East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo under pressure to resign following police scandal

Four East Haven cops arrested by the feds for brutality, racial profiling and attempted cover ups. Police chief trying to retire. Mayor says he might buy tacos for dinner to help the Latino community, but won't resign. More grand jury indictments are expected.

The scandal has created national and even international headlines and a nightmarish embarrassment for the people of East Haven and the state lawmakers and top Connecticut officials who years ago could have stopped it from happening, but didn't.

Those lawmakers and officials are now calling for and promising reform of a 12-year-old anti-racial profiling law that was unworkable from the day it was enacted.

If it had been enforceable and enforced, the law would have required local police to report on who they were stopping, the reasons for such traffic stops, the race of those involved and the outcome. Under that kind of spotlight, it's impossible to believe East Haven's allegedly rogue cops could have targeted Latinos for harassment, physical abuse and unconstitutional intimidation.

But many local cops claimed the law was vague and unnecessary. State prosecutors didn't want the responsibility for compiling the data. A tiny commission found it didn't have the resources to handle the job. And state bureaucrats were somehow unable for years to tap into $1.2 million in federal money available for anti-racial profiling efforts.

This week, East Haven Police Chief Len Gallo announced his retirement from the force he's led for most of the past 13 years. Gallo didn't manage to show up at the Monday news conference called to announce his departure, his lawyer explaining that the chief was too "emotionally upset" to attend.

One problem with his retirement plan is that the head of the East Haven police commission wants to fire Gallo so he can't cash in on more than $100,000 worth of unused sick time and vacation. The commission was scheduled to meet Tuesday night.

Gallo is believed to be the "Co-Conspirator 1" referred to in the lengthy federal indictment of those four East Haven cops, the dudes prosecutors referred to as "bullies with badges." Those arrested were Sgt. John Miller and Officers David Cari, Dennis Spaulding and Jason Zullo. All four pleaded not guilty. East Haven officials say the federal grand jury indictments of town police could reach a dozen or more.

Cari, Spaulding and Zullo were known as "Miller's Boys," according to prosecutors, because Miller was one of their immediate supervisors. Charges against them include beating Latino suspects who had their hands handcuffed behind their backs and systematic violation of individuals' constitutional rights. Federal officials claimed Spaulding should be barred from even entering East Haven because of the danger he presented while his case is pending.

A federal civil rights report and the indictments of the four cops paint a devastating portrait of a police agency where top commanders allegedly condoned systematic abuses of Latinos and attempted to help cover up police brutality. East Haven police have repeatedly been accused in the past of harassment and abuse of African-Americans, including civil rights lawsuits.

The current federal investigations were triggered by a 2009 incident at a Latino store where the Rev. James Manship was arrested by East Haven cops (among those indicted by the feds) after he video-recorded them.

According to federal documents, Gallo and other top officers refused to cooperate with the investigations and even attempted to interfere with federal officials and local cops who were trying to cooperate.

Gallo's lawyer, Jonathan Einhorn, says his client is also the target of a civil lawsuit, but "will be vindicated" in that case.

"He is not guilty of any wrongdoing," Einhorn insisted to reporters. "He should not be arrested; if he is arrested he will be acquitted of any charges."

East Haven Mayor Joseph "Taco" Maturo, who hired his good buddy Gallo in 1998 and then brought him back from administrative leave this past November, praised Gallo for his "unselfish act." Gallo had been suspended in 2010 by then-Mayor April Capone Almon. Maturo defeated Almon by 34 votes in November's election and one of his first acts in office was to return Gallo to power.

Maturo is under pressure to resign, the latest call came from members of the state's Latino & Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.

They think his response to a question about what he was going to do for the Latino community in the wake of the scandal was less than adequate. (What he said was, "I might have tacos when I go home.")

Isaias Diaz, a member of the state commission, said neither Maturo nor Gallo were "fit to be our stewards."

Maturo has since repeatedly apologized and is blaming the media for making such a big deal of it. Part of the public response came from an immigration reform group that sent him 500 tacos, which were later donated to a shelter. He's also been lambasted by the governor, top lawmakers, members of Congress, civil rights activists and plain citizens around the state.

Whether Maturo can keep his promise not to resign, particularly if his police force is decimated by an onslaught of new federal indictments, is an open question.

This week, editorials in The Hartford Courant and New York Times called for Maturo to resign.

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