MERIDEN — A judge has issued a protective order for the female family member allegedly assaulted by City Councilor Miguel Castro in an incident at Castro’s home last weekend.
During a virtual court appearance this past week, a prosecutor said the female family member told a victim’s advocate that she is “fearful” of Castro, who was living in the same home with her at the time of the incident. Under the conditions of the protective order, Castro cannot be in the home where he and the family member resided but can move back in if the family member relocates.
Castro, a Democrat representing Area 1, has denied hurting the family member and plans to fight the protective order through what’s called a “Fernando A. Hearing.”
“Miguel disagrees with the allegations lodged against him,” said Castro’s attorney Robert Berke in an interview Friday. “The judge issued a protective order, I would imagine, based upon the information that was presented to her, and we are going to challenge that in a Fernando hearing.”
Fernando hearings are named after a case in which the state Supreme Court ruled defendants are entitled to a hearing shortly after their arraignment to contest a protective order. Defendants are allowed to confront their accuser and call witnesses during the evidentiary hearings. Berke said they plan to question Castro’s accuser and a witness to the altercation.
Castro requested the chance to publicly question his accuser and the witness one day after saying in a written statement to the Record-Journal that he would work to keep his family “out of the public eye.”
Berke said Castro didn’t “understand the scope of the allegations” when he made the statement, including that the protective order would remove him from his residence.
The judge told Berke she will look to schedule the Fernando hearing but noted restrictions in place due to the pandemic may make it hard to have the hearing at Castro’s next court appearance July 2. The judge was originally going to schedule his next appearance for July 16, but Castro, through his attorney, asked that it be moved up because he will be removed from his home in the meantime.
Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, couldn’t definitively say how common Fernando hearings are in cases with protective orders but said the coalition “doesn’t hear about them often.”
Domestic violence defendants can use the hearings to exert power and control over victims, Jarmoc said.
“It appears on its face that he is trying to utilize the court process to continue to threaten (the female family member)... His actions and response are very revealing,” Jarmoc said.
Jarmoc added advocates would prefer defendants acknowledge their behavior and show a desire to change by seeking treatment, such as anger management. Castro hasn’t entered a plea.
“Domestic violence is a learned behavior … and just as offenders can learn this behavior, they can unlearn and modify their behavior, but the most critical step is they must acknowledge that the behavior is wrong and want to change,” Jarmoc said. “And so his request for a Fernando hearing is not showing that.”
Berke responded to Jarmoc’s comments by saying Castro is simply exercising his legal right to have the hearing.
“The Connecticut Supreme Court authorized the use of a Fernando hearing, so I guess the issue isn’t necessarily with a particular defendant or his lawyer but with the courts allowing it to occur,” Berke said.
Police arrested Castro, 50, after authorities say he assaulted the family member on May 23 at his home at 51 Bradley Ave., charging him with disorderly conduct and third-degree strangulation, a class A misdemeanor. According to police, Castro, pushed the female family member against kitchen cabinets, had a hand on her throat, and slapped her. The woman called police.
“There were some physical marks that prompted the arrest,” police spokesman Sgt. Darrin McKay said. “We’re mandated by Connecticut state statute to make an arrest against a physical aggressor if we have any signs or indication that anything physical took place.”
According to an incident report, an officer observed the right cheek of the victim to be “red in nature compared to her natural skin tone.” The arresting officer did not observe any markings on her neck but noted in the report that “it was not reported that (Castro) squeezed (the alleged victim’s) neck in a way that would leave a mark.”
Police released a copy of the incident report, redacting the names of the accuser and another person who witnessed the altercation.
Castro’s accuser told police she was making food for herself and her pet lizard in the kitchen when Castro entered with headphones in, according to the incident report. The family member said Castro, who appeared to be on Facetime, began asking her questions about her animals and appeared to be using his phone to take video of the cages, the report read. The family member found this strange because Castro “had never taken an interest before.” The family member asked why he was filming, and Castro denied filming before leaving the room. He returned a short while later and confronted the family member, again denying recording with his phone, the report said. An argument ensued and the woman told police that Castro began yelling at her and got in her face, at which point the family member told Castro to leave her alone. The family member told police that when Castro “feels he is being disrespected” he “gets angry and aggressive.”
According to the report, the accuser said Castro “came at her and grabbed her by the throat and forced her against the cabinets for about 4 or 5 seconds.”
“While (Castro’s) hand was on her throat, she stated that she was unable to breathe,” the incident report reads. “(The victim) stated she defended herself and kneed (Castro) in the groin and pushed him away to make space. She was able to move away from him and told him to stay away from her and not to touch her. (The victim) stated (Castro) continued to come after her. He slapped her in the face and tried several more times to slap her. (The victim) stated that (Castro) shoved her into the kitchen table and tried to slap her again.”
In an interview with police, Castro denied slapping the victim, grabbing her throat, or pushing her.
A witness, whose name was redacted, told police she was upstairs when she heard a loud argument between Castro and the accuser downstairs. The witness went downstairs and stated she saw Castro attacking the victim, “swiping at her with an open hand, trying to slap her.”
The witness told police she helped break up the fight and “adamantly stated (Castro) was the aggressor.” The witness, however, did not want police to charge Castro and didn’t provide a written statement, the report noted.
Castro told police that the animals, including lizards and rodents, the family member keeps in the house are unsanitary and complained that the family member sells the animals and has “strange people coming to his house.”
He told police that the family member lives under his roof and is provided for, taking issue with the family member disrespecting him by using foul language directed at him. The arresting officer wrote in the report that during his whole conversation with Castro, “it seemed as though he was very concerned with not being disrespected in his home and being in control of those who occupy it.”
When the police asked Castro how the victim received a red mark on her cheek, Castro said he believes “it must have happened when (the victim) was coming after him and (the witness) got in between.”
The accuser told police that Castro did not stop “coming at her” until she told him she was calling police, the report reads. At that point, Castro told her to “go ahead call the police I’ll get you arrested.” The family member was able to separate herself from Castro and exit to the second floor. She told police she believes Castro “would of killed her or hurt her severely” if the witness didn’t intervene. She feared for her safety and told police that Castro “has a long history of domestic violence, both reported and unreported.”
Castro’s attorney said the allegation of past abuse is untrue.
When officers arrived at the home, Castro was waiting in the living room and the accuser was upstairs and refused to speak with the police unless Castro went outside. An officer went upstairs to make contact with the family member while other officers stayed downstairs with Castro. The officer found the family member crying and said she appeared to be shaking.
Castro has been released on a $2,500 bond, and the case has been referred to the Family Services Division of the Judicial Branch. Castro has been on the City Council since 2012 and also chairs the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
While local officials, including Democratic leadership, have called on Castro to resign from the City Council in light of his domestic violence arrest, his attorney said he has no plans to resign.
“These are allegations. I could understand if this was after a guilty plea or a jury verdict convicting him of a crime, but he is accused of allegations that he denies,” Berke said.
Castro was previously charged with assaulting judicial marshals during a 2018 immigration protest outside the Meriden courthouse. The charges were eventually dropped.