David X. Sullivan, Jahana Hayes’ opponent, seeks middle ground on justice reform

 

As Congress debates a reform bill named for George Floyd, whose death has sparked more than 40 days of protests across the country as well as calls to defund police, David X. Sullivan, who spent 30 years as a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, said he supports some reforms because “no country is perfect.” Sullivan filed paperwork to challenge U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5 — his first run for elected office — three days after he retired in 2019.

Democrats and Republicans “agree on 75 percent” of criminal justice reform issues, he said. On the use of body cameras, for example, support is nearly unanimous.

Sullivan, a New Fairfield resident who was born and raised in Danbury, said he supports a national database for use-of-force incidents, so that officers who are regularly involved in using excess force won’t be easily able to seek employment at other departments.

And he said he supports increased “accountability and transparency for civilian complaints of officers.” He did not say whether that includes subpoena power for an independent review board, a hot-button issue that has been proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly, as well as the U.S. House bill.

Hayes recently voted in favor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which among other things, would grant subpoena power to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and create a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.

The bill would also remove qualified immunity for police officers, which Sullivan said he does not support. Hayes did not return an emailed request for comment on her support for those specific provisions in the legislation.

Qualified immunity should be reformed, Sullivan said, adding that without qualified immunity — which protects officers from civil lawsuits in most cases — he fears a “chilling effect” on officers, who would be unwilling to do their job “for fear of being sued civilly.”

“Law enforcement officers have to have some degree of protection from civil lawsuits,” he said. “I think the standard can be revised, but you can’t get rid of qualified immunity,” Sullivan said. “I think the standard right now is something along the lines that you have to demonstrate that an officer engaged in a willful disregard of someone’s civil rights, and I know there’s discussions about perhaps a reckless disregard standard or a gross negligence standard. So I think that’s open to discussion, and I think discussion is really important among all the people, whether it be members of Congress, members of the state legislature, members of the community and certainly our law enforcement community.”

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