A former New Haven Police Department detective and a current NHPD detective pleaded guilty Friday to federal civil rights charges relating to the theft of government funds and the planting of evidence at a search-and-seizure scene.
Justen Kasperzyk, 35, pleaded guilty to a civil rights conspiracy felony and a theft of government property misdemeanor, while Jose Silva, 36, pleaded guilty to a deprivation of an individual’s civil rights misdemeanor. The guilty pleas are the latest development in an ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation and Connecticut State Police corruption inquiry into the NHPD and its now-dissolved Narcotics Enforcement Unit. The FBI arrested unit head Lt. William “Billy” White on theft and bribery charges and Kasperzyk on misdemeanor theft charges in March.
Kasperzyk and Silva issued their pleas in separate meetings with Senior U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas at the Bridgeport federal courthouse Friday morning. Though U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman Tom Carson declined to comment on what may have prompted the guilty pleas, investigators and prosecutors said the pleas will help advance the ongoing investigation.
“Today’s guilty pleas are an important milestone in a significant 14-month investigation,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Mertz said in a statement to the press. “Our investigation substantiated that Detectives Kasperzyk and Silva conducted an illegal search and arrest, and, through their guilty pleas today, both acknowledge their willful criminal conduct.”
Kasperzyk retired in April this year after being arrested by federal authorities but was only charged with theft of government property for the $360 he pocketed — a misdemeanor. His guilty plea to a count of civil rights conspiracy and the additional $500 theft was new information that came out Friday, as a result of the ongoing investigation, Carson said.
Silva has been placed on paid suspension and stripped of his gun, badge and department ID since Friday afternoon, city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said. Because only the Board of Police Commissioners can fire a police officer, she said, Police Chief Francisco Ortiz has deferred charges to the board with recommendations for Silva’s termination. The hearing date, she said, remains to be determined.
According to a document outlining Kasperzyk’s charges, during a November 2006 narcotics raid on a multifamily house on New Haven’s Truman Street, officials searched the building’s first floor and found no drugs but located a drug stash in the basement, which is shared by multiple apartments.
Kasperzyk then took the drugs and placed them in a bedroom belonging to a male resident. The man was subsequently jailed, and the suffering and stigma he sustained from the arrest form the crux of the civil rights felony charge, a New Haven Independent article reported Friday.
Silva, who was also part of the raid and aware of Kasperzyk’s intervention, nevertheless filed a case incident report stating that Kasperzyk had found the suspected narcotics on Falconer’s dresser, according to the charges pressed by U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor.
Then, on March 5, Kazperzyk entered a hotel room without a warrant, believing he had been informed by an anonymous tip. In reality, the entire hotel room was set up by the FBI, as a part of its corruption investigation. After logging in $4,640 to NHPD for the $5,000 that the FBI had placed in the hotel, Kazperzyk pocketed and gambled with the remaining amount later that night.
In their guilty pleas, Kasperzyk and Silva also admitted to each pocketing $500 from a March 1 search, with Kasperzyk logging in $1000 less than the real amount seized.
Carson said the U.S. District Attorney’s office would not speculate on how the investigation’s latest revelations might affect the ongoing inquiries into White, who was arrested in April after stealing money from a drug scene staged by the FBI. He has also been charged with bribery conspiracy.
Mayorga said Kasperzyk and Silva do not represent the over 400 NHPD officers serving the city.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re looking forward to putting this behind us and moving forward,” said Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. in a press release Friday. “We hope today’s proceedings signal the near end of this long and tenuous process.”
Norman Pattis, a criminal defense lawyer and civil rights attorney who has publicly criticized the NHPD in the aftermath of White and Kasperzyk’s arrests, said he was pleased to hear about Friday’s guilty pleas. But while the city government is ready to move on from the investigations, Pattis said the pleas should serve as a starting point, rather than a point of closure, for federal investigations into the NHPD.
“It’s refreshing to have this phenomenon brought into the plain light of day,” he said. “There are corrupt cops and innocent kids … We’ve got repeated instances now in New Haven of very serious corruption and that calls for a serious look at the New Haven Police Department.”
Pattis said stories of police planting evidence on people — especially youths — are not uncommon.
Connecticut General Assembly African-American Affairs Commission Chair Michael Jefferson attributed the New Haven Police Department’s lack of reform to entrenched racism and politically motivated appointments by the mayor to the Board of Police Commissioners.
But Pattis said as a politician, DeStefano has very little ability to effect change in the NHPD. Instead, he suggested the NHPD take a similar course as did the Bridgeport Police Department, which has been under federal purview ever since claims of racial behaviors were reported.
“The mayor can’t contribute to the solution,” Pattis said. “He’s just an elected politician. This is a crisis for civil liberties, and I think the courts need to get involved.”
In the wake of Kasperzyk’s and White’s arrests, the city hired the Police Executive Research Forum in May to assess the NHPD and offer recommendations. The consulting team released a draft of a recommendations report over the summer, which included strengthening community policing, reestablishing a narcotics unit and creating a professional standards bureau.
In recent forums responding to the report, community members have voiced both approval of the NHPD’s progress as well as doubt concerning the likelihood of actual reform.
Silva’s and Kasperzyk’s sentencings are scheduled for January 4, 2008. Silva faces a maximum prison term of one year and a fine upwards of $100,000, while Kasperzyk could serve up to 11 years in jail and be fined up to $350,000. The two officers both began working with the NHPD in 1995.