Updated, 7 p.m.: Both DPW and Jason Milligan called police, according to Sgt. Sofia Gulino.
NORWALK, Conn. – Angry words followed by conciliatory smoothies marked a confrontation Thursday between Norwalk Department of Public Works employees and real estate broker Jason Milligan.
Milligan was “screaming angry,” calling DPW workers “stupid,” and alleging that they were “thieves stealing his property” and “criminals,” Department of Public Works Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre said.
The DPW workers called Norwalk Police to assist them in removing an enclosure Milligan erected around a Wall Street signal box, Torre said. The locked structure was a ‘stunt’ that presented a health and public safety risk and prevented access to a “vital piece of equipment,” Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan said.
Norwalk Police did not arrest Milligan or give him a citation, according to Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, who on Friday said Milligan called police, not DPW. Sgt. Sofia Gulino later said DPW also called police.
The box controls a nearby traffic signal and pedestrian crossing light, and has been up against the side of 69 Wall St. for years. Milligan acquired the property in December. On Wednesday he had attorney Candace Fay send a letter to the City demanding that the utility box be removed unless suitable terms could be agreed for allowing it to remain. That evening, he enclosed it in a locked structure which he describes as a “fence” and decorated it in Tyvek.
“There are several reasons why a gated structure was placed around the traffic box,” Milligan wrote. “… The most obvious is that it is my right to do so on my property. I find the traffic box unattractive. To blend it into the neighborhood it was appropriate to wrap it in Tyvek.”
The partially constructed Wall Street Place, known to many as “POKO,” is just down the street and wrapped in Tyvek.
Milligan is embroiled in a lawsuit filed against him and others by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, because he bought nearby properties which were part of the stalled Wall Street Place project without the Redevelopment Agency’s blessing. The utility box letter was phase I of him being on “offense” instead of “defense,” he said Wednesday.
City attorneys called Milligan’s play more of a fumble, and Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan on Wednesday sent Fay a letter stating that a 1956 easement permitted the box, and scolding her for bringing a meritless claim.
Callahan on Thursday sent Fay and Milligan a letter saying that the wooden enclosure “presents an immediate health and safety hazard,” demanding that it be removed by 1 p.m. and announcing that the City was contemplating “a criminal complaint for, among other things, potential violation of the antitampering statutes concerning public property.”
“Gestapo Police State tactics. Mini Mario ordered it,” Milligan said in a text message, bringing the incident to NancyOnNorwalk’s attention and announcing that four police cruisers and four DPW workers had been on his property. “It is really unbelievable that they expended eight agents of the government at my property for over an hour today,” Milligan wrote later to NancyOnNorwalk.
Milligan later said police came because he called them.
“With limited information and false assumptions they dispatched a crew to destroy private property on one-hour notice. This is America,” Milligan wrote.
“Mr. Milligan has every reasonable ground to believe that he had and has the right to erect the structure in question on the property owned by him,” Fay wrote to Callahan.
“DPW almost never requires access to that box. A key would have been readily provided to the police or DPW to open the gate,” Milligan wrote.
“The City has used and abused its power,” Fay wrote. “The City refused to ask questions or to inspect this structure in any way before it ripped it down. Perhaps, a site visit would have eviscerated the City’s alleged concerns when it learned that this fence was not restricting access to the box in any way.”
“It was locked when we got there,” Torre said Wednesday evening. Told that Milligan would have provided a key, he said, “Well, he didn’t. We would have left the gate there but he said that if we would have left the gate on his property he would just put it back up.”
“It got really testy on the onset. He got very cordial afterwards,” Torre said, adding that Milligan bought everyone smoothies but only one or two people drank them.
Milligan’s version of events is similar. He wrote:
“I was annoyed and angry when I arrived to the scene with DPW workers tossing the remains of my carpentry into their truck. After a few minutes we were laughing and getting along. I bought a bunch of Mr. Mango smoothies for the DPW workers and the police. If it were up to Chris Torre, the police, the boys on DPW, or anyone in the rank and file of the town hall we would resolve all of the errors.”
Milligan said his property had been damaged.
“The wooden gate was fastened to my building so that it would not be attached to the traffic box. Some of the facade where it was attached is damaged,” Milligan wrote.
Morgan released this statement:
“This latest stunt by Mr. Milligan posed a health and public safety risk. It required immediate action by the city to maintain access to its vital piece of equipment. The city gave Mr. Milligan notice to remove the structure he installed, and when he did not, the city did. If Mr. Milligan thinks the traffic box is improperly on his property, he should work through his attorney, and not take it upon himself to render it inaccessible to the city.
“Mr. Milligan clearly did this to provoke the city. As much as we’d like to ignore his antics, we cannot when his actions put the public’s safety at risk.
“After being harassed, insulted, and repeatedly threatened by Mr. Milligan, DPW staff called the police. When they arrived, Mr. Milligan demanded that DPW staff be arrested. He then bizarrely offered them smoothies.
“Just to be clear, the city did not damage his property. Staff simply unscrewed the materials so it could be removed. The materials are at DPW where he is free to pick it up.”
Morgan, in a phone call, made it clear that the statement was from him, not Mayor Harry Rilling.
Rilling, in a recent email to NancyOnNorwalk, said he would no longer respond to Milligan’s “sophomoric shenanigans.”
“It would be convenient to blame the city’s unwillingness to work with me on this traffic box gate…But that would dishonest,” Milligan wrote. “The city leadership mainly the mayor has said that he is willing to meet with anyone and work with anyone, and that his only goal is what is best for Wall St and the City, but that has proven to be false.”
“Putting a traffic control box on someone’s private property doesn’t make any sense. It is a pretty unusual event if not extraordinary event. Common sense would tell you that proper & clear records should be made for this extraordinary event. There is absolutely zero mention of a traffic box on my land records. If the city has proof of the right to have the traffic box on my private property than they should produce it immediately.”
Milligan said several months ago that the Wall Street area has many weird oddities, grandfathered in from another era. The utility box has been on that property for years, and city attorneys say it is permitted by the 1956 easement.
“I would imagine that most observers would recognize that both parties could behave better,” Milligan wrote. “I can agree and also point out that they are our government. They work for and are paid for by the taxpayers. I am a taxpayer. I am self employed. They should be held to a higher standard.”
“Do you think because I used humor to point out weaknesses in this government that it justifies the police state tactics?” he asked.
A radaris.com public records search shows a Candace V. Fay who is also known as Candace V. Milligan, and is similar in age to Milligan. The real estate broker refused to comment on whether his attorney is a familial relation.
By calling Callahan “Mini-Mario,” Milligan was referring to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, who he calls “Super Mario.”
Coppola in court last month was asked about his conversations with Milligan, before the lawsuit was filed. He testified, “The basic sentiment was ‘it’ll be a war if you end up filing any litigation against me, I’ll embarrass city officials in the press and it will be an all-out war, there won’t be an opportunity to work with me once litigation is filed.’”