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The prosecution of Kevin Blacker, critic of Gov. Lamont's port authority, continues

Before the police were sicced on Connecticut Port Authority critic Kevin Blacker, interrogating him before the start of an August 2019 General Assembly public hearing, the first attempt to silence him looked an awful lot like bribery.

Evan Matthews, the former port authority executive director, in May 2019 sent an email to Blacker, a farmer and Noank landscaper who had begun a grassroots campaign to call out corruption he uncovered at the quasi-public agency, offering him a consulting gig.

"I mow lawns for a living and cut hay. I have a degree in soil science. I have no experience operating or planning ports," Blacker wrote in a subsequent email, saying the job offer appeared to be an effort to keep him quiet.

But the apparent bribery seemed to be followed by a much darker campaign by authorities, beginning with the interrogation at the Capitol, in which police officers tried to get him to leave the building rather than attend the hearing on the port authority.

If having police pull aside a prominent government critic before his expected testimony before a public hearing isn't chilling enough, consider that it followed, we learned from subsequent emails made public, consultation with the governor's office.

And then consider that Blacker says he was subsequently approached by the head of state police, who asked to meet personally with him about the incident.

You would have to be pretty naïve not to see the intimidation at work.

Intimidation turned to aggressive and unwarranted prosecution when Blacker was arrested last September on a felony charge of first-degree criminal prosecution, after an act of civil disobedience he publicly acknowledged, covering some outdated traffic signs near State Pier with pink paint.

He is due in court next week on the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

This juiced-up felony charge, based on an exaggerated estimate of the cost of repairing the signs made by the governor-appointed chairman of the port authority, David Kooris, looks for all the world like another attempt to silence a critic of the agency.

Kooris reported the painting of the state-owned signs to police and estimated the cost of repairs at $1,663, conveniently just above the $1,500 threshold for a felony.

If you don't think this sounds like official intimidation, consider the fact that the charges were brought by the state police's Eastern District Major Crime Squad, charged with investigating the most serious crimes.

It turns out the Department of Transportation, which owns the signs, subsequently estimated the cost of replacing them, labor and materials, at $386.98. The elite crime squad detectives never even asked the actual owners of the signs how much they are worth before charging Blacker with a felony.

Blacker said recently he has already sent a check to the DOT to reimburse the cost of the sign repairs.

I would look for some clues to see if the governor was involved in the arrest in emails between his office and Kooris, but he has denied requests for those emails. I have filed a complaint with the state's Freedom of Information Commission over his refusal.

It turns out, in Lamont's Connecticut, the police major crime squad investigates a government critic for minor vandalism, and the governor feels free to ignore laws requiring transparency.

The attempted gagging of Blacker also is continuing with legal briefs filed recently by the attorney general and private lawyers for the port authority, trying to quash the critic's attempt to become an intervenor in the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's review of the port authority's plans to fill in 7 acres of the harbor.

Using $300-an-hour lawyers to argue against routine public participation allowed for by the law seems like one more shameful chapter in executing a deal to remake State Pier for the benefit of powerful utilities, one crafted in back rooms by a scandal-plagued agency and escalating in cost in $40 million increments.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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