By Robert Cyr
The recent arrest of State Rep.-elect Christina Ayala of Bridgeport on a domestic violence-related charge highlights the issue of domestic violence in Latino communities and has also raised questions about her ability to hold public office.
Ayala, a Democrat who was elected to the 128th District seat in November, was arrested after police were called to her boyfriend’s house earlier this week over a domestic dispute. She was charged with breach of peace after she allegedly slapped Pedro Rodriguez-Ortiz in the face. Police say Ayala tried to use her status to avoid charges, according to the Connecticut Post, saying she did not want them involved because of her position. Ayala was not available for comment.
This is the second arrest for Ayala, a member of a prominent Bridgeport political family. In August, Ayala was charged with evading responsibility, failure to obey a traffic signal and failure to renew her vehicle’s registration after a a hit-and-run crash and is awaiting trail on that charge.
The 29-year-old single mother has a master’s of education from the University of Bridgeport, speaks English, Spanish and French and is a site manager for two early learning centers for Action for Bridgeport Community Development.
During this most recent arrest, the question of her residency in the district she represents has also come up. It is not clear if she lives in the house where she was arrested, which is not located in the 128th House district that covers the east side of Bridgeport. Connecticut Post columnist Keila Torres Ocasio published a column today outlining a case that Ayala does live in the 129th district based on utility records and neighbor statements.
On the the domestic violence issue, Ayala’s arrest puts a focus on the occurrence of domestic violence in the state’s Latino community. Currently, more than one out of every five victims of domestic violence who seek help in Connecticut are Latino, a rate that is higher than their share of the state’s population, according to state health officials. In 2011, 11,724 Latinos, or 20.5 percent of the more than 57,000 victims of domestic violence, were served through 18 domestic violence agencies across the state, according to Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV).
“The recent arrest of State Rep.-Elect Christina Ayala on a domestic violence charge places the spotlight on the problem of domestic violence in our state,” Jarmoc said. “Domestic violence is an expression of power and control of one person over the other, regardless of socio-economic, ethnic, racial, gender identity, sexual orientation and educational backgrounds and professions anyone can be a victim or a perpetrator. This incident underscores the need to facilitate conversations about healthy relationships in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our workplaces.”
According to the 2010 United States Census, Latinos make up the second largest demographic population in Connecticut, at 13.4 percent of the state’s population. A 2011 report by the CCADV found that Latinos “also represent the second largest population of individuals receiving domestic violence services. There should be a Spanish specific statewide help line for domestic violence victims.”
Ayala’s arrest comes at a time when Latinos are making history with positions in several levels of government. She has yet to assume office but there is already talk among Democratic party leaders in Bridgeport of her stepping down before her she is sworn in next month.
Latino leaders around the state were reluctant to speak publicly about this latest arrest, most preferring not to comment as they wait for the judicial system to take it course. A fellow Democrat in Bridgeport however said he was uncomfortable with Ayala’s arrest. State Rep. Jack Hennessy, (D-127) a Bridgeport delegate, told the Post that “This is an embarrassment and I really do question her judgment.”