MERIDEN — Recently released video reveals differing accounts of an incident between a city councilor and judicial marshals during an immigration protest outside Superior Court that led to the councilor’s arrest in December.
Miguel Castro faces charges of assaulting a public safety officer, a class C felony, and first-degree riot, a class A misdemeanor. The case has been transferred to Milford Superior Court and was continued this week until June 27.
Castro has yet to enter a plea but denies the charges. The arrest occurred as he protested with a crowd of people against the deportation of a New Haven man by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“My legal team and I are confident the outcome will bring to light the truth and justice will be served,” Castro said in a statement this week. “I intend to hold the flawed process accountable, to keep Connecticut communities and families intact and to prevent ICE access to community members that further erodes community confidence in state and local institutions.”
In response to a Record-Journal Freedom of Information request, state police released over two hours of video taken from the body camera of State Trooper Michael Thomas as he interviewed the marshals and Castro immediately after the Dec. 13 incident.
Castro is interviewed while standing in a holding cell without an attorney present. He told Thomas he took part in the protest and went onto the courthouse property to support the two teenage children of the man being deported. The man’s children ran to the rear yard of the courthouse where their father waited in a white van. Immigration advocates followed. As court marshals tried to clear the area, Castro, a vocal immigration advocate, was arrested for allegedly assaulting two judicial marshals.
“Knowing that there are two teenagers who made it through the gate, I have to make it through the gates because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Castro told Thomas in the video. “The profanity and the pushing and the shoving that they were experiencing, I was making sure that (I was) attending to them.”
Both marshals, who are not named in the video, described a chaotic scene as they tried to move the group of about 15 to 20 people off courthouse property and onto the sidewalk after protesters entered the secure area behind the courthouse.
Both said that Castro struck them. One marshal told Thomas he may need medical attention because “he got me in the back. He knew where to hit.”
“I got hit from behind, spun me. Like he hit me with an elbow,” the marshal said on the video, referring to Castro. “...(He) hit me full force from behind, literally spun me … literally did a full 180.”
The other marshal, who also alleges Castro hit him in the back, said he brought Castro to the ground to handcuff him, but became preoccupied with other protestors allowing Castro to get up and come “back in front of me again,” he told Thomas.
Castro’s attorney, Robert Berke, said in an interview this week that Castro stands by the account of the incident he gave to Thomas in the holding cell, including that he never laid hands on the marshals.
“The only hands that were laid was them because they were pushing us,” Castro told Thomas in the video.
A spokeswoman for the state Judicial Branch declined comment this week on the allegation Castro made in the video that the marshals pushed protestors and used profanity. A representative from the Connecticut court marshals union couldn’t be reached for comment.
Berke told the Record-Journal he has a video taken by a bystander that exonerates Castro of the charges, adding that he is building his defense using the video. He declined to provide the video or describe its contents for this story.
Castro told Thomas he suffered injuries to one of his wrists from being handcuffed. When Thomas told Castro he was charging him based on injuries the marshals reported suffering, Castro said: “I am baffled because ... that is absolutely inaccurate.”
Berke questioned one of the marshal’s allegations that Castro “knew where to hit” him.
“The fact that they claim he did this specially trained (mixed martial arts) chop in the right pressure point in the back I thought was a little dramatic besides the fact that it’s just not true,” Berke said.
Castro told Thomas the protestors never “imposed any threat” and objected to the marshals’ handling of the situation.
“He manhandled me in a way that, well, I’m a big boy, I can handle that,” Castro says in the video. “But once we made it past the gate, she came back and I wanted to continue to attend and that's when … two of them pushed me all the way (off the courthouse property), put me on the ground, and he uses his knees several times. I could have just muscled in a way but I couldn’t. I kept yelling, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ And he said, ‘If you can speak, you can breathe.’ Well, I wasn’t speaking like I am now.”
Castro and others were protesting the deportation of a Mexican citizen who was convicted of driving under the influence the night of his deportation. According to court and police records, the man was living under two identities. He appeared in court on Dec.13 under the name Elias Roblero-Berduo, 40, to answer to impaired driving charges stemming from arrests in January 2017 and December 2016, as well as a criminal impersonation charge in January. After he pleaded guilty, judicial marshals placed the man in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, who reported him to be Arnoldo Velazquez-Perez, a Mexican national. Wallingford police said a fingerprint check revealed his name to be Velazquez-Perez after he had initially provided a false name at the time of his arrest on the DUI charge in January 2017.
Velazquez-Perez was previously deported in 2010 and 2018, ICE spokesman John Mohan said in a statement last year.
In the weeks following Castro’s arrest, some city officials called on him to resign, while others called the charges and allegations against him concerning. Dozens of Castro’s friends and supporters from across many cities and towns filled the City Council meeting following his arrest to speak in support of the Democratic councilor.
Berke said the case was continued this week to allow the attorney time to review materials the state recently provided him.
Castro has served on the City Council since 2012 and is in the middle of a four-year term set to end in 2021. A felony conviction would disqualify him from continuing in office, according to the Secretary of the State.
There have been talks regarding a plea deal in the case, Berke said, adding that it’s too early to tell whether the case will go to trial.