Yale law students sue East Haven PD

Members of the Yale community marched Saturday against alleged brutality by New Haven police, but this week, Yale Law School students took another tack to combat alleged police misconduct in a neighboring town.

Members of the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, a group that advocates for workers’ and immigrants’ rights, announced in a Monday press release that they are suing the East Haven Police Department for “a citywide failure to stop a pattern of police brutality and anti-Latino racial profiling.” The clinic, which is co-counsel for the case, is representing 10 plaintiffs against East Haven police officers, the police department, and the town of East Haven. In addition to the suit, the EHPD is also contending with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into discriminatory policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and use of excessive force.

“We have spoken out against racial profiling for months on end,” said Marcia Chacón, the owner of an East Haven grocery store and a plaintiff in the suit, “but police officers continue to single us out and harass us based on the color of our skin. We are filing this suit, because we hope it will help bring an end to this abuse.”

The WIRAC declined to comment about the pending case.

In the press release, the WIRAC cited plaintiff claims that officers frequently Tased or beat up persons in their custody, and that many citizens suffered racially charged taunts and verbal abuse from the EHPD. Some plaintiffs also claim that they were told by EHPD to leave the town.

The WIRAC students also released a report based on EHPD data that depicts the scope of racial profiling in East Haven. More than 60 percent of traffic tickets were issued in East Haven to drivers with “Latino-sounding names,” according to the press release.

Marco Castillo, a lead organizer for Unidad Latina en Acción, a social advocate group for Latinos in the New Haven area, said the lawsuit is the “right thing to do,” but is not enough to affect change because Latinos are harassed everyday without cause in East Haven. He said that East Haven has more problems with racial profiling than New Haven, which has a local ordinance barring police inquiring into a citizen’s immigration status.

East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon said in a Tuesday press release that she understands the plaintiffs are exercising their constitutional right by filing suit, but declined to comment further until the Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division presents to her a final report of its investigation of the East Haven Police Department.

In an April 2010 report, the Department of Justice released a report that accused the EHPD of “outdated policies and procedures,” “insufficient guidance on the use of force,” “limited training,” and “fragmented community engagement.”

The report also criticized EHPD’s citizen complaint process, including complaint forms, which it said are not readily accessible to the public.

“At the end of the day my concern is how to prevent this from exposing the town to liability which would ultimately cost taxpayers’ money,” Almen said.

Leonard Gallo, the East Haven police chief, is named as one of the defendants in the suit. He was placed on administrative leave following the Department of Justice report.

According to the 2000 census, East Haven has 1,671 Hispanic residents.

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