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“We Charge You”: After a Bridgeport police officer killed a 15-year-old, a long fight for accountability

“I would never imagine having to prepare for my brother’s birthday by picking out decorations for a memorial site.”

On September 14, 2018, Jazmarie “Jaz” Melendez, a 20-year-old with a high ponytail and ripped blue jeans, stood on a makeshift platform in McLevy Green Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Around fifty people dotted the lawn in front of her. Her black t-shirt read, “Charge Officer Boulay with Murder.”

A large white banner listing the names of civilians recently killed by Bridgeport police hung from the platform below Jaz’s feet. On its left was a photo of a young Latino teenager, Jayson Negron, Jaz’s younger brother. He sported a white quarter zip and short, curly brown hair. Jayson shared Jaz’s big brown eyes and freckles, but the picture’s focus was on his wide smile. It was a high school class photograph.

The crowd had gathered that evening for what would have been Jayson Negron’s 17th birthday. Kerry Ellington, an organizer with Justice for Jayson, an activist group formed after Jayson’s death, stood to speak. She yelled, “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE, NO RACIST POLICE.” The crowd joined the chant before falling to the ground, face up in a die-in protest.

On May 9, 2017, Bridgeport Police Officer James Boulay shot and killed unarmed 15-year-old Jayson Negron. Jayson and a friend, Julian Fyffe, 21, had been driving a stolen car in Bridgeport when they heard sirens behind them. Less than 15 minutes later, around 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, Jayson lay dead on a congested street with four bullet wounds. Within minutes, police officers and civilian cars had surrounded him, and a crowd had begun to congregate. Jayson’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

***

WE CHARGE YOU

Mayor Joe Ganim, Acting Chief AJ Perez, Bridgeport Police Department

[Justice for Jayson Facebook post, June 2018, shared 13 times]

***

In the days following Jayson’s death, his killing sparked local and national outrage. Family members and community activists organized to demand accountability from the Bridgeport Police Department (BPD) and police statewide. Still, the truth about May 9 emerged slowly, with police reports and witness accounts in conflict. Confronted with a visible police killing in downtown Bridgeport at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, BPD engaged in a series of missteps and inconsistencies that clouded the public narrative. Two years later, Officer Boulay still patrols the streets of Bridgeport, and BPD has faced no official consequences. (BPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

With a population of 145,936, Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut. The state has the third-worst level of income inequality in the U.S.—the most unequal nation in the world, according to the Global Wealth Report. Bridgeport and its surrounding areas embody this trend: The city lies on the northern shore of the Long Island Sound, just a few miles from some of the nation’s wealthiest suburban enclaves.  

Demographically, Bridgeport does not match its surroundings, and BPD does not match its city. Forty-two percent of Bridgeport police officers identify as Black and/or Latino, compared to 72 percent of the city’s population. Still, BPD is one of the most diverse forces in the state, and the department actively attempts to recruit minority residents as officers. In November 2017, six months after Jayson’s death, BPD received a 1.75 million-dollar federal grant to expand its already-large community policing program.

Despite its attempts to diversify the force, BPD has come under intense scrutiny from local activists, community members, and civil liberties organizations. In 2015, two BPD officers were sent to prison for using excessive force on a suspect. In March 2019, the department released a report that cited 17 officers for violations of conduct in a single incident.

But activists say that the issues go beyond the reported incidents. Kerry and Jeannia Fu, both New Haven-based Justice for Jayson organizers, stressed the magnitude of police violence both in Bridgeport and across the state.

“From April 2016 to now, 16 people have died at the hand of Connecticut police,” Kerry said. “You know about Jayson, maybe Corbin, maybe some others. But this problem is more than just shootings. It’s police chases and all this other stuff that puts the community in danger.” Since Jayson’s passing, separate BPD chases led to the deaths of Corbin Cooper, an 18-year-old driver, and Susan Tomcyzk, a 61-year-old passerby.

***

#WeChargeYou with the murders of  

Jayson Negron, age 15 (2017)

Corbin Cooper, age 18 (2018)
David Anderson, age 22 (2016)

Susan Tomcyzk, age 61 (2017)

[Justice for Jayson Facebook post, June 2018, shared 13 times]

***

Born in Bridgeport in 2001, Jayson lived in the city with his mother, Natasha Tosado, and older half-sister, Jaz. “The three of us were incredibly close,” Jaz told me over the phone in April 2019. “But Jayson and my mom, they were best friends. They had a type of love I can’t even put into words.”

Jaz remembers Jayson as a funny, sweet, and slightly protective younger brother. “I’m older, but I always made the joke that he was the one taking care of me,” she said. “Whenever I was sick, he’d bring me food, check my temperature. He wanted to make sure that everyone he loved was perfect.”

In May 2017, Jayson was four months away from his 16th birthday, when he could finally receive a learner’s permit. A close relative had bought him a new car to celebrate the occasion. Two years later, Jayson J. Negron remains stamped across the car’s rear windshield.

The family wanted to ensure that Jayson finished school, and despite his academic challenges, Jayson maintained regular attendance. “School was sometimes tough for Jayson,” said Jaz in a video posted on Facebook last year. At an early age, Natasha said, Jayson found a passion outside the classroom in music.

In middle school, Jayson and his friends made rap videos outside his father’s apartment complex in Bridgeport. By the time he entered high school, Jayson loved to write his own lyrics. He soon met other students and older friends who became his musical collaborators. His rap name was 2Oz., “Two Ounce,” and he had released a few records on SoundCloud.

Amani, a friend who ran Just Right Studios in Bridgeport, saw Jayson three to four days a week. According to Amani, Jayson was always ready to get behind the mic and recite his lyrics.

“It was him and his music. He didn’t talk about nothing else,” Amani said in a video posted to Facebook last year. After each recording session, Amani would invite Jayson back to his house for dinner. “He was like my little bro. And my mama loved Jayson,” Amani said.

Jayson had not shared much of his music with Jaz. She said he wanted to perfect several songs before releasing them. According to Jaz and young musicians he recorded with, Jayson had the ambition to make it. He planned to be famous.

***

Jayson Negron. Suspected of a Misdemeanor. ORDERED TO DEATH.

[Justice for Jayson Facebook post, July 2018, shared 30 times.]

***

On May 9, 2017, Jayson was on his way to a music recording session at Just Right Studios. He picked up an older friend, Julian Fyffe. As the two drove down Park Avenue just before 5 p.m., sirens and lights began to flash behind their brown Subaru Forester.

A day earlier, on May 8, a license plate reader had scanned the same Subaru Forester when it was parked outside of Jayson’s home. A hit came up: The car had been stolen from a nearby suburb in April. In the state investigation conducted after Jayson’s death, police found that he had received a Facebook message with a picture of the Subaru’s keys around the time it was stolen.

Though department protocol requires that police immediately take custody of stolen vehicles, the officers left the Subaru outside Jayson’s house. The next day, when Jayson took the car out to go to Just Right, he passed an undercover officer, Detective James Borrico. Borrico, who had been previously under investigation and cleared for a 2013 excessive force case, followed Jayson and called for backup. A patrol car quickly arrived, carrying rookie officer James Boulay in the passenger’s seat; the officers turned on the patrol car’s lights and sirens.

According to police statements, when Jayson heard the sirens, he did not pull over. Instead, the underage driver turned left onto Washington Avenue and then made an immediate right into a Walgreens parking lot. Video footage shows him speeding through the parking lot before stopping briefly at an exit onto Fairfield Avenue.

“He looked young, dazed, confused, and nervous,” one onlooker wrote in a statement for police. “I was concerned that he may damage my car; he seemed disoriented. He presented like a very nervous, new driver.”

Police officers at the scene interpreted the car’s movement as a threat. Detective Borrico said in a written statement, “The Subaru Forester again accelerated forward and backward ramming vehicle[s] in its way in efforts to flee.”

Boulay got out of the patrol car followed Jayson’s car on foot as Jayson turned onto Fairfield.

“Get out of the car! Get out of the fucking car or I’m gonna fucking shoot you!” screamed Boulay, according to multiple witness statements.  

Jayson backed up a bit, but then continued driving forward, side-sweeping cars that were stopped at a red light on Fairfield Avenue. It was peak traffic time on a congested street in Bridgeport.

According to witnesses, Boulay ran toward the driver’s side with his gun out of his holster and pointed ahead. He opened the door and attempted to grab Jayson’s arm, while Jayson leaned onto Julian in the passenger seat. Jayson’s foot was on the gas pedal, Boulay testified, and “the car reversed,” according to witness and police statements.

Boulay and nearby police officers, including Borrico, stated that Boulay was being dragged under the car. In initial police reports, Boulay was allegedly standing behind Jayson’s car as it reversed. But the police later admitted that the witness statements were correct: Boulay stood next to the driver’s seat, and the car moved backwards at five miles per hour. Boulay nevertheless claimed that his life was in danger.

One witness in a car on Fairfield Avenue wrote, “The car moved briefly in reverse causing the officer to be jolted by the open driver’s side door positioned to the left of him which moved towards him. Had the car moved in reverse more forcefully and for a longer period of time, the officer could have fallen and potentially been more seriously injured. In this case, the officer became off balance.”

Boulay claims that he fired his weapon while the car was in reverse. But one civilian witness claimed to have seen the car briefly pause before Boulay began shooting. Though this detail could not be confirmed due to conflicting witness accounts, what happened next was clear. Two shots were fired, then a pause. Four more followed.

A witness later stated, “I saw the teen’s face. I saw what I thought was the life going out of him. His head leaned back slowly and his eyes looked up slowly. His energy faded as he relaxed his body. His expression was subtle. The fear was gone.”

***

“Why does someone have to die for a stolen car?”

[JR, Jayson’s friend, Justice for Jayson campaign video, May 2018]

***

Kerry Ellington was sitting in her car in New Haven around 5:30 p.m. when she began to receive texts about a police shooting in Bridgeport. Around 7:45 p.m., Kerry arrived outside the Walgreens in Bridgeport. About 100 people were already there, slowly gathering as they each heard the news from networks of family and friends.

“I didn’t expect to see the body,” Kerry said. “There was a boy’s body, just laying out there. We didn’t know who he was. But he was there.”

That evening, Jayson Negron’s body lay on Fairfield Avenue for six hours. His stomach against the street, his hands cuffed behind his back with a zipper rope, his entire body uncovered. Without police partitions, the 15-year-old boy became an evening spectacle.

Police cars circled Jayson’s body and surveilled the area of downtown Bridgeport. They watched the community members who had gathered, a multigenerational mix of predominantly Black and Latino residents.

“One woman kept saying, ‘A baby died, a baby died.’ I remember hearing that again and again and again,” said Jeannia, who arrived at the scene that evening.

Livestreams from the scene showed people expressing both grief and anger, some crying, some screaming, some invoking Black Lives Matter. Few had any information. No one had organized an action; they had gathered spontaneously in the wake of a visible tragedy.

“We didn’t really know what was going on,” said Kerry. “We didn’t know his name; we didn’t know the police officer. All we saw was the body dead on the ground.”

Around 10:45 p.m., almost six hours after the shooting, Jayson’s body was taken away. The public watched as he was covered, and many stayed for hours into the night yelling demands to know what happened, to know the names of the officers involved, and calling for their arrests.

Kerry headed home at 1:30 a.m., exhausted physically and emotionally from six hours at the scene of a killing.

***

Be on the lookout for this officer: James Boulay

Officer James Boulay has a history of excessive force. Within months as a rookie cop in the Bridgeport Police Department, he punched a resident in the face and murdered 15-year-old Jayson Negron.

[Justice for Jayson Facebook post, September 2018]

***

On the morning of May 10, 2017, Jaz Melendez woke up to her usual alarm so she could make her biology class at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. She looked at her phone and saw several messages from friends and family members. Then she opened Instagram and saw photos of Jayson with the caption, “Rest in Peace.”

“At that moment, I had no clue. I had no idea how to process that,” she said. Jaz called a close relative. “They said, ‘We’re not sure if what they’re saying is true. We don’t know if it was Jayson who was actually the one who was murdered, or if he was just there in the car.’”

Jaz spent the rest of her morning trying to piece together what had happened. Jayson wasn’t answering his phone. Jaz and her father visited police stations and several Bridgeport hospitals, searching for him.

“I was just trying to find out info on where my brother was, and nobody was giving it to me,” said Jaz. “Everyone was saying that they couldn’t tell me anything.”At the police station, officers walked around mentioning that 2Oz., Jayson’s artist persona, had been killed. But they still wouldn’t provide confirmation to Jaz.

Finally, that afternoon, Jayson’s father, Juan Negron, called Jaz with the news. Family members told her that a protest was going on that evening and that one had occurred the night before.

“I tried calling my brother that night, on May 9. I think about that sometimes, that he was already killed when I called him,” she said, her voice cracking over the phone. “I wish I could have been there with my brother.”

Late on May 10, Jaz arrived at the scene of her brother’s death: the Walgreens parking lot. A memorial had already been created for Jayson, and people who claimed to be witnesses came up to her and told her what they had seen.

“Already they were telling me things that didn’t match up with what the police said. The police said that Boulay was behind the car, that Jayson tried to run him over. Boulay wasn’t behind it, he was holding his gun out at the driver’s seat,” Jaz told me. “[BPD Chief] AJ Perez was going all over and telling people Jayson died of a gunshot wound to the head. He wasn’t even shot in the head.”

***

It is clear that the lives of Black and Brown youth do not matter to Officer James Boulay. He must be fired and charged with murder.

HE IS ARMED AND WILL KILL AGAIN.

[Justice for Jayson Facebook post, September 2018]

***

“Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” Kerry yelled into the microphone. It was midday on May 10, 2017, before Jaz arrived. Kerry stood on Fairfield Avenue at the site of Jayson’s death. Dozens of people circled her and repeated the chant. After Kerry sent out messages in several online groups the day before, around 400 people showed up to protest the killing.

Attendees responded not only to Jayson’s death but also to nationwide police violence against unarmed teens of color. Jayson was the third 15-year-old to be killed by a police officer in 2017. The power of the social media pervaded the speeches, and community members made comparisons to 18-year-old Mike Brown and 12-year-old Tamir Rice. They called out the lack of police transparency, a recurring pattern in police shooting cases.

“BPD, Who do you protect and serve?” read a sign held by a middle-aged Black woman with short red hair.

As the daylight turned into dusk, the crowd marched to Bridgeport’s central police station, about a half mile away. When they arrived, at least 13 police officers stood on the roof, some armed with guns, others carrying cameras, several protesters said. On the ground, the marchers found themselves surrounded.

“They kettled us,” Kerry told me, referring to the controversial practice of restricting protesters. She moved her hands to two corners on the coffee table in front of her, mimicking how officers confined marchers into a single block, preventing access to the sidewalk. Only one small exit remained, and some of the marchers began to leave out of fear.

Kerry felt scared, and at times, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to leave. She had been to many protests, but she had never seen a police response so large, aggressive, and coordinated, she said. “We were all already traumatized,” she told me. “Then they retraumatized us.”

***

I’m in so much pain right now, they left my baby cousin on the ground to die.

[@FTWGiovanni Tweet, May 2017, Favorited 58 times]

***

“We were mad at the start, but I didn’t even see the video until days later,” said Kerry, referring to now-infamous footage of Jayson’s body.

Three days after Jayson’s death, Giovanni Rivera, Jayson’s cousin, posted a grainy, one-minute video on Twitter of the minutes after Jayson was shot. The start of the video shows Jayson’s body lying still on the ground, his left cheek pressed against the pavement and his head pointing slightly to the right. Four seconds later, the camera refocuses. Jayson’s head appears to have moved, and he is now facedown on the street. During the entire video, a police officer stands next to the body, not engaging with the onlookers. Medical assistance has yet to arrive.

Rivera tweeted, “This is a nightmare… Bridgeport PD told my family they shot Jayson in the head and was dead on scene this video clearly shows otherwise.”

Though initial police reports stated that Jayson died on impact of the gunshot wounds, Assistant Medical Examiner Gregory Vincent could not identify a specific time of death. Jayson could have been alive when Officer Boulay and Detective Borrico took Jayson’s wounded body out of the car, laid him down on the ground, pulled his hands together, and fastened them behind his back with handcuffs.

Those moments were recorded on a cell phone camera, then reposted hundreds of times on Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. The New York Times and The Washington Post picked up the story. The incident shed light on the power of social media in the age of Black Lives Matter, but it also led to the replaying of a teenager’s death on thousands of newsfeeds.

Jaz felt blindsided by the release of the video. “As a sister, you don’t ever wanna see that. That’s the first thing you see when you search up Jayson, when you Google his name.” She knew that the video proved that the police had lied about Jayson’s time of death, but it left the pain of seeing her brother’s body on the ground, played in loops on cable television.

Responding to the outcry over the police’s handling of the investigation, BPD Chief Armando Perez admitted that he and his force did not know what to do with Jayson’s body. Police at the scene questioned whether covering the body would create contamination, or interfere with the fresh, ongoing state investigation of the use of deadly force by a white cop on an unarmed teen.

Ultimately, Perez regretted the decision to leave the body in view. In a press conference on May 13, 2017, he commented, “I don’t care if it’s a good guy or a bad guy—I will never allow that to happen again. Never. That’s normal procedure: we hide the body.”

***

We will never forget you, Jayson!

We love and miss you!

#Justice for Jayson

[Justice for Jayson Facebook post, December 2018, shared 26 times]

***

On January 26, 2018, 263 days after Jayson’s death, Connecticut State Attorney Maureen Platt released the findings of the investigation of Officer Boulay and the events leading to the shooting. They brought Jaz into a small meeting room in the State Attorney’s Waterbury office.

Jaz, wearing her black T-shirt with the words “Charge Officer James Boulay with Murder,” was surrounded by state police and representatives. They outlined the many findings of the investigation, confirming some of what Jaz had already heard from speaking to witnesses. The stolen car had been scanned the night before, Officer Boulay was next to the driver’s seat, and Jayson did not run him over.

But Platt explained that Boulay would be cleared of all charges. The conclusion was clear. “Officer James Boulay reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend himself from the use of deadly force—that being the Subaru operated by Jayson Negron.”

Jaz expected the decision, but she became emotional hearing it for the first time. “I had some faith in the system, the facts were there,” said Jaz.

The day before, BPD sent warnings to residents about potential “violent riots” following report’s release. They delivered flyers to businesses, closed schools early, and listed help from nearby police departments.

In the early evening hours of that cold January night, protesters found themselves confronted by hundreds of police officers with shields, gas masks, and riot gear. The protesters marched for Jayson’s case, objecting to Boulay’s return to the force. The protests lasted hours, but there was no reported violence nor any arrests.

Later that year, I asked Kerry how the group continued their fight after the decision. “I mean, people need to know what’s going on,” Kerry said. “And change can happen at the city. There’s a police commission in Bridgeport [that] is not doing shit right now, but they could fire Boulay.” She then listed off other ways the group has made an impact: placing pressure on Chief Perez to resign from his post, derailing Mayor Ganim’s gubernatorial campaign, and organizing for other victims of police violence in Connecticut.

It was only after Jayson’s death that Jaz, then a first-year college student, entered the activism community. “They gave me strength,” she said. “They just empowered me. I felt a strong sense of community from many people and felt their love.”

For Jaz, activism has taken an extremely personal toll. “It’s an emotional feeling to know that when I’m standing out there, yelling for Justice for Jayson, that that’s my brother. I have this pain tied to it.”

Since May 2017, Justice for Jayson has evolved to become a broader, state-wide movement pushing for changes to police culture. The group has planned numerous protests, marches, and memorials for those who have died in Bridgeport and in other Connecticut cities. The police remain a constant presence in their actions. In November 2017, BPD took down a memorial made on the side of the road where Jayson was killed.

Jaz has carried her love for Jayson to her sustained activism. “When I think of Jayson, I think of sunshine,” Jaz told me. She and other family members constantly refer to his wide smile: it had become emblematic of Jayson’s youth, and to them, his innocence.

Seeing the deaths of other Black and Latino youths has intensified the movement’s demands. “We’re fighting so hard for this to never happen again, to know that one life has already been lost so close to me,” said Jaz. “To relate that pain to other families who experienced that after Jayson gets me even more upset. You feel their pain.”