Feds Condemn East Haven Police Department For Rampant Discrimination Against Latinos
The feds rolled into East Haven, Ct. to deliver a 23-page report with a harsh message: the local police regularly discriminate against and intimidate Latinos. The mayor of the town, Joseph Maturo, fired back that the report was both "slanderous" and "political."
After a two-year investigation, the Department of Justice slammed the East Haven Police Department on Monday for systemic discrimination against Latinos in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
"Discrimination and institutionalized indifference remain deeply rooted in the culture of the Police Department," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin Jr. said at a press conference in New Haven, Ct.
The mayor said in an interview with East Haven Patch that they were ambushed by the report, not being informed of the press conference until one hour before it was held.
The DOJ's report outlines various "patterns" of "biased-profiling" against Latinos which they say provide "reasonable cause to believe that… officers intentionally target Latinos." Such practices include disproportional targeting for traffic stops, non-standard justifications for stops, "serious incidents of abuse of authority," as well as a failure to remedy a history of discrimination.
In the report, the DOJ says they found one officer whose record should have been investigated on the basis of racial profiling but wasn't. Nearly half of those he pulled over were Latino.
Although approximately one in every ten residents of East Haven is Latino, only one of the 50 uniformed officers on the police force is a Spanish speaker. Between 2000 and 2010, the Latino population has grown substantially in the small town -- from 4.4% to 10.3% of the total population by Census estimates. During the same period, violent crime has decreased and "property crimes have remained relatively constant", according to the DOJ report.
But Mayor Joseph Maturo said he was "kind of upset" by the report, in part because it lacked specifics regarding individual incidents of misconduct.
"It just gave these broad statements [about things] that I'm not sure exist in our police department," he said to Patch.
But, Father Jim Manship of St. Rose of Lima Church disagrees. As the central figure in one of the incidents described explicitly in the report, the priest said the DOJ document is proof of something he's been trying to prove for the past three years.
"To be able to have the report in hand, from a third party, to say, 'Look we have proof now' – it's just really incredible for us," he said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post.
After Manship heard rumors of widespread harassment against members of his largely Latino congregation, he took his video camera to East Haven to document the alleged abuse. The priest captured a video of two officers questioning a local business owner. After Father Manship refused to stop recording the encounter, the police arrested him. They then "falsely reported," in the words of the federal report, that he thought his camera was a weapon. While the EHPD agreed that the incident took place as the videotape indicates, the DOJ says there was no investigation of the incident or discipline for the officers in question. The charges against Manship were eventually dropped.
WATCH: Father Manship's Video Of His Arrest
The priest says that the report accurately captured "a culture of discrimination" in the East Haven Police Department.
"It's not one or two rogue officers acting this way -- it's a whole culture," Manship said. "A culture of fear that they've perpetuated."
In addition to racial profiling at traffic stops, the report also condemns the EHPD for "haphazard and uncoordinated' immigration enforcement to target Latino residents. Without an agreement with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to allow officers to do so, the EHPD engages in immigration enforcement efforts, targeting Latino drivers for traffic infractions, according to the DOJ report. The feds said such gave EHPD a means "to harass and intimidate the Latino community."
A spokesperson from the East Haven Police Department told The Huffington Post that they had been instructed by the Chief of Police not to comment on the report.
While Mayor Maturo was upset by the finding, he did promise to work to help improve the police department's relationship with the town in an interview with Julie Weisberg of East Haven Patch.
Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, speaks to reporters at press conference in New Haven on Monday.
The DOJ told the New Haven Independent that they'd work with the city on a voluntary basis through a "court-enforceable agreement that will lead to sustainable reforms." Such reforms include formal training of cops to avoid racial profiling, hiring more Spanish-speaking officers, and overhauling the immigration enforcement protocol in the East Haven Police Department. According to Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent, if such measures are not implemented, the DOJ will file suit against East Haven.
Father Manship says he is both "very encouraged" and relieved by the report. Above all, he hopes it will help other communities to stand up against similar abuses.
"I just hope this encourages other communities to stand up and make sure this isn't happening in their neighborhoods and in their police departments."