The Story of Malik Jones and its Relevance Today

In the past six years, a number of high-profile incidents have raised issues of police brutality to the forefront of the American consciousness. Beginning with the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin and followed by other nationally recognizable incidents including the police-related deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, the deaths of black civilians at the hands of law enforcement have garnered national attention and outrage (Lowery, 2015). However, to residents of New Haven this outrage is not a new phenomenon. Two decades earlier, the death of Malik Jones at the hands of East Haven officer Robert Flodquist galvanized the New Haven area in a similar way, leading to protests, an extended legal battle, and lasting activism efforts. 

On the evening of April 14, 1997, 21 year old Malik Jones, an African American resident of New Haven and father of one, was driving through East Haven in an Oldsmobile owned by his friend Samuel Cruz, who was accompanying him in the passenger’s seat. (2nd Cir., 2012; Dearington, 1997; Bass and Lum, 1997). According to officer Robert Flodquist, a white member of the East Haven Police Department, a driver in a red Subaru flagged Flodquist down and told him that he had seen “a gray Oldsmobile going 80 miles per hour” (Dearington, 1997; Tuhus, 1997). Although police never identified the driver who supposedly flagged down Flodquist, and it is unclear how Flodquist was able to locate Jones’ supposedly speeding vehicle, Flodquist began to pursue Jones and Cruz, both of whom were unarmed. Jones began driving towards New Haven as Flodquist followed with sirens blaring (Dearington, 1997; 2nd cir., 2012; Bass and Lum, 1997). The chase continued onto the highway and back into New Haven, where Jones pulled into a vacant lot near his home, and then exited the lot, at which point he was blocked by two police cars facing him (Dearington, 1997). While details of the proceeding events vary based on eyewitness accounts, it is agreed upon that officer Flodquist and another officer exited their vehicles with their weapons drawn, and that Flodquist used his gun to break the Oldsmobile window. Jones then attempted put the car in reverse, at which point Officer Flodquist fired multiple shots, killing Jones (2d Cir., 2012). 

During the following months and years, members of the East Haven and New Haven communities staged numerous rallies, protests, and marches, in both East Haven and New Haven, with Jones’ mother, Emma Jones, at the forefront (Abrecht, 1999). According to the New York Times, the outcry “galvanized the religious, political, academic and law enforcement communities unlike any other event in the region in recent years,” (Tuhus, 1997) leading to the establishment of the MALIK organization, which has continuously advocated for establishment of a civilian review board (Jones et al., 2018). In order to build better cross-racial understanding within the community, multiple churches within new Haven undertook partnerships during which members of different races met repeatedly (Tuhus, 1997). Due to the nature of the chase, which involved police crossing city lines over an alleged misdemeanor, the University of New Haven began a review of proper police chase policies (Tuhus, 1997). And, as a direct result of the shooting, the Connecticut state legislature implemented a law which explicitly banned racial profiling in police stops and required police officers to record the race of all people stopped as well as the officer’s reasoning (2d Cir., 2012; Weizel, 1999).

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Connecticut State’s attorney at the time, Michael Dearington, opened an investigation into the Jones shooting (Blint and D’Arcy, 1999). Additionally, pressure from the New Haven branch of the N.A.A.C.P led to the opening of an FBI investigation into whether Jones’ civil rights had been violated (Blint and D’Arcy, 1999). However, Dearington cleared Flodquist of all wrongdoing, stating that Flodquist’s actions were “reasonable and justified” (Dearington 51). The FBI investigation found that, while Flodquist had violated typical police procedures in the shooting of Jones, Jones’ civil rights had not been violated (Blint and D’Arcy, 1999). In 1999, after the criminal inquiries had found Flodquist not guilty, Emma Jones filed a civil suit against Officer Flodquist as well as the cities of East Haven and New Haven, alleging racial profiling on the part of the Flodquist and the East Haven Police Department. (Blint and D’Arcy, 1999; Singer, 2003). In 2003, a federal jury ordered East Haven to pay Emma Jones $2.5 million after finding that East Haven was responsible for the violation of Jones’ civil rights (Apuzzo, 2003; Bass, 2010). However, the award was thrown out and the case was sent back to court based on a technicality (Bass, 2010). In 2010, a jury ordered East Haven to pay Emma Jones $900,000 in compensatory damages, but this order was overturned on appeal, and in 2013, the Supreme Court denied Emma Jones’ request, ending the legal battle over justice for Malik (Bass, 2010; New Haven Independent, 2013).  

To many, the incident served as another chapter in the East Haven Police Department’s long history of biased policing and excessive tactics, to the point that “blacks and Latinos were scared when they drove into [East Haven] that they were going to be stopped and brutalized without a pretext” (P. Bass, personal communication, October 16, 2018). In September 2009, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department started an investigation into the East Haven Police Department, based on allegations that the EHPD had systematically engaged in unlawful traffic stops of Latino drivers (Perez, 2011). According to the resulting report,  EHPD engages in discriminatory policing against Latinos, including but not limited to targeting Latinos for discriminatory traffic enforcement [and] treating Latino drivers more harshly than non-Latino drivers after a traffic stop […] The pattern or practice of discriminatory policing that we observed is deeply rooted in the Department’s culture and substantially interferes with the ability of EHPD to deliver services to the entire East Haven community” (Perez, 2011). According to the investigation, EHPD officers specifically went out of their way to find any reason, reasonable or unreasonable, lawful or unlawful, to stop Latino drivers (Perez, 2011). The Justice Department also found that in the wake of the Malik Jones verdict the EHPD failed to make meaningful changes to their policies, and had failed to implement the statewide racial profiling statute which required proper record-keeping of the ethnicity of people stopped by police (Perez, 2011). According to journalist Paul Bass, not only did the department fail to change in the wake of the case, but they harassed protestors of the Jones shooting and, in a shocking move, went as far as to promote Robert Flodquist, the policeman who shot Malik Jones, to spokesman of the department (P. Bass, personal communication, October 16, 2018). 

Despite the time that has passed, the family and supporters of Malik Jones have not relented in their pursuit of justice. In April 2017, on the 20th anniversary of Malik’s death, the MALIK organization in conjunction with Yale Law students, proposed an ordinance with a detailed proposal for a civilian review board (Jones et al., 2017), and published an updated plan in 2018 (Jones et al., 2018). This most recent proposal sought to establish an independent civilian review board with the ability to review complaints of police misconduct, to make recommendations for police department action and grand jury investigations, and to establish a clear framework for intra-department discipline (Jones et al., 2018). In early December 2018, the New Haven Board of Alders planned to vote on an ordinance to establish an updated civilian review board (Ricks, 2018). However, activists have continued to protest the ineffectiveness of the newest incarnation of the civilian review board, with particular frustration directed towards the board’s continuing lack of subpoena power (Ricks, 2018). As a result, as of December 4, 2018, no vote has been taken on the establishment of a civilian review board (Ricks, 2018). 

In the years following Jones’ shooting, his memory and the issues surrounding his case have been kept alive by numerous protests, marches, vigils, most recently a vigil which was held at the site of Jones’ murder to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death (NHVCRB, 2017). And, as a result of the pressure placed upon the East Haven Police Department over the past two decades, a department which once engaged in “open warfare between city and suburbs” is now a “model department for the state and country” (P. Bass, personal communication, 2018; Terzi, 2017). Despite these improvements, continued instances of police violence against African-Americans around the United States show that the shooting of Malik Jones remains all too relevant today, as African American’s human rights remain under threat from those who are supposed to protect them. 


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