Yale Daily News

The Sex Workers and Allies Network, or SWAN, of New Haven is calling for justice after the Connecticut State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed two sexual assault cases against former New Haven Police Department Officer Gary Gamarra. 

Two women have accused Gamarra of coercing them into sexual acts after first interecting with them on duty.  

The NHPD first opened the case in December when the two women collaborated in two Internal Affairs investigations, according to an April 22 SWAN press release and an April New Haven Independent story. After the women gave descriptions of the officer, the NHPD identified Gamarra as the perpetrator based on physical features, his car and the method in which he coerced them. 

After he was identified, Gamarra confessed to engaging in sexual acts with both women but asserted that they were consensual. He resigned from NHPD on Dec. 18, 2020 and then, 10 days later, rescinded his resignation. The State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the cases in April, citing insufficient evidence. This dismissal has led to an outcry by sexual worker advocates in New Haven. 

Neither NHPD, the New Haven Police Union nor the State’s Attorney’s Office responded to multiple requests for comment on this story.

The allegations

The early April New Haven Independent article detailed two sex worker encounters with Gamarra as told through Internal Affairs investigation files after a Freedom of Information Act request. Two detectives led the investigation: Sergeant Ryan Macuirzynski and Detective Kealyn Nivakoff. 

According to the internal investigation file, one of the sex workers — identified on file as CD — who filed a complaint against Gamarra told Nivakoff that after Gamarra caught her engaging in a sexual act with another man for money, a criminalized act, he said CD could be in a lot of trouble and that he did her a huge favor by deciding not to report her. He then asked for a “blowjob” and to see her breasts in return. When both decided that their current location was not “discreet” enough, Gamarra told CD that “she owed him one.”

A week later, Gamarra met CD on Ferry Street while he was off duty to ask for oral sex. They then engaged in the act while he drove around. He then dropped CD off on Long Wharf and did not pay her. CD told Nivakoff she was coerced into engaging in the act because she felt that she needed to do something in exchange for not arresting her. She also said that if she decided not to engage in the act, she believed that he would continue to coerce her.

In his conversation with Macuirzynski, Gamarra said that he did not engage in a sexual act with her because there was no vaginal penetration. He also admitted to not having his body camera on when he first caught CD engaging in a sexual act. Gamarra said he engaged CD because she would repeatedly give him intelligence about criminal activity. Gamarra also told detectives he was having “personal problems with his girlfriend” when he coerced CD.

“Officer Gamarra betrayed the public trust by his actions of knowingly soliciting a sex worker off-duty,” Macuirzynski wrote in the file. “Officer Gamarra did not properly investigate a suspicious act involving [CD] on-duty and subsequently searched for a sex worker to receive oral sex-off-duty… By his own admission, Officer Gamarra knew [CD] to be a sex worker and understood it was wrong to engage in that activity. His actions are held to a higher standard and he destroyed the confidence and respect of the citizens he served in his employment as a New Haven Police Officer.”

The other complaint against Gamarra was made by a sex worker identified on file as AB. Gamarra responded to a pair of domestic disputes involving AB in the summer of 2020. After the second incident, on June 30, Gamarra arrested AB’s boyfriend on a separate charge. AB said that, during the week following the arrest, Gamarra stopped her five times while she was working but did not arrest her. According to Nivakoff’s report, AB said that “[Gamarra] would make comments regarding her physical appearance and made sexual advances towards her.”

One of those times, he stopped her in his personal vehicle, the same one CD described. AB said that she felt an obligation to engage in sexual activity with him because he arrested her boyfriend. The two then had vaginal sexual intercourse during which AB said she was in pain and cried.

Later in July, Gamarra stopped AB again and attempted to get a meal with her after his shift ended, she said. She agreed but did not show up to the restaurant. The next day, he questioned her why “she stood him up.”

Gamarra, when interviewed by detectives, initially denied the allegations and said that he had only interacted with AB “in passing.” However, after reviewing body camera footage, investigators found inconsistencies between Gamarra’s account and the footage. Gamarra’s DNA was also found on AB’s body when she came to the internal investigators. 

After those findings, Gamarra then confessed to having sex with AB but insisted that it was consensual. Nivakoff wrote that Gamarra lied multiple times during his interview and that his conduct was “indirect, misleading and dishonest.”

Nivakoff said that her findings aligned with AB’s allegations.

The reaction

Then-NHPD Chief Otoniel Reyes told the Independent in November that the allegations were substantive and that the force felt an obligation to investigate the allegations. Reyes also said that if Gamarra did not voluntarily resign, he would call on the Board of Police Commissioners to fire him. Gamarra resigned on Dec. 18.

However, on Dec. 28, Gamarra wrote a letter to Reyes and police union President Florencio Cotto declaring his intention to rescind his resignation. He said he hoped that the police union would file a grievance on his behalf. He also said that the manner in which he was compelled to resign was “unfair and coercive” but did not specify what parts of the process were unfair and coercive in the letter.

On March 29 of this year, Acting NHPD Chief Renee Dominguez filed a certification of cancellation, revocation or suspension request form against Gamarra with the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council. This document would prevent Gamarra from serving as a police officer in Connecticut forever once approved by the council.

As of now, Gamarra does not face legal consequences. The State’s Attorney’s Office decided in April that there was not enough evidence to file a criminal case against Gamarra. 

According to Francesca Maviglia Yale-NUS ’20 SPH ’20, a clinical fellow with the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership, SWAN has not appealed the decision but penned a letter to the office, saying that there was little public information about the decision. On April 20, SWAN met with the State’s Attorney’s Office and the NHPD to discuss the case’s dismissal.

Maviglia told the News that the State’s Attorney’s Office told SWAN at the meeting that the dismissal was on the grounds that one of the plaintiffs could not identify the officer in a photo lineup. The office also said that there was a conflicting statement from a third party, raising doubts of whether the act was consensual or not. 

“Photo identification is notoriously difficult,” Maviglia said. “People don’t necessarily look the same in their, you know, their database, both in real life, and you don’t know the state that the victim might have been in when she was asked to do that.”

Maviglia added that she found the decision to dismiss the case as “incredibly reductive and disappointing and does not serve justice to [the victims].” 

The State’s Attorney’s Office told SWAN and the NHPD that the case can be reopened if more women come forward or if the NHPD produces more evidence about the case. 

The outcry

During a protest on April 21 following the dismissal by the State’s Attorney’s Office, SWAN said that there is inherent mistrust between sex workers and the police department because of how sex work is criminalized.

“I’m a sex worker. I’ve been assaulted. But gun to my head, the last thing I would do is go to the police. They’re not going to believe me at the end of the day,” a woman who identified herself as Christine said on the steps of 235 Church St., the location of the State’s Attorney’s Office, during the protest.  

In the April 22 press release, SWAN said women often fear retaliation from police officers in positions of power if they complain about sexual misconduct by police officers. They also said that internal investigations are difficult because of fear that the police department will give more priority to the testimony of a police officer over sex workers, who are often viewed by the police as criminals. 

“It is disturbing to hear how many of our members have stories about being sexually assaulted by police officers,” SWAN’s Founder and Executive Director Beatrice Codianni said in a press release. The release did not specify additional allegations beyond those of AB and CD. “Many of them do not want to meet with the Police Department’s Internal Affairs officers because after having been sexually assaulted by someone who was supposed to protect them, they do not trust the police.” 

A 2020 survey of sex workers compiled by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership in collaboration with SWAN found that two-thirds of sex worker respondents had felt unsafe during interactions with police.

SWAN was founded in 2016.

Razel Suansing is a staff reporter and producer for the City, YTV, and Magazine desks. She covers cops and courts, specifically state criminal justice reform efforts, the New Haven Police Department, and the Yale Police Department. Originally from Manila, Philippines, she is a first-year in Davenport College, majoring in Global Affairs.