After a two-year investigation into the East Haven Police Department, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is saying the department is “broken” and will take years to fix. They are accused of violating the civil rights of Latinos within the community and as many as 15 officers could face criminal charges.
Investigators for the DOJ say this particular investigation was one of the hardest they've ever encountered to get information about. The reason for this difficulty is at least partially the Police Chief. Chief Leonard Gallo is mentioned in the 23 report as “creating a hostile work environment” for anyone that chose to help the DOJ. Through this and other efforts, he is accused of creating a “blue wall of silence” around the investigation, even making a bulletin board to out “rats within the PD.”
The police are accused of targeting Latinos unfairly and treating them more severely than other demographics. The Hartford Courant reports that the police stopped Latino drivers at far higher rates than whites or others within the community. Though they account for 10% of the town's population, they accounted for anywhere from 33-50% of traffic stops for officers on the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift.
Latinos within the town were followed and watched by officers waiting for them to make a mistake or violate a law. In one instance, an officer looked up a driver's insurance information before pulling them over. In other words, they were seeking excuses to stop Latino drivers.
Once stopped, the DOJ found that Latinos were treated more severely than others as well. From having their cars towed to being subject to arrest whenever possible, the police went out of their way to hassle this segment of the local population.
Mayor Joseph Maturo, who reappointed Chief Gallo after he was placed on administrative leave in April by Maturo's predecessor, criticized the report as being “slanderous” to the community. Others, including police commissioners, state that Gallo is not the person that will be able to lead the Department into reformation.
“'We absolutely need a new chief, It all starts from the top,' Police Commission Chairman Frederick Brow said. ‘But the mayor has pretty well put us aside as a board and doesn't want our opinion.'”
The civil rights investigation is now complete, though a criminal investigation is ongoing. It isn't clear at this time what charges are being considered and against whom. Twenty-four officers have been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.
What will happen to the East Haven Police Department remains to be seen. But for Latinos and anyone else in the town with a conscious, this could be the start of some much-needed changes.