Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested four East Haven Police Department officers early Tuesday morning after they were indicted for systematic mistreatment of Latino residents.
The indictment accuses the four officers, including one sergeant, of over 30 “overt acts” in a conspiracy against Latinos, and the charges levelled against them include three counts of excessive force, three counts of false arrest, three counts of obstruction of justice and four counts of conspiracy against rights. Tuesday’s arrests came after a three-year investigation by the United States Department of Justice, which documented what Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York office, called a “four-year pattern of egregious behaviour.”
“The four police officers charged today allegedly formed a cancerous cadre that routinely deprived East Haven residents of their civil rights,” Fedarcyk said at a Bridgeport press conference on Jan. 24 following the arrests. “The public should not need protection from those sworn to protect and serve. In simple terms, these defendants behaved like bullies with badges.”
Unsealed in Bridgeport, Conn., Tuesday, the indictment alleges that EHPD officers John Miller, Dennis Spaulding, David Cari and Jason Zullo conducted unlawful searches and seizures and assaulted people already handcuffed.
The officers also attempted to prevent civilians from videotaping police on duty and filed false reports to cover up their actions, according to the indictment.
“There is no place for excessive force in a police station or on the streets,” U.S. Attorney for Connecticut David Fein said at the press conference. “There is no place for false statements in police reports. No person is above the law, and nobody — even a person arrested for a crime — is beneath its protection.”
The federal indictment documents a conspiracy involving the four officers and other EHPD officers that waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against witnesses and other officers who tried to investigate or report misconduct about the abuses.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said at the Bridgeport news conference that the officers had abused their power and created a “climate of fear” within the community. He said the indictment was consistent with a separate Justice Department report released last month that found widespread police discrimination against Latinos in East Haven.
Fein said more arrests could be made as the investigation continues. His office’s indictment already implicates an unnamed “Co-conspirator 1” for refusing to provide the East Haven Board of Police Commisioners with an arrest report involving Cari and dismissing the commission’s request to investigate Miller’s alleged misconduct.
Fred Bow, the chairman of the East Haven Board of Police Commissioners, told the New Haven Register that those actions were taken by EHPD Chief Leonard Gallo.
But the chief’s attorney, Jonathan Einhorn, told the Register that “it’s obvious” from the indictment that Gallo is “Co-conspirator 1” and that it was “unfair” to make such allegations when no charges have been made.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. told the News Tuesday afternoon that he stood by his 50-person police department, which has launched an internal investigation into the four charged officers.
“It’s certainly very unfortunate that our police department has to go through something like this,” Maturo said, “I stand by our police department from top to bottom.”
All four officers pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on Tuesday afternoon, and three were released on bond. Zullo was not immediately able to post bond and remains in custody.