The Price of A Rogue Police Department

Seems like East Haven keeps finding new ways to demonstrate just how expensive, in both taxpayer dollars and civic reputation, a rogue police department can be.

Based on all available evidence (and that includes a federal civil rights investigation plus a stream of criminal convictions and lawsuits), the East Haven Police Department was an out-of-control disaster for years.

Now, the community is paying for it in what appears to be an unending series of bitter installments.

This week, it was the conviction of a former detective, Michael D'Amago, for stealing more than $1,300 from an evidence locker in the police station.

Last month, two more former East Haven cops (David Cari and Dennis Spaulding) were sentenced after being convicted on federal civil rights and abuse of power charges.

December saw a state Superior Court jury hand down a $12.2 million award to a pedestrian who accused East Haven police of screwing up in 2006. The victim of an accident claimed the cops were negligent by taking a drunk man (who happened to be a friend to some other cops) home rather than arresting him. The drunk got back into his vehicle, drove off, and smashed into the victim as short while later.

In October, another former police officer named Jazon Zullo pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. In September, another former East Haven cop, John Miller, entered a guilty plea to a different civil rights count.

Before that, it was the savage findings of a U.S. Justice Department investigation that produced evidence of systematic racial profiling, police abuse, cover-ups and attempted intimidation.

The consent agreement the town has entered into requires new and expensive training and equipment to go along with a host of other police reforms.

One other indication of the bleeding these self-inflicted governmental wounds was an angry statement by the new chief brought in to get the East Haven Police Department back on track.

Chief Brent Larrabee was hired just under two years ago. In that time, 26 officers have left the 53-person police agency. One of his biggest problems is that new recruits (whose training costs the town $100,000 each) keep leaving the force for other departments as rapidly as possible.

It kind of makes a sad sort of sense. After all, would you really want to work for a department with this sort of reputation?

There have been plenty of reforms, of course. But the town's problems, and the ongoing damage to the department's reputation, are far from over.

Hanging fire now is a major civil rights lawsuit by numerous Hispanics who are seeking damages for these well-documented violations. That case appears to be at least a year away from resolution, but chances are it's going to cost East Haven taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo, who was the guy in charge for most of the time when all this police crap was going down, isn't specifically named in the lawsuit. But his hand-picked chief (now former chief), Leonard Gallo, is one of the defendants.

The whole East Haven saga has been fascinating, in a slow-motion-train-wreck sort of way. And one of the most peculiar aspects of all is that, despite everything that's happened and is continuing to happen, Maturo was reelected by East Haven voters in November.