More than three years after the Department of Justice began an investigation of practices of systemic discrimination and brutality against Latinos by East Haven, Conn. cops, town officials announced today they’ve reached a proposed settlement agreement with the feds.
For years in East Haven, Conn., a predominantly white suburb of New Haven, Latino residents were confronted by a barrage of police harassment and profiling. The town made national headlines in December of last year when the DOJ released a report charging the East Haven Police Department with systemically harassing Latinos.
In January, a separate criminal investigation by the FBI led to the arrest of four local cops for violent abuse of Latinos. Earlier this month, one of the charged officers pleaded guilty to uses of excessive force. The three other charged officers pleaded not guilty.
Shortly after the arrests, the town’s mayor, Joseph Maturo proposed that to remedy the damage by his police department he’d “eat tacos” for dinner. Predictably, the comments did nothing to halt growing outrage and within a week, Maturo announced that his police chief, Leonard Gallo, would resign.
According to Latino residents who I spoke with earlier this year, East Haven police were more restrained in months since the DOJ report was released, but many still feel precarious. Residents told methey hoped federal attention would bring lasting change.
The Justice Department today announced that the town of East Haven, Conn., memorialized its intention to enter into a settlement agreement to resolve the department’s civil investigation of allegations that the East Haven Police Department (EHPD) engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination against Latinos on account of their race, color or national origin. The proposed agreement also resolves allegations that EHPD engaged in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, unconstitutional searches and seizures and retaliation against persons who witnessed police misconduct or criticized EHPD’s practices.
As I reported in February, the practices of racial profiling and harassment were initially thrust into public view when a Yale University Law School clinic filed a civil rights action on behalf of a local pastor, the owners of a Latino owned convenience store and seven other Latino residents of the town who claimed they’d been abused by local police. The complaint listed two fifths of East Haven’s active duty cops as defendants.
The proposed agreement between the DOJ and New Haven, which must still be approved by town officials, requires the police to train officers in bias-free practices. The agreement also requires cops to contact foreign consulates when non-citizens are arrested and to develop policies, oversight, and training on police use of force. It also calls on police to develop stronger partnerships with town residents.
Responsibility for the East Haven racial harassment scandal was not contained to the local police force. As I reported in February, at the same time East Haven’s police were profiling and harassing Latino residents, federal immigration authorities continued to respond to calls from the town and at least several Latino residents of East Haven were deported.
After profiling, falsely arresting and often brutalizing Latinos in town, the cops routinely called ICE to report those without papers, locals charge. “When they come into this bar,” explains Marin, “the first thing they check is immigration status. And then they’ll probably call immigration.”
Even as the Department of Justice was investigating the police for alleged civil and criminal violations, another federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was acting in cahoots with the East Haven cops’ assault on immigrants.
ICE has consistently claimed that its enforcement practices do not rely on racial profiling to find immigrants and that it only deports serious criminals. The unfolding drama in East Haven does significant damage to that claim.