East Haven Police Under Fire For Civil Rights Abuses
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Police commissioners in East Haven, Connecticut, voted last night to recommend that the mayor fire the police chief. As Diane Orson of member station WNPR reports, East Haven police have been in the national spotlight since four officers were arrested and charged with civil rights abuses against Latinos.
DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: The senior center was packed last night as East Haven police commissioners called on the mayor to fire chief Leonard Gallo. Gallo announced his retirement earlier this week, but commission chairman Frederick Brow says his performance does not merit a graceful exit with perks.
FREDERICK BROW: There's mention of a package for retirement. The board's objecting to the package. We believe he should be terminated and there be no package.
ORSON: Chief Gallo has faced criticism for his handling of allegations of racial profiling, harassment and intimidation of Latinos in East Haven. The U.S. Department of Justice Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation of the East Haven Police Department in 2009, and Gallo was placed on leave by the mayor at the time.
But last November, that mayor lost her bid for re-election. Joseph Maturo had hired Gallo when he was mayor 14 years ago, and reinstated him when he was took office again last November. That was just before the DOJ announced its findings, describing a deeply rooted pattern of discriminatory policing in East Haven.
The FBI also began a criminal investigation. That resulted in four East Haven cops charged last week with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Janice Fedarcyk is assistant director in charge of the New York City office of the FBI, which worked on the case.
JANICE FEDARCYK: The four East Haven police officers were a cancerous cadre who routinely deprived East Haven residents, particularly members of the Latino community, of their civil rights.
ORSON: The officers have pleaded not guilty. Attorney Jonathan Einhorn represents chief Gallo. He says the police commissioners are motivated by politics, and have no real say over chief Gallo's departure.
JONATHAN EINHORN: It means absolutely nothing. It means as much as if the guy on the corner selling coffee made that recommendation. Under the town charter of the Town of East Haven, the Board of Police Commissioners has absolutely no authority over the police chief.
ORSON: Einhorn acknowledges that Gallo is an unnamed co-conspirator in the FBI's criminal indictment, as well as a named defendant in a separate civil action brought by victims of the abuse. Many are Latino congregants of St. Rose of Lima Church. Pastoral council leader Angel Fernandez Chavero says the community wants to see real change in East Haven, not just a new police chief.
ANGEL FERNANDEZ CHAVERO: So that this stuff never, ever happens again. We don't want to have to worry about - ABC chief is now there, and then we worry when that person leaves, and God knows what the next one is going to be like. That's not what we want. We want permanent change.
ORSON: But that will require action by Mayor Maturo, who was roundly criticized recently after a reporter asked him what he would do to help Latinos in the wake of the arrests. He answered by saying that he might have tacos for dinner. Fernandez Chavero says the mayor has yet to acknowledge the depth of the problems in the community.
CHAVERO: And specifically, that the mostly Ecuadorian community, the Latino community of East Haven, has been harassed, that it has suffered racial discrimination, that it has actually suffered physical intimidation and actual physical force. You know, we won't be able to move forward until that happens because you can't solve the problem until you acknowledge that you have it.
ORSON: Members of the Latino community plan to unveil a series of recommendations on ways to reform the East Haven Police Department, later today.
For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.
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