Port Authority critic questions ongoing criminal vandalism case
New London — Kevin Blacker, the Noank man who painted two New London road signs pink in an act of civil disobedience, has rejected a plea offer from the state that would have resolved his criminal case without a prosecution.
Blacker, who represents himself in court proceedings, readily admitted to painting the signs on State Pier Road in New London in protest of what he calls “the corrupt Connecticut Port Authority” and the ongoing development at State Pier.
On Friday, he opted for a trial over the plea deal and payment of $586 in restitution — though he actually plans to pay restitution — in exchange for an agreement by the state not to prosecute the felony charge of first-degree criminal mischief, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
He figures the state has no case for the felony charge he stands accused of.
Blacker appears to be right.
Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney David J. Smith wrote an email to Blacker on Tuesday indicating the felony charge would be substituted for a lesser charge.
“It appears that your concern is that the charge is still listed as a felony criminal mischief,” Smith wrote in the email. “I understand that you are representing yourself in this matter, and I, as a prosecutor, cannot give you legal advice. However, if the amount of restitution is under the felony level then the state cannot and will not go forward with a felony charge.”
Smith goes on to say that “Once this file came back from court, there was a note to file a substitute information to lower the charge to a misdemeanor. I have done the substitute information and filed it with the clerk’s office.”
Smith, who oversees prosecutions at the New London courthouse where Blacker’s case is pending, declined to discuss specifics of any individual case with The Day earlier on Tuesday but said in general the state will take into consideration any new evidence and factor accordingly.
The sequence of events still has Blacker suspicious and wondering why it took so long for the charge to be reduced.
He initially was arrested in September on information provided to police by Connecticut Port Authority Chairman David Kooris. Kooris had submitted a $1,663 estimate of replacement costs based on an estimate from one of the port authority’s subcontractors.
Blacker was charged with a felony because the damage estimate reached $1,500, one of the thresholds for the charge in state statute.
The state Department of Transportation in February lowered the estimated the cost of repairs to $1,343.65. After a Freedom of Information Act request from Blacker to the DOT, the DOT admitted an error in the calculation of repair costs. The $1,343.65 bill was revised in May to $586.64.
And yet, Blacker says the state during this time had not acted to knock his criminal charge down to a misdemeanor even after acknowledging the new estimate.
The plea offer from state prosecutors on Friday was to pay the $586 in restitution to DOT and in exchange the state will offer a nolle on the charge. A “nolle prosequi” is a term used to indicate the state will opt not to prosecute the case. There’s a catch, however. With a nolle, the state can decide to reopen the case during the subsequent 13 months before the charge is cleared from the record.
Blacker is looking for a full dismissal, a decision that can only be made by a judge. Without dismissal, he said a felony would continue to hang over his head for the next year.
Smith, in Tuesday’s email to Blacker, explained that the restitution amount had changed at different points and his office was looking for a way to verify the $586 amount. It remains unclear, however, why the offer to Blacker on Friday did not include a substitute charge.
Blacker is already suspicious of the way the case was handled and fears he is being targeted by the state in retribution for his outspoken criticism of the port authority.
“My position is it wasn’t a mistake,” Blacker said. “I think that was a political move. I think they were expecting that with the pressure of having a felony, I would want it to be over with and settle even though I knew it wasn’t right.”
He voiced a similar sentiment to Smith in an email on Tuesday and references the fact that detectives from the state police Eastern District Major Crime Squad were called in on a simple vandalism case and that he was questioned in 2019 at the State Capitol after distributing an email calling Gov. Ned Lamont a “yellow-belly wimp.”
He thinks the court case is a continued attempt at intimidation.
“The Port Authority attempted to charge me 3x over for the signs I painted. The DOT attempted to charge me double and a half. Having caught the DOT in their lie, and sending you the proper information, the court knowingly tried to dishonestly charge me double and a half. Is this justice?” Blacker said in his email to Smith.
“Am I being treated differently because I am an ardent and effective critic of the blatant government corruption at the Connecticut Port Authority and State Pier?” he wrote.
Smith denied there is any outside influence in any cases pending in the court.
Blacker said he has yet to receive official notice from the court on a reduction of the felony charge.