, something you think, something you feel,” she said. “It has nothing to do with who you are.”
“My job!” she shouted.
“Is not consent,” the protesters replied.
The place that I live at!
Is not consent.
Being a sex worker!
Is not consent.
Is not consent.
Is not consent.
Being a survivor!
Is not consent.