Category Archives: Police

“Catch A Lift” Catches Westport’s Spirit

“06880” is a little late to this story.

But it’s never too late to celebrate our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Or the people who help them.

Catch a Lift is a national non-profit dedicated to the physical and mental recovery of post-9/11 combat-wounded military personnel. The organization provides gym memberships and home equipment, fitness programs and motivational peer support.

Last weekend — thanks to the tireless efforts of Mental Grit Fitness owner/trainer Andy Berman; Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his entire department; Westporter and CAL board member Adam Vengrow, and the support of Joyride, Crossfit Revel and Achieve Fitness — 16 veterans came to town.

And then they went to town, with workouts, training and plenty of camaraderie.

A special shoutout goes to Daniel Slow. The Weston High School basketball player raised over $5,000 for Catch a Lift, thanks to pledges for every point he scored.

Photographer Matthew Paskert captured much of the action from last weekend’s “Westport for Warriors” weekend. If his images inspire you to learn more about Catch a Lift, click here.

(Photos/Matthew Paskert)

Mailboxes Etc.

Last night, a number of mailboxes in the Greens Farms and Cross Highway neighborhoods were vandalized or stolen.

Police believe it was the work of teenagers.

Normally, this would not be an “06880” story. But there’s more.

This weekend marks the 3rd anniversary of a Westport woman’s husband’s death.

When they moved into their home, she wanted a red mailbox. He bought it for her, as a gift. Now it’s gone.

The post that held the missing mailbox.

This Sunday is also Mother’s Day. The woman calls this “the hardest weekend of the year for me.”

She adds:

“I love Westport. I feel proud of calling this community home. I have great respect for the families that live here.”

However, she is appalled by what happened. She feels that her family — and others — have had their privacy violated. She calls what happened “irresponsible and damaging.”

This is a long shot. But if you’re reading this, and you stole that red mailbox — or know where it is — do the right thing.

Bring it back.

“Where Are Your Papers?” A Westporter Reacts

Alert “06880” reader Robert Birge is a marketing professional, investor and entrepreneur. He’s lived in Westport “almost 9 years, non-contiguously.” His activities include “regular consumption of food at our fine restaurants, chasing around 4 children, and trying to drive courteously.”

Last week, his kids’ nanny told him a disturbing story. Robert explains:

Someone she identified as a police officer asked her for her “papers” while waiting at the Westport train station. It happens that she is Latina. It also happens that she is a citizen of these United States of America.

Regrettably, we likely won’t learn who perpetrated this indignity. After a thorough investigation, Westport Chief of Police Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Vincent Penna strongly believe that whoever harassed our nanny is not a Westport police officer.

I’m not entirely convinced. However, I believe their view is reasonable, and I respect they have a different vantage point. I can only say it’s unclear who stopped her, and that there are sound reasons to doubt it was a Westport officer.

I find the details uninteresting now. That she suffered this indignity saddens me. Our nanny is a wonderful person. She cares for our 3 young boys as if they were her own. She’s exceedingly competent and industrious, and she always wears a smile. She’s the proud mother of two UConn graduates. Our community is fortunate to count her as a member.

Immigrants, legal and likely illegal, provide significant support to our rarefied town. While our community has time to wage fiery debates over high school essays on white privilege and unearned advantages, hundreds of immigrants make their way to Westport every morning to care for our children, clean our homes, tend our lavish gardens, and help build our beautiful houses. Westport would not be Westport without them. Any view to the contrary is patently false.

I grew up in New Mexico and Colorado. I learned at a young age to treasure the contributions and culture of the Hispanic community, along with every other group that has come to this country and helped make it great.

I’m also a vocal “member” of #TheResistance. I realize not everyone in Westport shares my views, but the voting patterns and my impressions of the typical Westport resident lead me to believe I’m among predominantly like-minded people. Westport is not Maricopa County, Arizona.

Two immediate family members have spent years in the federal criminal justice system. I’m confident this incident would not pass standards for probable cause or equal treatment.

My primary question after hearing this story was: “Is it possible this has spilled over into Westport?” I’m happy to share that Chief Koskinas and Deputy Chief Penna’s actions and words answered that question for me with an unequivocal NO! I also commend them for their responsiveness to a community concern.

I’m told the investigation has not implicated one of our officers, the MTA police or the Amtrak police. That leaves the possibility that a layperson harassed our nanny. I find this possibility more disturbing. I’d rather think that one jerk had a bad day and acted poorly, especially knowing the values coming from Chief Koskinas. If it happens again, I hope the community reports it. I’m confident our police department’s leaders would pursue the culprit vigorously.

I also believe it’s important to discuss a few comments I’ve received asserting that I should have allowed the police to investigate the incident before reporting it on social media. This is a choice we’re all granted as part of our right to speak freely. I respect that others would choose differently, but I stand by my choice. I know my nanny, and I know what she told me.

She was harassed by some racist in my town. I was and remain furious. I also believe the current climate necessitates vigilance toward every incursion on our civil liberties no matter how benign. Further, where should citizens or the press draw that line? If I had recorded a video like the Rodney King incident, should I have withheld the video from the public until a fair trial had been completed? I don’t think so.

Public discourse of wrongdoing and due process under the law are different matters. For example, anyone arrested in Westport will find their name, alleged crime and full color mugshot on Facebook right away. Even if you’re later fully exonerated, the damage done to your reputation would be hard to reverse. While the media surely enjoys the US Attorney’s penchant for high profile perp walks, I feel differently about the Westport police department employing public shaming in our small town. The point is that it’s a choice we all have a right to make.

It’s important to me to close this post with an expression of gratitude toward our police. Like most things in Westport, I believe we’re fortunate when it comes to our police. I’ve always found them to be efficient, extremely present, and friendly. I believe they keep my family safe. My wife Melissa and I intend to raise our children with the same respect for officers of the law that we have, because their position deserves that respect.

Marpe: “Ethnic Ugliness Has No Place In Westport”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement, in response to yesterday’s distribution of hate flyers in Westport:

Once again, Westport residents have found flyers with disturbing messages in their driveways, in this case with neo-Nazi and white supremacist content.

This latest incident comes almost 2 years to the day after disturbing flyers appeared in other parts of our town. I am concerned and angry that once again statements like this have found their way to Westport homes. As I said 2 years ago, this kind of ethnic ugliness has no place anywhere, and certainly not in Westport.

I have always been proud to speak of Westport as an open and welcoming community, and I continue to believe that the vast majority of Westporters practice that belief through tolerance, inclusion and everyday civil behavior. Unfortunately, the last few years and months have reminded us that our nation still needs to deal with some serious societal and behavioral issues, and we are again reminded that Westport is not necessarily immune.

One of the flyers that was tossed in Westport driveways yesterday.

Westport must not tolerate the threatening, bullying and hateful messages that are at the heart of these flyers. We must reinforce our commitment to civil discourse and to the tolerance for residents of all backgrounds. Regardless of the reasons behind these intolerant statements, we must create a political and social climate that rejects these kinds of statements out of hand and allows all opinions to be heard in an open and non-threatening manner.

Our police department is working with other area police departments to attempt to identify the source of these latest disturbing and inflammatory messages. The town is also working with the Connecticut region Anti-Defamation League to identify possible sources but also to seek ways to appropriately combat this type of threatening activity.

I will also ask TEAM Westport to again work with the Interfaith Clergy and other appropriate Town agencies and civic groups to lead our community’s response to these outrageous statements and, as importantly, how to deal with the behaviors and beliefs that underpin them.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas added:

Not only do we want to keep our community safe, but we strive to also give peace of mind.  When you combine the content of the flyer and the nature in which this was done, we recognize the concern and alarm it may cause.  We are working diligently to determine who is responsible, and look further into the motive.

 

Neo-Nazis Hit Westport

These flyers — weighted down with stones — appeared in the driveways of Long Lots area residents this morning:

Although the flyer lists neo-Nazi and white supremacist websites — and challenges Westporters to “find the courage to stand up before it is too late” — no individual or organization has the courage to identify themselves as the distributor.

At least one homeowner has taken the flyer to the Westport Police.

 

Ron Malone Escapes House Fire

Former Westport police chief and RTM member Ron Malone was treated for smoke inhalation, after a fire at his Cross Highway home this morning.

The blaze began around 6:10 a.m., in the kitchen. Firefighters and police responded very quickly. They made sure Malone and 2 dogs were safe.

According to reports, Malone lived part-time at the property, which he inherited from an uncle.

Ron Malone’s house, after the fire. (Photo/Mark Yurkiw)

Re-opening A Cold Arson Case

“06880” readers often email me with unusual questions. What was the name of that restaurant somewhere on the Post Road in the mid-1950s? Can you forward this email to my old English teacher? Will the Greens Farms firefighters have their annual Easter egg hunt this year?

But Peter Jennings Talbot’s recent request might be the most unusual of all:

In November of 1966, a person or persons set my great-grandparents’ (Erwin Morehouse and Mabel Sanford Jennings) home at 4 Beachside Avenue on fire. I believe that someone in Westport must know who did this. Would you be able to write a story about it and see if anyone would come forward with comments about it?

It’s simply out of curiosity.  Certainly the statute of limitations for the crime has long passed, but I, my mother Ellen F. Jennings, and her Jennings cousins have always wondered about it.  They spent great times at the house and on the property and have wonderful memories.

O-kay!

Helpfully, Peter sent along a front-page Westport News story from November 17, 1966. In it, Fire Chief Harold Shippey asked the Police Department for help investigating the possibility of arson, in the “spectacular fire Tuesday night which totally destroyed a vacant old house on the Jennings estate.”

A Westport News photo with the story, from November 17, 1966.

It started at 8 p.m., and lasted over 4 hours. As firefighters left the station, they could already see the blaze.

The house — the oldest on the property, and called Red Oaks — contained 17 or 18 rooms. Built around 1890, and abandoned for several years, it had been the target of vandals. The news story said all the windows were broken, and the floors and walls defaced. There was no light or heat. Neighborhood children referred to it as “haunted.”

Although the building had a replacement value of around $100,000, its assessment at the time of the fire was only $3,700.

The home at 4 Beachside Avenue, before the fire.

Peter says he could never understand why “such a wonderful and remarkable house was simply abandoned” — especially since the house owned by Erwin’s brother’s Henry was occupied next door.

That’s all I — and Peter — know.

He hopes at least one “06880” reader knows more. If you have any information on this long-ago, still-unsolved arson case, click “Comments.”

Or email me privately: dwoog@optonline.net.

Fire away.

Cops And Parkers

As sure as I post photos of some of the most ridiculous, self-centered, entitled parking scenes in Westport — like Monday’s jaw-dropping Trader Joe’s spectacle — readers respond with 2 comments:

  • Someone should have called the cops!
  • You’ve got their license plate right there! Send this photo to the police!

An alert “06880” reader — who asked for anonymity — decided to find out what the cops think of all this.

Deputy chief Vincent J. Penna quickly responded.

He explained that in this case, Trader Joe’s is a private lot. Though the police have some power to enforce motor vehicle laws there — like DUI, reckless operation and evading responsibility — parking enforcement is limited to fire lane and handicap space violations.

“Parking in a private lot is generally enforced by the property owner,” Penna says.

As for sending a photo: Sure, any citizen can provide a sworn statement detailing the infraction to the police. They’ll issue a ticket based on that statement.

However, if the driver pleads not guilty, then the officer — and the citizen — would both be subpoenaed to court.

Oh, yeah: The identity of the person making the complaint — and that person’s address — are public record.

“This tends to deter most people,” Penna notes.

Meanwhile, keep those photos comin’. We may not get any of these very entitled d-bags arrested.

But there’s nothing wrong with a little public shame.

Monday’s infamous Trader Joe’s photo. The license plate is clearly visible.

Heat Kills!

Last summer, a Ridgefield toddler died when he was left inside a parked car.

Brandon Malin — a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader — thought of that, when he saw “Heat Kills” signs in Fairfield parking lots. He knows that every year, children and pets are left in cars that quickly become sweltering — even on mild days.

But Brandon did more than think.

He acted.

With the support of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, First Selectman Jim Marpe and other town officials, he’s creating signs. They’ll remind drivers not to leave kids — or pets — in closed vehicles, especially in warm weather.

The signs will be installed in town-owned parking lots, where police feel the risk is greatest. Possibilities include Parker Harding, the Baldwin lot, the beaches, Longshore and library.

After the initial rollout, Brandon will contact owners of private parking lots too.

Right now he’s working with the Staples High School art department on the design.

He’s also trying to raise the $2,500 needed to produce the signs. All donations are tax deductible, and the target deadline is April 8. Click here to help!

But whether you donate or not, remember one thing: Heat Kills!

Brandon Malin and his dog Cali.

 

A Neo-Nazi Story, In Westport

A police car sat outside The Conservative Synagogue of Westport. A police officer stood inside the front door.

Those are signs of the times. Near-daily bomb threats have rattled Jewish Community Centers and Anti-Defamation League offices around the country.

But the only threat last night was to disrupt stereotypes and assumptions.

A full house heard Frank Meeink talk about his life.

Frank Meeink’s book cover shows a swastika tattooed on his neck.

At 13 years old, the Philadelphia native was a skinhead. By 18 he was roaming the country as a neo-Nazi recruiter. He hosted a TV show called “The Reich.”

In prison — convicted of kidnapping and beating a member of a rival skinhead gang — he befriended men he once hated. Slowly, his world view — and life — changed.

Today the 41-year-old is a noted speaker, author and founder of Harmony Through Hockey (he’s also a youth coach). He travels the country talking about tolerance, diversity and mutual understanding, in race, politics and throughout society.

Meeink — who has been featured in a film with Desmond Tutu, appeared in a music video with country singer Jamey Johnson and been interviewed by Katie Couric — was part of the inspiration for the movie “American History X.”

His talk last night was riveting. It was also preaching to the choir. I doubt anyone came to the synagogue hoping to have his or her neo-Nazi views reinforced.

But Meeink’s message of openness, and his story of how hatred can be turned to love, was powerful and inspiring. It was also eye-opening to hear his raw words spoken inside a temple, before an audience that included men in yarmulkes.

Frank Meeink speaking last night at The Conservative Synagogue.

Last night’s event was the culmination in a long day. Earlier, Meeink spent 2 hours with the sophomore and junior classes at Staples High School. They listened raptly as he discussed “The Truth About Hate.” After Meeink spoke, a number of students talked in an open mic session about their experiences with bullying — as bullies, victims and bystanders — and pledged to work toward greater acceptance for all.

Meeink later met with members of the Westport Police Department.

When he was 15 years old, Meeink tattooed a swastika on his neck. Two decades later, a resurgence of hatred sweeps our nation.

The police presence at The Conservative Synagogue last night served as a grim reminder of that. But Frank Meeink’s strong words — delivered to various Westport audiences all day long — overpowered every image of fear.

(Frank Meeink’s appearance last night was sponsored by The Conservative Synagogue, the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, TEAM Westport, Hadassah, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy and the Westport Inn.)