East Haven

East Haven is feeling the afterburn of its racial profiling scandal. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia / October 29, 2013)

Let's hope no one in East Haven (or Connecticut for that matter) is gullible enough to believe that town's marathon racial-profiling-and-police-abuse nightmare is now over because of last week's guilty verdicts for two cops.

It is easy to understand why some might want to latch on to that sort of fantasy.

After all, this mess has triggered horrible national publicity; a federal civil rights investigation that uncovered years of wrongdoing; guilty pleas by two other officers; a court order for an outside monitor; major police reforms; and changes in state law to prevent this from happening elsewhere.

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr., who happens to be running for reelection right now, is trying like hell to sound as upbeat as possible about what comes next.

"What is clear is that for all of our residents, it is an opportunity to close a difficult chapter in our town's past and move forward as one, unified community," was Maturo's optimistic statement on the verdicts.

(That's the same Joe Maturo who earned the nickname "Taco" for his response to a reporter's question about what he planned to do for the Hispanic community in the wake of the scandal. "I might have tacos when I go home," Maturo quipped, a comment he later apologized for.)

Unfortunately for Maturo and his supporters, there's another very big shoe out there waiting to drop. When it does, the impact on East Haven taxpayers could be felt for years to come.

A lawsuit on behalf of 10 police-abuse victims has been hanging fire waiting for the outcome of the criminal case. When a federal jury found ex-East Haven cops Dennis Spaulding and David Cari guilty of civil rights violations, the way was cleared for the federal lawsuit to go forward.

"I fully expect we will be reinstating the civil rights litigations," says Michael Wishnie. He's a Yale Law School professor and, with the help of some of his students, is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

Wishnie last week hadn't had a chance to confer with his clients and didn't know how other events might influence the timing of the civil rights lawsuit.

Spaulding and Cari may well appeal their conviction. They're currently scheduled for sentencing in January. The defendants in the civil rights suit, including Maturo's administration, could ask for further delays.

Meanwhile, the jury verdict against Spaulding and Cari seemed to confirm the claims made in the civil suit.

"I'm saddened the defendants are facing significant sentences in jail," says Wishnie. "But I'm pleased the stories from the community were heard and resonated powerfully with the jury."

"I hope this signals a better future for the East Haven Police Department and an end to the vicious conduct described at the trial and end to the tolerance toward that conduct in the town," Wishnie adds.

The acting U.S attorney for Connecticut, Deirdre M. Daly, had similar thoughts on the verdict: "This prosecution and the jury's swift and unambiguous verdict should send a very strong message that there is no place in law enforcement for anyone who abuses power or victimizes defenseless individuals."

The abuses detailed at the trial of Cari and Spaulding and in the federal civil rights investigation are about as ugly as racial profiling gets, and are virtual duplicates of the allegations in the civil lawsuit.

"The profiling has included not only hundreds of traffic stops but also more aggressive and violent conduct such as beatings, use of Tasers, false and illegal arrests, conspicuous shows of force designed to disrupt commerce, and even raids of legitimate business, all for the purpose of intimidating the Latino community," the lawsuit's introduction reads in part.

The outcome of the criminal trial, along with everything that's gone before, makes the outcome of the civil lawsuit appear a foregone conclusion.

"I think that after the verdict... it seems more likely to be cut and dried," is the opinion of state Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven. He's worried about the financial penalties the lawsuit is likely to involve.

"It's certainly going to be a burden on taxpayers," he warns.