Embattled East Haven police chief Len Gallo announced his retirement Monday, although the head of the town's police commission said he wants Gallo fired so he can't collect unused vacation and sick time that could total more than $100,000.
A Latino group also asked Mayor Joseph Maturo to step down Monday, but there was no indication Maturo was going anywhere.
Gallo's resignation is effective Friday. He is at the center of a federal probe into civil rights violations against Latinos and is an unnamed co-conspirator in last week's indictment of four officers, his lawyer has acknowledged.
The arrests, and subsequent comment by Maturo that he would eat tacos to help ease tensions between police and Latinos, has thrust the shoreline community into the national spotlight.
Maturo said he will put together a search committee for a new chief, which will begin its work immediately. The new chief will have to "restructure the department, implement reforms and work with the community," he said. He named deputy chief John Mannion to head the department on an interim basis.
"I expect the road ahead to be difficult," said Maturo. He called Gallo's decision to step down an "unselfish act."
Gallo's attorney, Jonathan J. Einhorn, said in a written statement that Gallo decided to retire "for one reason alone: that is his desire not to be a distracting element in East Haven's efforts to rehabilitate its image both upon its citizens and the general public."
Einhorn noted that Gallo also has a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Latino groups pending against him and there is potential for him to be charged as part of the criminal case in which four of his officers were arrested.
"Chief Gallo will be vindicated in the civil case. … He is not guilty of any wrongdoing. He should not be arrested; if arrested he will be acquitted of any charges."
The town's police commission will meet Tuesday night and two commissioners will ask Maturo to fire Gallo instead of accepting his resignation.
Chairman Fred Brow said firing Gallo won't affect his pension, but could prevent the town from having to pay him for unused vacation and sick leave, which could total $150,000.
"His behavior was so poor, we don't feel he's entitled to anything," said Brow.
Sources said Maturo, soon after his election in November, was notified by federal investigators that the arrests of officers were expected. He said federal officials were angered that he reinstated Gallo, who was put on leave by the previous mayor.
The plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit and community activists said that Gallo's resignation presented an opportunity for the department to reform its ways.
"Gallo's position at the top of the East Haven Police Department signaled to the brave victims who risked everything to testify and to the Latino community that their dignity was not respected," said Ángel Fernández-Chavero, a leader of the pastoral council at St. Rose of Lima Church. "I hope that the department now moves swiftly to implement the recommendations of theU.S. Department of Justiceand its own consultant, the Police Executive Research Forum."
The Rev. James Manship, whose arrest while taping police actions helped lead to the federal probe, said, "Gallo cultivated a racist and dishonest police force.
"Justice demands that State's Attorney Dearington review the convictions of persons arrested by the four indicted officers, and seek to vacate those tainted by racial bias or other unconstitutional conduct," he said.
"The power structure that perpetuated a toxic culture within the East Haven Police Department is finally crumbling," said Christopher Lapinig, a student in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents the plaintiffs in the civil rights case.
The head of AFSCME Council 15, the Connecticut Council of Police, which represents East Haven police officers, said he agreed with Gallo's decision.
"Despite the work and dedication of Chief Gallo, his continued presence would have only served as a distraction to turning the department around, said Jeffrey Matchett, the union's executive director.
Latrina Kelly, of Junta for Progressive Action, the group which delivered tacos to Maturo's office last week in response to the mayor's comment, said she welcomes an open dialogue with the mayor, but that he should resign if he proves that he is not interested in reaching out to the Latino community.
Three members of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission met with Maturo Monday morning, urging the mayor to resign.
"The Latino community feels (Maturo and Gallo) are not fit to be our stewards, so to speak," said commission member Isaias Diaz.
Republican Rep. Leonard Fasano, who represents East Haven, R-34, attended the meeting, and said, "(Maturo) has expressed an eagerness to work with them. If they can help us, .. help him, help the town, that would be great."
Fasano said he understood the call for Maturo's resignation.
"They're upset because Joe said something he shouldn't have said. I think Joe has apologized. I think Joe is saying let's move forward and heal the town."