This story has been updated to reflect the version in print on Aug. 31.
A workers’ rights protest conducted by Unidad Latina en Acción was halted Saturday evening after ULA organizer John Lugo was arrested by the New Haven Police Department.
The protest, held outside of Atticus Bookstore and Cafe, was in response to claims that former employee Basilio Santiago was unfairly dismissed without sufficient compensation last November. Lugo was arrested less than an hour into the protest by four NHPD officers. The officers on scene said Lugo’s arrest was unrelated to his behavior at Saturday’s protest. Instead, they said NHPD had an outstanding warrant for Lugo, but declined to comment further on why the warrant was issued. Lugo spent a night in jail before ULA raised $5,000 for his bail.
Lugo said a warrant went out for his arrest after he did not appear at a court hearing for charges of civil disobedience following a July protest in Hartford. The protest, which took place outside Hartford’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was in response to a recent wave of deportations. Lugo said he missed the court date because his mother in Colombia was unwell and he had to visit her. He added that he went to the clerk’s office in Hartford upon his return to explain his absence and was told he must turn himself in, which he plans to do.
“I don’t have charges for assaulting another person or dealing drugs. The only reason I have this charge is because I have been fighting for the rights of the workers,” Lugo said.
The Hartford community clerk’s office confirmed the details of the warrant but could not confirm if Lugo visited the office to explain himself because of the high volume of visitors the office has each day.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman declined to comment on the incident.
Lugo was handcuffed and forced to the ground by officers. New Haven resident and active ULA member Edger Sandoval said the sight of the arrest was aggressive and upsetting for the many children who were on the scene.
“It’s traumatic to see how the police acted. I understand that if it’s a dangerous criminal maybe they have to take certain actions, but we were peacefully protesting,” Sandoval said. “These children are going to see the police as aggressors; no one asked us how they were affected.”
Following Saturday’s arrest, NHPD officers threatened to confiscate the phones and cameras of bystanders who recorded Lugo being taken into police custody. The officers said those devices would be used as evidence of Lugo resisting arrest.
Sandoval said he often feels like the police take the side of business owners during wage theft disputes. Sandoval, who said he has twice been a victim of wage theft, testified before the Connecticut Legislation last year in favor of a double damage law which would allow victims of wage theft to claim twice what they are owed. He said ULA has been working with Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ‘73 to ensure the state and nation enforce labor and wage laws.
Megan Fountain ’07, who has volunteered with ULA since graduating Yale College, said she wants to see the police enforce labor laws more stringently.
“We have laws and yet every year, employers are stealing millions of dollars from workers,” she said. “We don’t necessarily need new laws, we need the state to enforce the law. The police could arrest owners for larceny.”
Lugo attended court on Monday and Tuesday. His next court hearing is on Sept. 17.