As a federal judge set a January 2013 trial date for four East Haven police officers charged with civil rights violations, the prosecutor Thursday expressed reservations about turning over witness lists to the defense because fellow officers are on it.
"We have serious concerns about turning over the names of other East Haven police officers who may be witnesses in this case,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel said. Patel said the concern was that the officers on the lists and the defendants could have contact.
Judge Alvin Thompson told Patel to try and work it out with the defense attorneys on how the lists could be shared.
Officers David Cari, Dennis Spaulding and Jason Zullo and Sgt. John Miller made their first appearance in Thompson's courtroom Thursday afternoon. They are facing a long list of charges, ranging from excessive force for allegedly beating handcuffed suspects to obstructing justice. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on some of the charges.
The officers are free on bonds ranging from $100,000-$300,000. They are currently on paid administrative leave. Spaulding and Zullo are barred from even entering East Haven while their cases are pending.
When the officers were arraigned last month, U.S. Magistrate Holly Fitzsimmons indicated their next court appearance would not be until March 15. But Thompson ordered the officers and their attorneys to appear in his court Thursday. Thompson said that his schedule is completely booked and that he wanted to set a date for trial now and lock it in.
Patel indicated the government's case will take at least 3-4 weeks to present. She also said that the investigation is far from over and didn't rule out a superseding indictment.
"As U.S. Attorney (David) Fein has indicated this is an on-going case. If there is a superseding indictment that could mean additional charges against these four men or that additional defendant's could be added,'' Patel said.
Patel didn't mention any names but the indictment refers to co-conspirator #1, who is Police Chief Leonard Gallo, according to his own attorney. The indictment also refers to two unidentified union leaders as co-conspirators.
Since the arrests, Gallo announced his retirement. His last day will be Friday.
Thompson asked prosecutors to give defense attorney's a date when they can expect no additional charges would be filed against their clients. Defense attorneys are concerned that the government could pile more charges against the four officers just before trial, making it difficult to prepare.
"They should have some understanding of what charges they will be defending their clients against,'' Thompson said.
In addition an order filed by federal prosecutors on Thursday, which seeks to protect documents that may be turned over during discovery, seems to indicate that either a witness wore a wire or phones were tapped.
Patel asked Thompson to order the four defense attorneys not to disclose any "recorded conversations," taped statements or transcripts of interviews to anyone but their staff and clients.
The reason for the order is to protect the on-going investigation because uncharged individuals are referred to in the documents and also because many of the documents are also part of an on-going civil rights lawsuit against the town.
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 Latinos.
The four officers sat in the court gallery, not at the defense table, and none spoke during the hearing. Several of them hugged and shook hands outside of the federal courthouse before entering.