They were known as "Miller's boys," a small group of East Haven officers on the 4-to-midnight shift arrested Tuesday following a long federal investigation and charged with terrorizing Latinos who dared enter the town's borders.
Federal authorities called them "bullies" and the indictment against them alleges a long list of crimes ranging from excessive force for beating suspects with their hands cuffed behind them to obstructing justice. Federal prosecutors argued in court that one of them — Dennis Spaulding — was so dangerous that he should be barred from entering East Haven while his case is pending.
Besides Spaulding the other three officers arrested were Jason Zullo, David Cari and Sgt. John Miller. All but Zullo were released late Tuesday after pleading not guilty and posting bonds ranging from $100,000 to $300,000. Miller and Cari were arrested at the East Haven police department just as their shift was ending. Miller was whisked out so quickly he left his service handgun on his desk. All are facing potential jail sentences of 10 years or longer if convicted.
"The four police officers charged today allegedly formed a cancerous cadre that routinely deprived East Haven residents of their civil rights," said Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director-in-charge of the New York office of the FBI. "The public should not need protection from those sworn to protect and serve. In simple terms, these defendants behaved like bullies with badges."
"At its core, this is an abuse of power case," added Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, of the justice department's civil rights division.
The investigation was prompted by a video recording of an encounter between some of the officers arrested Tuesday and the Rev. James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven. The federal probe found a pattern of discrimination by police, particularly against Latino residents.
Connecticut's U.S. Attorney, David B. Fein, said more arrests and additional charges could be forthcoming as the investigation continues.
Fein said the "indictment should serve as a powerful message that we in the Department of Justice will not tolerate abuse of power or victimization of civilians by anyone in law enforcement."
At arraignments Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Spaulding was released after posting $300,000 bail. Conditions of his release are that he is barred from entering East Haven and that he must live with his father-in-law in New Haven. Spaulding has been on leave.
Zullo was ordered held until a bail hearing on Thursday. Cari was released on $100,000 bail, pending the turnover of 12 weapons at his home to authorities. Miller was released after posting $200,000 bail.
The government vehemently opposed allowing Spaulding to go free. Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel said numerous victims and potential witnesses have beeen intimidated by Spaulding.
"He has created so much fear and created so much terror in the very community that he is supposed to be protecting" Patel told U.S. Magistrate Holly Fitzsimmons.
Patel also asked that Spaulding undergo a psychiatric evaluation before his release because of his "very bizarre and disturbing behavior."
The baby-faced Spaulding said little during his arraignment. His attorney, Frank Riccio Jr., said he lives in East Haven with his wife and 5-month-old baby and that Spaulding has already been on leave from the department for six months.
Several of his family members offered to put up their homes as collateral. Fitzsimmons eventually decided to release him, with the unusual caveat that he not travel into East Haven for any reason.
Several East Haven officers attended the arraignment to show support for their colleagues.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo and the union that represents the officers defended them Tuesday.
"It's unfortunate that the arrests were made within our police department," Maturo said. "Our officers are innocent until proven guilty. We stand behind our officers and the police department. I want the citizens to know our men and women will do the best they can on our streets in light of what happened."
Maturo said the four officers were placed on administrative leave, with pay, pending the outcome of an internal department investigation.
"Today the government has expressed doubt upon their integrity, but we believe in their hard work and their dedication to the police force and the people of East Haven, and we place our faith in the justice system that they will each be exonerated when all of the evidence is heard," said Jeffrey H. Matchett, executive director of Council 15 of theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The indictment charges that the officers, known collectively as "Miller's boys," conspired to create and perpetuate an environment in which the use of unreasonable force and illegal searches and seizures was tolerated and encouraged. They used their status and authority as police officers to advance that conspiracy, to file false and misleading reports to cover up their illegal conduct, and sought to create an environment in the police department that not only tolerated but encouraged such illegal conduct, according to the indictment.
Further, the officers conspired to harass, ostracize and intimidate victims, fellow officers who reported misconduct, East Haven Police Commission members who sought to investigate the misconduct and others who sought to hold the officers accountable, according to the affidavit.
Each officer is charged with conspiracy against rights, which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. Miller, Spaulding and Zullo are also charged with use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer, which also carries a 10-year sentence and a fine of up to $250,000.
Spaulding is charged with two counts and Cari with one count of deprivation of rights for making arrests without probable cause. Each is punishable by a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Spaulding is also charged with two counts of obstruction of a federal investigation, and Cari one count, for allegedly preparing false reports to justify false arrests. Each count carries a penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
"This is a sad day, a sad day for our community, a sad day for our state," Manship said after learning of the arrests. "We're very grateful for the U.S attorney's office for having taken the Latino community's allegations so seriously. We're appreciative that all those involved in the investigation did so in a thorough and professional manner. And now we just wait for the next steps in this process. We wait for it to unfold."
Sister Mary Ellen Burns, a lawyer who works at the nonprofit Apostle Immigrant Services, said she helped gather the stories of St. Rose of Lima parishioners who claimed to have been profiled by the department, and presented them to theU.S. Department of Justice. She said she met twice with federal law enforcement officials during the probe.
"I would assume that they have sufficient basis to justify these arrests and I think it therefore will be a good thing that the officers will have their day in court and our justice system will determine whether their racial profiling crossed the bounds into criminal behavior," said Burns, a parishioner at St. Rose of Lima.
Burns also said that it is important to remember that each officer is presumed innocent.
"They should get the rights our Constitution guarantees them, just as every single person who passes through the town of East Haven," she said.
Miller and Cari were arrested at police headquarters, where they were working the midnight shift, police said. Spaulding, who is on medical leave, and Zullo were arrested at their homes.
Maturo said he learned of the arrests at 5:50 a.m. when Chief Leonard Gallo called him. The FBI notified the department's deputy chief at 4:10 a.m. that they were on their way to make the arrests, Maturo said.
The 10-count indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury in Bridgeport, refers to unidentified co-conspirators who aided what the indictment describes as a long-term campaign to harass East Haven's Latino community and those who stood up to the four officers arrested Tuesday.
The indictment provides an example of a chat between Zullo and Spaulding on computer terminals in their patrol cars on May 1, 2008. Zullo wrote that he "likes harassing motorist[s]" and then referred to "persons who have drifted to this country on rafts made of chicken wings and are now residing on [Main] St. East Haven."
The indictment also cites the actions of "co-conspirator-1," described in the indictment as a leader in the East Haven Police Department, who protected Miller and the others. The co-conspirator also worked to undermine the effectiveness of the police commission, which sought to investigate Miller, by banning its members from police headquarters.
Police Commission Chairman Frederick Brow said it was police Chief Leonard Gallo who, on his first day back from a forced-administrative leave, ordered commission members barred from police headquarters. Gallo also banned commission members from the building's parking lot, although the commission days later convened a special meeting and approved a policy allowing commissioners into police headquarters. Gallo, through his secretary, declined to comment.
Gallo's lawyer, Jonathan J. Einhorn of New Haven, said, "It's obvious that the reference to co-conspirator No. 1 is a reference to Chief Gallo. It's unfair however, in that he's not charged with a crime, and yet he's referred to in a criminal indictment. This is a law enforcement officer who denies vigorously any wrongdoing whatsoever that may be attributed to him either implicitly or explicitly."
The indictment refers to two more unindicted co-conspirators as "Union-Leader-1" and "Union-Leader-2," who it says interfered with and intimidated those, including police commission members, who sought to investigate Miller and the others.
Former East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon placed Gallo on administrative leave in April 2010 after the justice department announced its investigation. Shortly after he retook the mayor's office in November, Maturo reinstated Gallo.Copyright © 2015, CT Now