U.S. settles police-bias probe in East Haven, Connecticut

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 20, 2012 5:01 PM
U.S. settles police-bias probe in East Haven, Connecticut

BOSTON (Reuters) - The town of East Haven, Connecticut, and federal officials finalized a settlement agreement after a 2-1/2-year investigation found its police force harassed Latinos.

Under the terms of the settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut on Tuesday, the town agreed to put its officers through 32 hours of training on topics including bias-free policing and effective community engagement each year.

"Discriminatory policing, in the form of either selective enforcement or non-enforcement of the law ... is prohibited by this policy," according to the 55-page settlement agreement.

A Justice Department investigation into the town's police, launched in 2009, found that officers harassed Latinos in the town, disproportionately singling them out for more frequent traffic stops and retaliating against people who complained about their treatment of Latinos. It also charged they used excessive force in dealing with people of Hispanic origin.

"This agreement will provide the men and women of (the East Haven Police Department) with the necessary support and guidance they need to fulfill their duties in a manner that protects public safety and upholds individuals' civil rights," said David Fein, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut.

In court papers, the Justice Department charged that the town's police routinely violated citizens' constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and right to equal treatment under the law.

The settlement agreement also requires officers to inform dispatchers why they are making traffic stops under terms of the settlement and notes that civilians have a right to witness and record police officers' actions.

"It is my hope that with this agreement, a new era of cooperation between the Town, the (Justice Department), our citizens and our police force will be the result," said East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo in a statement released last month when the town agreed in principle to settle the investigation.

Maturo - whose office was deluged with tacos in January after he told a reporter that his plans for repairing relations with Latinos included having tacos for dinner - had no further comment on the settlement on Tuesday, a spokesman said.

Four members of the town's police department were arrested in January after a separate investigation by the FBI and charged with injuring, threatening and intimidating Latinos with false arrests and false reports.

(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)