The Town of East Haven last week entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to resolve the DOJ's ongoing investigation into allegations of discrimination against Latinos by members of the East Haven Police Department (EHPD).
Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. signed a letter of intent on Oct. 22.
The agreement, according to the DOJ, "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."
Maturo needs approval for the agreement from the Board of Police Commissioners, Board of Finance, and Town Council. He said he expected to receive those approvals by Nov. 13.
"The proposed agreement will serve as a blueprint for sustainable reform that will provide the police department with the necessary tools and guidance it needs to restore trust from all segments of the East Haven community," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement.
"There is no place for invidious discrimination by law enforcement officers, and today's commitment from the mayor signals a new day for the East Haven Police Department," added David B. Fein, the U.S. attorney for the District Connecticut. "Once the proposed agreement is in place, the men and women who courageously serve on the police department will get the support they need to carry out their duties in a lawful and respectful manner, while ensuring public safety for the people of East Haven."
The agreement calls for reform in seven main areas, as well as a joint compliance expert who will oversee the police department's implementation of the new procedures and policies.
As outlined by the DOJ, those areas include biased-free policing; use of force; searches and seizures; policies and training; civilian complaints, internal investigations, and discipline; supervision and management; and community engagement and oversight.
Maturo explained that, after a more than two year investigation by the DOJ, the town reached the agreement, which is contained in a 54-page document that "provides a blueprint of policies and procedures that will make the EHPD one of the best departments in the country."
Maturo said that he received a "finding letter" from the DOJ on Dec. 19, 2011, which alleged that the town engaged in discrimination.
"Rather than engage the DOJ in costly, prolonged, and protracted litigation, I directed the town attorney to enter into negotiations to achieve an amicable solution to the dispute," said Maturo.
Maturo noted that a compliance expert will "monitor the policies, procedures, and operation of the police department. The costs associated with the implementation and oversight of this agreement will be significant. Those expenses, however, are better spent in this implementation process, rather than a long, costly litigation."
The DOJ began its investigation of discrimination, use of excessive force, and unconstitutional searches and seizures in September 2009.
Those connected to the Latino community expressed some satisfaction that the settlement was being put in place.
"We are very grateful to the Department of Justice for the hard work they have put into investigating the complaints of racial profiling put forward by members of our community," said Father James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church. "We are optimistic that this settlement will introduce the institutional change necessary to reform a deeply troubled police department."
Change is already well underway. Interim Police Chief Brent Larrabee said the EHPD is already following recommendations from the DOJ and Police Executive Research Forum, so improvements are already in progress within the department.
Larrabee already sees changes in morale.
"When I arrived here, I thought morale was poor," he said. "I think morale has been very good as of late. Attendence has been good."
Officer Pleads Guilty to Obstruction Charge
In related news, Jason Zullo, one of four East Haven police officers charged with civil rights offenses back in January, last week pleaded guilty to an obstruction charge.
On Oct. 23, Zullo pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction related to the filing of a false police report to prevent Zullo from facing an excessive force investigation.
On Oct. 18, 2008, Zullo struck a motorcycle and its two riders with his police car during a chase. Zullo failed to report the collision (during which the riders fell off the motorcycle) in his police report. Zullo has said the collision was accidental, but he admitted last week that he wanted to avoid an excessive force investigation and did not include information about the collision in the report.
Zullo is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 18. He could face a maximum prison term of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.