When Len Gallo became the chief of the East Haven police in the summer of 1998, the department was in trouble over race relations and the embattled mayor was Joseph Maturo.
Fourteen years later, Gallo is at the center of a federal probe into civil rights abuses and his tenure has baffled even people who are generally supportive of the police department. Gallo is the unnamed co-conspirator in last week's federal indictment of four officers, his lawyer has acknowledged.
Sources, meanwhile, said that a press conference has been scheduled Monday morning concerning Gallo.
A former New Haven police commander, Gallo was considered a survivor. When he retired from police work in the Elm City, his close friend Maturo wanted him to move across the Quinnipiac River and be chief.
He'd thrived in New Haven under former Chief Billy Farrell in the 1980s, a period of strained relations between cops and African-Americans. But Gallo butted heads with the next chief — progressive, controversial Nick Pastore, the former New Haven cop who was brought back by the city's first black mayor, John Daniels, in 1990.
Pastore pushed the old guard to the margins of the department as he extended olive branches to neighborhood leaders. Many of the cops retired. Gallo wouldn't. So Pastore put Gallo, former homicide detective, former patrol commander, in charge of the dog pound.
Gallo bided his time. Pastore, credited with bringing community policing to New Haven and working with the feds to dismantle highly organized gangs, crashed and burned. Pastore resigned in February 1997 amid revelations that the married chief fathered a child with a woman he'd met on the street.
Gallo's nemesis was out of the way. He retired under his own terms, took his pension, and accepted the East Haven job at the age of 51. It seemed he'd hit his stride.
A little more than a year before Gallo's arrival, town police Officer Robert Flodquist shot and killed 21-year-old Malik Jones after a chase. Flodquist is white. Jones was black. The NAACP and other civil rights organizations said the shooting was racially motivated. Protests continued on Gallo's watch. New Haven police were periodically placed on alert.
Still, the insular nature of the East Haven police department never wavered with Gallo at the helm.
``We have experienced a regrettable incident that has affected many people's lives and the community at large,'' Gallo said in 2001, upon promoting Flodquist to sergeant, prompting the local NAACP to boycott East Haven businesses.
Flodquist was exonerated by prosecutors after an investigation into the shooting death. A $900,000 jury award to Malik Jones' mother in 2010 is under appeal by the town.
Even in police circles, the department was considered tone deaf when it came to community relations.
The subject of race in East Haven — a beachside town of 30,000 people, 90 percent white — has been a tinderbox since the 1950s.
It still is, as demonstrated by the arrests last week of four East Haven police officers charged with violating the civil rights of Latinos, the indication by Gallo's lawyer that the chief is one of the unnamed co-conspirators mentioned in the federal indictment, and Maturo's instantly infamous comment that his idea of improving relations with Latinos was to go home and eat tacos.
When the Department of Justice sent a letter to East Haven in December, essentially outlining its findings, Mike Lawlor, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's chief of criminal justice policy, sent a bulletin of his own to town hall.
Lawlor, a former prosecutor and state representative from East Haven, pointed out to town officials that in 2006, the Bush justice department and the International Association of Chiefs of Police had partnered on a set of guidelines that laid out exactly what police departments needed to do to avoid civil rights complaints.
In an interview Friday, Lawlor expressed frustration and anger over Gallo's apparent failure to put in place any of those 2006 guidelines.
"These are best practices nationally,'' Lawlor said. "They are for every police chief to follow. Every police chief knows of them, or should know of them. What is very clear is that Chief Gallo did not follow these recommendations. They are not new or novel. They were put out six years ago summarizing long-held policies, and the global police chief group not only signed off on them, it wrote them.''
Lawlor said that in any case, those guidelines need to be implemented now.
"Someone needs to fix the problem,'' he said.
Over the last decade, police across Connecticut have issued 14 tickets under an obscure statute that makes it illegal for businesses to employ people who are in the country illegally. Seven of those tickets were issued by one town department – East Haven, The Courant reported last week. Six of those were issued by two of the officers under indictment for racial harassment.
Gallo wasn't in his office Friday and a voicemail from his secretary said she wouldn't be forwarding any messages to the chief until Monday.
Nine years into Gallo's tenure, in 2007, Maturo lost a re-election bid to April Capone Almon by a couple of dozen votes.
Almon said that she would try to work with Gallo, but the two clashed.
In 2009, the Rev. James Manship, a pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, was charged by town police with interfering and disorderly conduct after Manship videotaped police officers inside a store where customers had complained of police harassment.
Also in 2009, town police arrested Almon and charged her with interfering with a police officer who was towing cars at the town beach.
In April 2010, Almon put Gallo on administrative leave as a federal grand jury began investigating complaints of racially motivated harassment and profiling. In June 2010, the town's police board filed 15 administrative charges against Gallo.
In a bitter rematch in November 2011, Maturo beat Almon by a couple of dozen votes. He quickly reinstated Gallo.
Senior Information Specialist Tina Bachetti contributed to this story.