A Long Latino Civil Rights Struggle Pays Off in East Haven

Latinos in the New Haven parish of St. Rose of Lima are breathing a sigh of relief that their long struggle against the East Haven Police Department has finally paid off in the form of a settlement between the town and the U.S. Justice Department over abusive treatment of parishioners on an extended basis.
The investigation arose after the Rev. James Manship was falsely arrested by East Haven police for videotaping police officers harassing one of his parishioners at a store he owned. More than 200 parishioners came forth with stories of their own recalling abuse by the police.
Angel Fernandez-Chavero of New Haven was the lay point person in his parish for the fight against the police department. “The overwhelming majority of people who were harassed were St. Rose parishioners,” he said, after receiving news of the settlement between the town and the federal government.
Fernandez-Chavero and others in the parish whittled the 200 claims of abuse down to 20 solid cases. Those were taken to a Yale Law School clinic. It was the clinic that got the U.S. Justice Department involved.
The Justice Department’s civil rights division determined that the East Haven police department engaged “in a pattern or practice of systematically discriminating against Latinos, in violation of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, … Title VI, and the Safe Streets Act. The Civil Rights Division also noted serious concerns that EHPD had failed to ensure that individuals in East Haven are free from unlawful searches and seizures and use of excessive force.”
Thomas E. Perez, assistant U.S. Attorney, and David B. Fein, United States Attorney for Connecticut, released a letter sent to East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. that states, “The Parties have determined that the proposed Settlement Agreement, rather than protracted and costly litigation, is the most effective means of resolving the DOJ investigation and ensuring constitutional and effective policing.”
It’s those last few words that has Fernandez-Chavero and his fellow parishioners pleased. Fernandez-Chavero sees it as vindication of the Latinos’ struggles. It also ensures that the Latinos have sustained protection against retaliation. The agreement states, “EHPD shall expressly prohibit all forms of retaliation, whether subtle or direct, including discouragement, intimidation, coercion, or adverse action, against any person, civilian or officer, who reports misconduct, makes a misconduct complaint, or cooperates with an investigation of misconduct. The default penalty for retaliation shall be termination.”
Fernandez-Chavero said, “These were brave people who came forward. They’re heroes who literally put themselves on the line. They put the well being of their families on the line.”
Mayor Maturo told the New Haven Register in a statement, “Entering into this agreement with the Department of Justice, and avoiding costly, prolonged, and protracted litigation, is in the best interests of the Town and the taxpayers. While the cost to implement the provisions of the agreement is expected to be significant, this agreement represents another step toward turning yesterday’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.”
Also, according to the Register, in January 2012, four officers were arrested on the charges they discriminated against Latino residents. Sgt. John Miller and Officers David Cari, Jason Zullo and Dennis Spaulding were all charged. Miller has pleaded guilty to one charge of excessive force, and agreed to cooperate with the federal government. He has put in to retire. Cari has retired, and has pleaded not guilty. Spaulding is out on administrative leave and has pleaded not guilty. Additional charges were lodged against Zullo days after Miller changed his plea. Zullo pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon in federal court to obstruction of justice and is facing 12 to 24 months in prison.
The Justice Department agreement also requires the police department “deliver police services that are equitable, respectful, and free of unlawful bias, in a manner that promotes broad community engagement and confidence in the Department. In conducting its activities, EHPD shall ensure that members of the public receive equal protection of the law, without bias based on demographic category, and in accordance with the rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
To ensure bias-free policing, the East Haven Police Deparment will have to:

  • Prohibit officers from using demographic category (to any extent or degree) in conducting stops or detentions, or activities following stops or detentions, except when engaging in appropriate suspect-specific activity to identify a particular person or persons.
  • Prohibit officer use of proxies for demographic category, including language ability, geographic location, or manner of dress.
  • When officers are seeking one or more specific persons who have been identified or described by their demographic category, or any proxy thereto, officers may rely on these descriptions only when combined with other appropriate identifying factors, and may not give exclusive attention or undue weight to demographic category.

 

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