'We were right the whole time:' Negron protesters celebrate Perez arrest

BRIDGEPORT — Music blared and passing vehicles honked their horns as a small group of protesters celebrated in the rain in front of Bridgeport Police Headquarters Thursday evening after news broke that Police Chief Armando Perez had been arrested.

The protest continued despite a brief standoff with police over blocking Congress Street that ended without incident. The group had set up tents in the street as rain clouds moved in, but were asked to remove them by police.

“I’m on your side, I support your right to protest,” Capt. Steven Lougal told the Justice for Jayson protesters who had begun gathering in front of the Police Department building shortly after 5 p.m. “But these tents are creating a hazard.”

Byron Bigelow, who said he developed some rapport with Lougal over the summer during the George Floyd protests, noted that city police had routinely set up barriers and blocked traffic to safeguard protesters in the past.

“You’ve seen me out here, you know I’m a reasonable guy,” Bigelow said, which Lougal affirmed. “What’s the difference now?”

Tensions briefly escalated when Lougal told the group that they had a few minutes to think about their response before he declared the gathering “unlawful,” but cooler heads prevailed and the protesters moved their tents out of the traffic lanes. The protesters themselves remained in the street.

“Thank you,” Lougal said as he led the officers away from the scene.

The hastily organized protest began in response to the news that Perez had been charged with fraud. He and Acting Personnel Director David Dunn are alleged to have conspired to rig the 2018 police chief exam that resulted in his hiring, and then lied to the FBI about it.

“We were right the whole time,” said Mikaela Adams, a friend of the Jayson Negron family. The family has filed a federal lawsuit against the Bridgeport police alleging that a culture of “reckless and deliberately indifferent conduct” among officers contributed to Jayson being shot to death by Officer James Boulay in 2017 at age 15. The Waterbury State’s Attorney’s Office later ruled the shooting justified.

Jazmarie Melendez, Negron’s sister, called Perez’s arrest “a major step in the direction of justice.” The family has been demanding Perez’s ouster since 2017, when he was acting chief at the time of Negron’s shooting.

Melendez said she was shocked when she learned of Perez’s arrest. Her surprise, though, was not at his alleged corruption, but that the system would hold him accountable.

“We knew, all this time we knew,” she said. “Now we want to make sure he is never again in a position of power, and that there is an open and transparent process to name his replacement. It can’t just be the next person in line.”