Yale Daily News
New Haven’s Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN) is calling for justice after Connecticut prosecutors dismissed two sexual assault cases against former New Haven police officer Gary Gamarra.
Two women have accused Gamarra of forcing her to engage in sexual acts after speaking to them for the first time on duty.
The NHPD first opened the case in December, when the two women were collaborating on two internal affairs investigations, according to an April 22nd SWAN press release and an independent April New Haven story. After the women described the officer, the NHPD identified Gamarra as the perpetrator based on his physical characteristics, his car, and the method he used to coerce her.
After being identified, Gamarra confessed to having engaged in sexual acts with both women, but claimed that they were consensual. He resigned from the NHPD on December 18, 2020 and resigned 10 days later. Prosecutors dismissed the cases in April, citing insufficient evidence. This layoff sparked an outcry from advocates of sex workers in New Haven.
Neither the NHPD, the New Haven Police Union, nor the prosecution responded to multiple requests for comment on this story.
The New Haven Independent article in early April described two sex worker encounters with Gamarra that were published in the internal affairs investigation files following a Freedom of Information Act request. Two detectives led the investigation: Sergeant Ryan Macuirzynski and Detective Kealyn Nivakoff.
According to the internal investigation file, one of the sex workers identified as CD who filed a complaint against Gamarra told Nivakoff after Gamarra caught her engaged in sex with another man for money, a criminalized act that said CD could get into big trouble and that he did her a great favor by choosing not to report her. Then he asked for a “blow job” and to see her breasts in return. When both decided that her current location was not “discreet” enough, Gamarra told CD that “she owed him one.”
A week later, Gamarra met CD on Ferry Street while off duty asking about oral sex. They then went into the act while he was driving around. Then he put the CD on Long Wharf and didn’t pay for it. CD told Nivakoff that she was forced to engage in the crime because she felt she had to do something not to arrest her. She also said that if she chose not to engage in the act, she believed that he would continue to coerce her.
In his conversation with Macuirzynski, Gamarra said that he did not engage in sexual act with her because there was no vaginal penetration. He also admitted that he hadn’t turned on his body camera when he first caught the CD engaged in a sexual act. Gamarra said he hired CD because it repeatedly gave him information about criminal activity. Gamarra also told detectives that he had “personal problems with his girlfriend” when he forced CD.
“Officer Gamarra betrayed the public’s trust by knowingly soliciting an off-duty sex worker,” Macuirzynski wrote on the file. “Officer Gamarra did not properly investigate suspicious activity [CD] on duty and then looked for a sex worker to receive oral sex off duty … Officer Gamarra says he knew about it [CD] Being a sex worker and understanding that it was wrong to engage in this activity. His actions are kept on a higher level and he has destroyed the trust and respect of the citizens he served in his New Haven Police Officer position. “
The other complaint against Gamarra was made by a sex worker identified on the file as AB. Gamarra responded to two domestic disputes with AB in the summer of 2020. After the second incident, on June 30th, Gamarra arrested AB’s friend on separate charges. AB said that in the week after the arrest, Gamarra stopped her five times while she was working, but did not arrest her. According to Nivakoff’s report, AB said: “[Gamarra] I would comment on her appearance and make sexual progress towards her. “
One of those times he stopped her in his personal vehicle, the same CD that was written on. AB said she felt an obligation to engage in sexual activity with him for arresting her boyfriend. The two then had vaginal intercourse, which AB said she was in pain and cried.
Later in July, Gamarra AB stopped again and tried to get a meal with her after the shift, she said. She agreed, but did not appear in the restaurant. The next day he asked her why “she lifted him up”.
When interviewed by Detectives, Gamarra initially denied the allegations, saying he was only interacting with AB “on the side”. However, after reviewing footage from the body camera, investigators discovered inconsistencies between Gamarra’s account and the footage. Gamarra’s DNA was also found on AB’s body when she came to the internal investigators.
With that knowledge, Gamarra then confessed to having sex with AB, but insisted that it was consensual. Nivakoff wrote that Gamarra lied several times during his interview and that his behavior was “indirect, misleading and dishonest”.
Nivakoff said their findings were in line with AB’s claims.
The then NHPD boss Otoniel Reyes informed the independent in November that the allegations were substantive and that the troops felt obliged to investigate the allegations. Reyes also said that if Gamarra did not voluntarily resign, he would ask the Board of Police Commissioners to fire him. Gamarra resigned on December 18th.
However, on December 28, Gamarra wrote a letter to Reyes and the President of the Police Union, Florencio Cotto, declaring his intention to resign. He said he hoped the police union would file a complaint on his behalf. He also said the manner in which he was forced to resign was “unfair and compulsive,” but did not specify which parts of the process in the letter were unfair and compulsive.
On March 29 of this year, incumbent NHPD boss Renee Dominguez submitted a certificate to the State Police Officer Standardization and Training Council on the cancellation, revocation or suspension application form against Gamarra. This document would prevent Gamarra from serving as a Connecticut police officer forever once approved by the council.
Gamarra currently has no legal consequences. Prosecutors ruled in April that there was insufficient evidence to initiate criminal proceedings against Gamarra.
According to Francesca Maviglia Yale-NUS ’20 SPH ’20, a clinical worker with the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership, SWAN did not appeal the decision but wrote a letter to the office saying there was little public information about the decision there. On April 20, SWAN met with the prosecutor and the NHPD to discuss the dismissal of the case.
Maviglia told the news that prosecutors told SWAN at the meeting that the dismissal had been made on the grounds that one of the plaintiffs could not identify the officer in a photo constellation. The bureau also said there was a contradicting testimony from a third party that cast doubt on whether or not the act was consensual.
“Photo ID is notoriously difficult,” said Maviglia. “People don’t necessarily look the same in their database, you know, in real life as well as whatever the state the victim might have been in when asked to.”
Maviglia added that she found the decision to reject the case “incredibly reductive and disappointing” and does not do it justice [the victims]. ”
Prosecutors told SWAN and the NHPD that the case could be reopened if more women come forward or if the NHPD provides more evidence about the case.
During a protest on April 21 following the prosecution’s release, SWAN stated that suspicion between sex workers and the police is inherent due to the criminalization of sex work.
“I’m a sex worker. I’ve been attacked. But gun to my head, the last thing I would do is go to the police. You won’t believe me at the end of the day, ”said a woman who identified herself as Christine, during the protest on the steps of 235 Church Street, the location of the prosecutor’s office.
In the April 22 press release, SWAN said that women often fear retaliation from police officers in positions of power when they complain about sexual misconduct by police officers. They also said that internal investigations are difficult because of fears that police authorities will give a police officer’s testimony priority over sex workers, who are often viewed by the police as criminals.
“It is disturbing to hear how many of our members have stories of sexual assault by police officers,” said Beatrice Codianni, founder and CEO of SWAN, in a press release. No additional allegations beyond those of AB and CD were made in the publication. “Many of them don’t want to see police officers because they don’t trust the police after being sexually assaulted by someone who was supposed to protect them.”
A 2020 survey of sex workers carried out by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership in collaboration with SWAN found that two-thirds of those interviewed by sex workers had felt unsafe interacting with the police.
SWAN was founded in 2016.
Razel Suansing is a staff reporter and producer for the City, YTV and Magazine desks. It covers police officers and the courts, particularly the state reform efforts, the New Haven Police Department and the Yale Police Department. Born in Manila in the Philippines, she is studying Global Affairs in her first year at Davenport College.