Dozens of local activists assembled outside New Haven Superior Court Thursday morning to support Aymir Holland, an African-American teenager charged with assaulting 79-year-old Yale professor Charles Hill in November 2015.
The activists — some of whom wore T-shirts bearing the message “Bring Aymir Home” — gathered in support of Holland, 17, at a pretrial hearing in which Judge Patrick Clifford continued the case until Sept. 9 — postponing for two weeks a decision on whether to move the case to juvenile court.
Holland, one of the three black men allegedly involved in the assault, is currently set to be tried as an adult on five felony charges stemming from the night of Nov. 27, when Hill was mugged near the corner of Bradley Street and Whitney Avenue as he walked home from work. Hill, who served as a foreign policy advisor in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, told police he was punched, kicked and thrown to the ground. His wallet and backpack were stolen, and he was taken to the hospital with three broken ribs and a broken bone in his right knee, according to a police department affidavit.
Holland, who was 16 at the time of the assault, has spent the last seven months in the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, and faces up to 61 years in prison.
But Holland’s mother, Latoya Willis, insists that her son — who she says has no criminal history and whom friends describe as a kind and likeable classmate — is innocent. She claims that he merely watched as the assault took place. The police affidavit contradicts parts of her account.
Over the past month, a network of local activists led by the Citywide Youth Coalition has campaigned for Holland’s case to be moved to juvenile court. That support has already made a difference, Willis said: She was approached earlier this month by a private attorney, Jason Goddard, who promptly took over the case from a public defender who she said was unsupportive and hard to reach.
“I am smiling,” Willis told the News at the protest. “I appreciate the love and support from the community. The love and support is overwhelming.”
Goddard declined to comment, and Willis said the attorney advised her not to go into too much detail about the case.
But that reticence did not extend to the dozens of supporters who assembled outside the courthouse Thursday morning, chanting “Bring Aymir justice, bring Aymir home” as they waved signs and greeted honking cars.
Addys Castillo — the executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition and one of the leaders of the campaign to move the case to juvenile court — told the News that Holland’s plight is indicative of a broader problem: the mass incarceration of young black men.
“We’re standing in front of High Court, where they prosecuted the Cheshire murderer, for crying out loud,” said Castillo, referring to a notorious murder case from the mid-2000s. “This is not just about Aymir, but about the criminal justice system.”
In an interview last week, the Citywide Youth Coalition’s project manager, Melanie Gonzalez, said Holland’s case reveals the cracks in state-level reforms addressing problems with Connecticut’s juvenile justice system. Just last spring, Gov. Dannel Malloy called on legislators to raise the age at which young people who have committed crimes can be classified as adults. In Connecticut, juveniles over the age of 16 and juveniles under the age of 16 who have committed violent crimes may be tried as adults.
A team of local high school students worked with the coalition to organize the protest, as well as other gestures of support for Holland, including a GoFundMe page that has raised roughly $1,000 of its $50,000 goal and an online petition.
“The purpose is to spread awareness and try to find out the ways we can crack down on the juvenile system,” said 17-year-old Lowiya Arouna, who attends Wilbur Cross High School. “It could be any of us. It’s just not right.”