Four Officers Arrested For Civil Rights Violations

fromWNPR

For years, the Latino community in East Haven, Conn., complained of systematic abuse and harassment at the hands of the town's police force. Tuesday, the federal government arrested four local cops and accused them of repeatedly violating the civil rights of Hispanic residents. The arrests have prompted dramatically different reactions from the Latino community and the mayor of East Haven.

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For years, Latinos in East Haven, Connecticut, have complained of systematic abuse and harassment by police. Well, yesterday, four East Haven cops were arrested and charged with multiple civil rights violations. We have the story from Diane Orson, of member station WNPR.

DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: East Haven is a blue-collar, working-class town of 28,000, just next door to New Haven, home of Yale University. New Haven's gone out of its way to welcome Latinos. Not so in neighboring East Haven, which has seen its Hispanic population double in the past decade.

The federal indictment announced Tuesday alleges that four East Haven police officers routinely conspired to violate, and violated, the civil rights of members of the local community - particularly, Latinos.

Janice Fedarcyk is assistant director in charge of the New York City office of the FBI, which worked on the case.

JANICE FEDARCYK: In simple terms, they behaved like bullies with badges.

ORSON: David Fine, U.S. district attorney in Connecticut, says the indictment describes more than 30 instances of abuse.

DAVID FINE: The four defendants have been charged with using excessive force in the arrest of five individuals, conducting unreasonable searches and seizures...

ORSON: The arrests follow a federal report that details a deeply rooted pattern of discriminatory policing - frequent race-based traffic stops, where officers allegedly used ethnic insults; raids on Latino businesses; and beatings of Latinos taken into custody. The officers have pleaded not guilty.

HUGH KEITH: Charges like these are easily made; they're not so easily proven.

ORSON: Lawyer Hugh Keith represents the town of East Haven. He says Connecticut police officers are often sued for false arrest and excessive force.

KEITH: In all the years that I've done the work for East Haven on these lawsuits, they have had a success rate in court, in front of juries, of well over 90 percent.

ORSON: What's riled up East Haven residents today is a comment made by East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo, just hours after the officers' arrests. A local TV reporter asked the mayor what he was doing to support Latinos in the town, and he responded by describing what he planned for dinner.

MAYOR JOSEPH MATURO: I might have tacos when I go home; I'm not quite sure yet.

ORSON: The taco remark, by Mayor Maturo, prompted a scathing response by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, who issued a statement calling it repugnant and unacceptable.

At a restaurant on Main Street in East Haven, just blocks from where much of the alleged abuse took place, Elio Cruz says he's bothered by the mayor's comment, but not surprised.

ELIO CRUZ: He doesn't have - no clue of our community. He doesn't have - no clue of other communities growing up in his town. This guy runs the town, and he's not really paying attention to our community. It's not like everybody looks Spanish, everybody eats tacos.

ORSON: Maturo has apologized, and called the remark stupid. Meanwhile, the federal criminal investigation is ongoing, and authorities have not ruled out the possibility of future arrests.

For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

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