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Wed October 24, 2012
Ct. Town Makes Deal In Police Profiling Case
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Justice Department and the town of East Haven, Connecticut have reached an agreement to reform the city's police. This after an investigation unveiled a widespread pattern of police misconduct and discrimination against the Latino community. Diane Orson of member station WNPR reports.
DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: There's a steady stream of customers at Gutiz Bakery and Café in East Haven on Tuesday evening. They come here to buy Ecuadorian breads and pastries. Owner Pedro Gutiz opened the shop about four years ago, but he says, early on, customers were harassed.
PEDRO GUTIZ: Because the police was stopping the people coming in and getting out from my business.
ORSON: He and other Latino business owners complained. Other Latino residents described race-based traffic stops where officers allegedly used ethnic insults and beatings when they were taken into custody. The Department of Justice Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation, and in late 2011 released its findings which detailed a deeply rooted pattern of discriminatory policing in East Haven and documented more than 30 instances of abuse. At a press conference Tuesday, Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr. announced that the town has tentatively agreed to sweeping reforms.
MAYOR JOSEPH MATURO, JR.: It is my responsibility as the mayor to address these findings. Rather than engage the Department of Justice in costly prolonged and protracted litigation, I directed the town attorney to enter into negotiations to achieve an amicable solution to this dispute.
ORSON: David Fein, U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, says the settlement agreement addresses a number of core areas for constitutional policing, including bias-free policing, appropriate use of force and the handling of civilian complaints. Fein says the agreement also calls for an expert to oversee the East Haven police department.
DAVID FEIN: It's a detailed document that we believe will provide clear guidance and useful tools for the East Haven police department to carry out their duties in a lawful and appropriate way.
ANGEL FERNANDEZ-CHAVERO: This really is vindication.
ORSON: Angel Fernandez-Chavero leads the pastoral council at St. Rose of Lima church whose congregants were victims of the abuse.
FERNANDEZ-CHAVERO: We shouldn't have had to come this far. Things shouldn't have gotten to this extent that the town is going to be forced to go to a huge expense that it shouldn't have to if it had had a well managed police department to begin with.
ORSON: A separate criminal investigation led to the arrests of four East Haven cops who were charged with civil rights violations. One officer pleaded guilty in September. A second pleaded guilty yesterday to federal obstruction charges. Police Chief Brent Larrabee says the whole thing has been tough on morale for the officers who remain with the East Haven police force.
CHIEF BRENT LARRABEE: And then being under the guidance of a compliance officer are going to be somewhat difficult for them to understand. None of us have been through it before. It'll have an effect on the work. It'll have an effect on the labor agreements. It will have an effect on just about everything we do.
ORSON: Back at the bakery and café, owner Pedro Gutiz says the police arrests and this new agreement may make things better.
GUTIZ: Any situation what we thinks is needed to call the police, we can call them and we are sure they're coming to help us.
ORSON: Gutiz says he'll be watching for that improvement.
For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.
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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.