East Haven police accused of discrimination

A local pastor and a Yale Law School clinic are working to fight alleged racial discrimination by the East Haven police.

According to a 14-page legal complaint filed by the Yale Law School Jerome Frank Legal Services Organization on behalf of St. Rose of Lima Church, East Haven police have been discriminating against Latino residents by allegedly stopping them on the road, giving more penalties to Latinos than to people of other races and intimidating Latino-owned businesses on West Main Street. The town’s lawyer, Patricia Cofrancesco, recently told the New Haven Register that federal and East Haven officials have met and that the mayor is currently compiling information to send to the Justice Department.

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“The police have continued, and maybe in some cases increased, what we believe to be harassment of Latinos in the community,” said Father James Manship, a pastor at St. Rose of Lima who is involved with the lawsuit.

The complaint cited 22 instances of alleged racial discrimination against Latino residents, who make up nearly six percent of East Haven’s population. Included in the allegations was the notion that East Haven police officers did not intervene when their peers committed discriminatory acts. Often, the lawsuit added, police allegedly used threats and race-based insults to intimidate Latino residents. The complaint said aggressive and continued police activity in and outside of Latino-owned businesses was scaring away customers who were afraid even to drive through East Haven.

According to the complaint, one resident, Juan — whose last name was not included — was stopped in his friend Guillermo’s car on their way to La Bamba Restaurant on 460 Main St. Juan, who had not been driving, was asked by an officer to show a driver’s license. When Juan asked for the ID card back, he was allegedly handcuffed, pepper sprayed in the face and beaten. At the police station, the same officer allegedly started hitting Juan, and another officer who was present allegedly did not intervene except to remove his companion’s weapon.

Manship said his church filed the federal complaint because East Haven police refused to recognize the existence of racial profiling. East Haven police declined comment for this article Thursday.

“We are providing [the Justice Department] with everything they ask for,” East Haven Police Chief Leonard Gallo told the New Haven Register in January. “The East Haven Police Department has nothing to hide.”

The Register reported at the time that the Justice Department has requested from East Haven police about 70 items, many of which concern the department’s policy and procedure. The police is providing its procedure manual, its union contract and other documents to the Justice Department, according to the Register.

State Rep. Mike Lawlor (D-East Haven) said Thursday that if police are stopping Latinos for valid reasons but nonetheless are profiling them, the church’s allegations will be difficult to prove. But he said he is confident the Justice Department will be able to figure out what needs to be done.

A Justice Department representative said Thursday that he was aware of the allegations but declined further comment.

Lawlor said that if racial discrimination has occurred, the Justice Department will help to forge a binding agreement among lawsuit parties to create police training programs and set mechanisms of police oversight to ensure that the profiling stop.

“But who knows whether they’ll find actual violations of the law,” Lawlor said.

Manship was himself arrested Feb. 19 for videotaping two police officers allegedly harassing Marcia Chacon, the Latino store owner of My Country Store on 677 Main St. Although police claimed at the time that they thought Manship was holding a sharp metal object, their allegations were later disproved by Manship’s video footage, according to the complaint.

Lawlor said that the training program for East Haven police had recently changed and that some residents have since claimed that police have been harassing Latino residents more.

The tense relations between Gallo and East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon do not foster the necessary communication to address problems in the police department, Lawlor said. In September 2009, East Haven police arrested Capone Almon because she was accused of stopping a police officer from towing cars and yelling at him. A state Superior Court judge on Monday dismissed a case against the mayor involving the yelling incident.

Capone Almon did not respond to multiple phone requests for comment over the weekend.

Werner Oyanavel, the acting director for the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said he attributed the concerns to the dramatic influx of Latinos over the last 20 years from various Latin American countries and a misunderstanding of immigrants’ goal of coming to Connecticut to start a family and find work, he said. His state commission on Latino and Puerto Rican affairs has urged the Justice Department to complete the investigation.

“Any abuse of our population is not going to be tolerated,” Oyanavel said. “We just want equal treatment by the law.”

Lawlor said a similar Justice Department investigation is occurring in Oakland, Calif. According to Dec. 28 federal documents he provided, the Justice Department suggested to Oakland police that they provide written acknowledgment of their understanding of police policies, designate a legal specialist responsible for reviewing policy and implement a system for handling citizen complaints while retaining the right to prosecute false complaints.

East Haven residents held a vigil in December when the Justice Department accepted the request for a probe of the racial profile claims.


  • EditorPlease

    This article is in serious need of an editor! First of all, the writer never says to whom the complaint was filed. Frequently, one assumes, if no further explanation is given, that filing a legal complaint means filing in court (to begin a lawsuit). But it seems that this is not the case here. The rest of the article suggests that the complaint was filed with the federal Department of Justice, but nowhere does it say this is the case, nor is it necessarily clear that it is. (Perhaps the complaint was filed in court and DoJ is for some reason also involved?)

    This is perhaps the most egregious issue because it makes it difficult to tell what happened (which, after all, is the point of a news story). But there are many other ways the story is simply very poorly written. For example, despite making clear that the incidents it recounts are “alleged,” the writer, for some reason, goes on to unnecessarily and indiscriminately repeat this clarification ad nauseum. Particularly in the sidebar, but also in the body of the story, there are times when she uses “alleged” or “allegedly” in every sentence, and occasionally multiple times in one sentence. While it is, of course, important to make very clear the distinction between what has been proven and what is merely claimed, the writer ventures well beyond clarifying this distinction. Indeed, the author seems to use “alleged” so thoughtlessly, that even those assertions that seem likely to be substantiated facts are marked as allegations. For example, she writes “Stefan allegedly said this made him want to sell his home.” Presumably, either in the complaint or in the author’s interview with him, Stefan actually said that the East Haven police activity made him want to sell his home. What is alleged is that he wanted to sell, not that he said he did.

    The unfortunate writing of this article transforms what should be a serious piece on important issues into a laughable parody of journalism gone wrong.

  • The Count

    East Haven cops discriminate? Get outta town! Next thing you’ll be telling me is that John Edwards really IS the father of that child.

  • lol

    ya good article, we know! liberals can’t live with them, can’t shut them up either! Liberals, the loudest 1 percent of the population. Wait until the other 99% voices their thoughts on Illegal aliens !

  • Elm City

    The Latino community demands the law be followed. All well and good, but how about that pesky Federal law in regards to illegal immigration? The legal farce in regards to “undocumented citizens” continues. You broke several laws to come here, you’re breaking several laws to remain here. I’m certain they drive, where did they get thier license? Thier car insurance and registration? Who do they pay property taxes to? So who pays for thier childrens education? Who pays for thier healthcare when they go to the clinic or emergency room? Who pays for the extra services thier presence requires? The taxpayer, that’s who. And Yale Law students cheerfully hoist this sham on the public for a little padding to thier future political resume. Immigration is one thing, illegal immigrants demanding we break our own laws to suit them is quite another. Try illegal immigration into most other countries and see how it works out for you. Yale Law, the biggest danger to the New Haven taxpayer besides John Destefano.

  • Recent Alum

    I see that Yale Law School faculty appears more concerned about discrimination by the police department than about discrimination by the fire department. I wonder what key fact about the identity of the victims explains this discrepancy?

  • Easty

    Don’t be so quick to judge. Read the complaint and you will fast find that there are all false names places and dates that are difficult to investigate. No witnesses have been produced, no complaints. Father Manship and the group refuse to cooperate in the investigation with any real facts and keep piling up innuendo. They really do not want to make peace because this move is strickly political and a recruitment drive for new members to the Church. Check out the Church bullitin of March 2009 when the Catholic Church,through the Arch Bishop Mansill, attacks Mike Lawlor for a senate bill to regulate church finance.(SB1098) Lawlor quickly backed off and went back to his support for gay marriage which the Catholic Church is against and has openly opposed on the pulpit of St. Rose Lima Church. Oh I see your rights of liberty for your church members are more important than gays or anyone else.These folks have their own agenda and peace and love are not on it. They are the ones on the rightous path. Rubbish. The politics by the church in this matter are sickning. The complaints against the Police are not verified. East Haven, a small town without resources, must now argue with the Catholic Church,The Federal Goverment, and Yale Law and yet not one single shred of evidence has been produced. Guilty until proven innocent? I hope this is not the New America.

  • Inconceivable

    Dear #3 and #4: Where in the article does it state that the targets of this misbehavior are undocumented? Is the assumption that being Latino makes you undocumented, illegal, and worthy of a smackdown? By this argument every white male is a likely serial killer or sex offender since the vast majority of these offenders fall into this racial and gender category. This is truly an epiphany. The white male demographics of CT suggest that East Haven PD has a much worse and unnoticed problem on their hands. Hide your children and loved ones.

  • Shoreliner

    @7- All the alleged events in East Haven are in relation to illegal immigration. The Latino groups pushing these lawsuits, Father Manship, the Yale Law Clinic, all have vested interests in the illegal immagrant dispute. Every protest, march, complaint, threatened law suit all have to do with East Haven PD’s supposed violation of illegal immigrants rights. You use a lot of the same smokescreen tactics as the supporters of the illegal immigrants. Misdirection-gotta bring those white serial killers in, don’t you? And you throw in the “smackdowns” latino males get in East Haven. Care to provide one documented case besides the innuendo and outright falsehoods used by the supporters of the illegals? You use that term thier supporters love to attempt to give them some type of legitimacy- undocumented citizen. No they’re illegal immigrants, it’s not like they dropped thier documents at the bus station and are waiting for replacements. What’s an undocumented citizen? New Haven may have surrendered it’s sovreignty and now scrapes to a foriegn consulate within it’s bounds, that doesn’t mean the rest of the region will. Manship, the illegal political machine and Yale Law are the force behind these baseless charges, and thier support of illegal immigrants fuels them.