Arrested Bridgeport councilwoman resumes full duties

Photo of Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — While the controversies that erupted around Councilwoman Eneida Martinez early last fall have not gone away, this week she was allowed to resume all of her duties on the all-Democratic legislative body.

“We had a conversation and she said she’s ready to get back to work,” Council President Aidee Nieves said in an interview. “I said, ‘Okay. It’s time.’”

Last Oct. 5, Martinez, who represents the East End, and Nieves announced the former would step away from her role as council majority leader and from her subcommittee work while police investigated the Sept. 27 shooting death of 21-year-old Nyair Charles Nixon Jr. at the Keystone social club Martinez managed.

Insisting she was innocent of wrongdoing, Martinez, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, yielded her titles of majority leader and ordinance committee co-chairman, her seat on the public safety committee and being liaison to the city’s police and public housing boards. She had also previously shuttered Keystone in the face of public pressure after Nixon’s murder.

Less than 48 hours later, on Oct. 7, Martinez was arrested and charged with 10 counts of illegal sale of alcohol and second-degree reckless endangerment stemming from evidence police gathered while investigating Nixon’s death. Authorities claimed that Keystone, formerly a strip club, had given up its Connecticut liquor license that summer but was still operating as a bar/adult establishment, and also in violation of coronavirus pandemic safety rules aimed at stopping the illness’ spread.

Nieves at that time said “ the allegations against her (Martinez) are disturbing given her status as an elected official” and “the residents of Bridgeport should know that the council has recently taken action to remove Councilwoman Martinez from her leadership and committee assignments.”

But Nieves resisted calls for Martinez to resign “for her to have due process.” There were also protests outside of Nieves’ home calling for Martinez’s ouster.

Martinez is scheduled to be arraigned June 2 while the Nixon case remains open. Still, at the very end of this week’s regular council meeting, held in teleconference, Nieves abruptly announced before adjourning that Martinez had been reassigned all of her duties.

The council president offered no explanation and was not questioned by other members. In a subsequent interview, Nieves argued Martinez’s case “keeps being delayed and delayed” and “I don’t think it’s fair” to block her from some council business indefinitely.

“She’s a good co-chair and a good committee member,” Nieves said, adding Martinez is also popular with East End constituents.

She also noted all 20 council members are starting the second year of their current two year terms and facing re-election in November. “She’s demonstrated to me she’s ready to finish off her term and do the work she intended to before this unfortunate event happened,” she said. “I have seen her diligently supporting initiatives (and) fighting for quality of life issues.”

Last fall the Greater Bridgeport NAACP joined calls for the Chief State’s Attorney to take over the Nixon case from city police. Told this week Martinez was resuming all of her council functions, NAACP President Rev. D. Stanley Lord was shocked: “We are totally against that. ... There’s no sense to rush her into positions with the allegations that are out there. This makes no sense. Wow.”

Martinez’s Keystone-related woes began before Nixon was shot there Sept. 27. The councilwoman had prior to the coronavirus pandemic helped manage what at the time was the Keystone strip club. She never hid that affiliation, promoting events online.

When COVID-19 struck Connecticut in March 2020, many so-called non-essential businesses, including bars/adult entertainment establishments like Keystone, were forced to shut down as part of an effort to prevent the virus from spreading.

As the state’s infection rate dropped last spring and summer, much of the economy was allowed to gradually re-open. Establishments like Keystone were not. But the club was among several businesses that between last July and August got in trouble with Bridgeport health officials for either not following coronavirus guidelines or for being open at all.

Lisa Morrissey, the city’s health director who suddenly resigned this past January, last August told Hearst Connecticut Media her staff found “a large gathering” at Keystone and “there was some question as to whether they should be open or what their business entity type was.”

Soon after Keystone was allowed to re-launch as what Martinez claimed then was a social club with no bar or exotic dancers. As such the establishment canceled its state liquor license allowing it to serve alcohol.

“It’s now a members-only club. It’s ‘bring your own booze.’ They receive a membership card, and they have to show it when they come in. They have to bring their own bottles. The staff will pour their drink,” Martinez had said.

Morrissey had said Martinez cooperated: “She has been one of those easy to work with and who wants to comply.”

A month later Nixon was dead and authorities at the scene and during the subsequent homicide probe found evidence Keystone continued to operate as a bar with exotic dancers and was violating COVID health restrictions by allowing mask-less staff and crowds, according to a Sept. 28 letter from police to Morrissey and the October arrest warrant issued for Martinez.

The arrest warrant stated that Morrissey on Oct. 5 told police Martinez was unable to demonstrate that Keystone converted to a social club and did not apply to the city’s zoning commission for a change of use.

In October Hearst, under the state Freedom of Information Act, asked Bridgeport for all correspondence involving Keystone from last spring and summer. Bridgeport’s law department recently said officials were still processing the request.