Nati Tesfaye, Contributing Photographer

Community activists and leaders gathered for a series of rallies over seven days in June to raise awareness and hold city officials accountable as part of their ongoing fight against wrongful convictions and excessive policing. 

Gaylord Salters, who maintains he was wrongfully convicted and spent over 20 years in prison due to prosecutorial misconduct, was one of the main organizers of the “7 Days of Truth with Proof” rally series. Since his release last July, Salters has been advocating to overturn his conviction and raise awareness about the prevalence of wrongful convictions in the city. 

Through his publishing company, Salters has been hosting community events which include pop-up pizza parties and peaceful demonstrations. 

In an interview with the News, Salters said that upon his return, he felt he had to help others who were wrongfully convicted. 

“When I left prison, I knew there were a lot of people who were wrongfully convicted as a result of New Haven’s crisis,” Salters said. “That’s what compelled me to give a voice to the voiceless. I was voiceless at one point, and without having assistance, overcoming a wrongful conviction is a very very tedious job.” 

Salters began planning 7 Days of Truth with Proof while he was incarcerated and began organizing in the months following his release. Through his work, Salters was able to gain the support of individuals and organizations like Jeffery Desckovic, whose wrongful 1990 conviction in New York gained national attention, the New England Innocence Project, and the Yale Law and Racial Justice Center. 

To highlight the role mass incarceration and wrongful convictions play in tearing families apart across the country, Salters decided to have the last day of the 7 Days of Truth with Proof series fall on Father’s Day. 

The program’s events also shed light on the struggles formerly incarcerated individuals face upon their return. 

Matthew Abraham, who served 20 years and seven months on the charge of a manslaughter with a firearm, now works for an organization called Untreated Citizens, which aims to help formerly incarcerated individuals reacclimate into society. 

Abraham spoke about the importance of treating and starting conversations surrounding mental health at the rally.

“I suffered while I was incarcerated, before I was incarcerated, and while I was incarcerated,” Abraham said in a speech. “We want to get those that have interest and were incarcerated to become healers….. We have people that will give them what they need. We are going to continue to heal brothers and sisters that are coming home. We have to address their unresolved suffering.”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, the state of Connecticut has exonerated 31 individuals since 1989, and 15 of them have come from New Haven. 

Salters and other community leaders claimed that prosecutors hold too much power while challenging the misdeeds of police and district attorneys remains an uphill battle. In Connecticut, judges were unable to modify lengthy prison sentences without the approval of state’s attorney until 2021. With the passage of a 2021 state law, incarcerated people including Gaylord Salters were able to seek a sentence reduction. 

“We have so much truth, we have so much proof that we are going to get this national conversation started,” Salters said in a speech. “But more than anything, we need to power the people so that we can make sure that we get absolute immunity from prosecutors modified.” 

Alexander T. Taubes LAW ’15, a civil rights lawyer based in New Haven, highlighted how the list of prosecutorial and detective misdeeds in the city goes “on and on.” 

In his speech, Taubes claimed that New Haven police officers and detectives participated in bribery and coercion for years. 

In the case of Chris Valentine, Regina Coleman, a key witness in his conviction, testified that Det. Joe Greene bribed her with money. Detectives have also deprived suspects of sleep in order to coerce a confession, as in the case of Bobby Griffin Jr., who would later on be convicted and sentenced to 90 years in prison. 

“People’s constitutional rights are violated, and they go to prison wrongfully when witnesses are coerced or bribed to give testimony as they were in case after case,” he said. “Not just with the incentive of getting out of prison but literally bribing with money and drugs and threatening other aspects of their lives.” 

One potential solution for greater prosecutorial accountability includes yearly hearings where prosecutors disclose the cases they have worked on to the public. 

Salters argued that given the state’s lack of a robust infrastructure in addressing wrongful convictions, new systems need to be put in place. 

Over the coming months, Salters told the News he hopes to expand his company’s budget so he can host more events and rallies and urged community members to donate and get involved. 

The District Attorney’s office is located at 157 Church Street.

Nati Tesfaye is a sophomore in Branford College from East Haven, Connecticut. He covers business, workers and unions in the city of New Haven. Last year, he covered housing and homelessness for the News.