Civil Case Next For East Haven Police
In 2010, New Haven attorney David Rosen and a group of Yale Law School students brought the first legal action against the town of East Haven and its police officers for allegedly violating the rights of Latino residents. But that federal lawsuit was put on hold earlier last year, when criminal charges were brought against two officers.
Soon, the civil case could get back on track. On Monday, Oct. 21, both officers were convicted in federal court, and the clock started ticking on the plaintiffs, who have 21 business days to file a motion asking U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton to allow the civil lawsuit to proceed. After that, both sides will have five days to submit to the court a list of what actions still need to be taken — such as motions, depositions and discovery — before the case can be brought to trial.
"The end of the criminal trial means the civil case is hopefully going to get started again," said Rosen, who did not speculate on when a civil trial might start. He noted that when Arterton halted the civil proceedings after the two officers were indicted early last year, some depositions had been taken and some discovery materials reviewed. "Now, it's time to go back and finish discovery and get this case to trial," he said.
The convictions of Officers David Cari and Dennis Spaulding, who face up to 10 years in prison when sentenced, will undoubtedly strengthen Rosen's civil claims. "We now know that a cross-section of impartial jurors have found the allegations of racial profiling and police misconduct to be backed up by the evidence," he said.
Both officers were arrested in 2012 after a four-year probe was launched by the U.S. Attorney's Office. The investigation found that the officers routinely discriminated against Hispanic and Latino people. Following a jury trial before U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson in Hartford, both men were found guilty as charged with conspiracy against civil rights, deprivation of civil rights for making arrests without probable cause.
They were also found guilty of writing a false report in the arrest of Rev. James Manship, who was videotaping the officers as they arrested a Latino man in a convenience store.
In a rare turn of events, two other officers who were also arrested in 2012 on similar charges agreed to testify against their colleagues. The jury also saw evidence of the officers returning to the convenience store to try and get the surveillance camera video from the store's owner.
"This prosecution and the jury's swift and unambiguous verdict should send a very strong message," said Acting U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly. "There is no place in law enforcement for anyone who abuses power or victimizes defenseless individuals."
The criminal defense lawyers for the officers, Frank Riccio II and Alex Hernandez, questioned the credibility of government witnesses, maintained that any arrests of Latino residents were supported by probable cause, and denied that the officers engaged in racial profiling. "We are disappointed by the jury's verdict," Hernandez, of Pullman & Comley, said in a prepared statement. "We will carefully review the record and determine if there is a basis for relief on appeal."
In the civil case, nine Latino residents have filed suit against the East Haven police department, the town of East Haven, former Police Chief Leonard Gallo and five police officers. New Haven attorney Hugh Keefe, who is representing four of the officers, did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment for this article.