Justice Department condemns East Haven police’s bias against Latinos
The Department of Justice issued a scathing report this week condemning the deliberate and widespread discrimination against Latinos by police in East Haven, Connecticut.
The two-year investigation found that East Haven police officers have routinely gone out of their way to target Latinos for traffic stops, subjected them to harsher than usual punishments for minor infractions, used improper and arbitrary immigration enforcement to intimidate the Spanish-speaking community, and retaliated against those who complained about the department’s discriminatory practices. The Justice Department’s report also criticized the lack of training, oversight and accountability of officers who engaged in racially biased policing.
“The pattern or practice of discriminatory policing that we observed is deeply rooted in the department’s culture,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
According to the Justice Department, East Haven police’s discriminatory practices violate the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and the Safe Streets Act.
The Justice Department will first try to work with the town of East Haven and its police department to come up with a binding and court-monitored plan to address the civil rights violations. If the voluntary reform efforts fail, then the Justice Department may seek a court order to force East Haven to comply with federal civil rights laws. In addition, East Haven could lose certain federal funding if the department continues its biased policing practices.
Key findings from the Justice Department’s investigation
#1 East Haven police deliberately targeted Latinos for traffic stops
Although Latinos make up only 8.3% of the driving population in East Haven, they account for 19.9% of the traffic stops made by East Haven police in 2009 and 2010. To achieve the disproportionate rates, East Haven police officers purposely stationed themselves near businesses that cater to Latinos and make traffic stops on Latino drivers passing by. The officers would find a variety of excuses to justify the traffic stops, including citing facial defects on license plates, vehicles with out-of-state license plates, or speeding. In some instances, officers would even follow a Latino driver until he or she commits a traffic violation. Such tactics are “rarely used against non-Latino drivers,” according to the report.
“[The] statistical evidence shows pervasive discrimination against Latinos on every level of EHPD traffic enforcement activity,” the report stated. “Not only did we find high rates of disproportionate stops by squads and offices, but such obvious conduct was ignored by EHPD, and not corrected.”
#2 East Haven police acted more punitively toward Latinos than non-Latinos
Non-Latino drivers pulled over for minor traffic violations by East Haven police are typically released with a written warning or a ticket. Latino drivers, however, are subjected to harsher punishments for the same infractions. Latino drivers are often arrested and have their cars towed by East Haven police. “Consequently, Latinos stopped by these officers not only lose the use of their vehicles, but they are required to post a surety bond in order to be released [from jail],” according to the report.
#3 East Haven police used arbitrary immigration enforcement to intimidate the Latino community
Although East Haven police are not trained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to perform immigration enforcements, the department allows officers to conduct immigration investigations only for serious felony arrests. However, the Justice Department found that nearly all of the immigration holds requested by East Haven police are for Latinos stopped for traffic violations. “Given EHPD’s history of discrimination, these gaps in policy constitute a mean for EHPD officers to harass and intimidate the Latino community,” according to the report.
#4 East Haven police retaliated against citizens and officers who raised concerns about the department’s practices
The Justice Department’s investigation also found instances of retaliations against citizens and staff members who raised concerns about the department’s treatment of Latinos. For example, a priest was arrested for videotaping East Haven police officers who insisted on conducting a criminal investigation against a Latino business owner for having license plates as wall decorations.
Justice Department’s staff members also witnessed efforts to intimidate officers who were cooperating with the DOJ’s investigation. East Haven Police Chief Leonard Gallo reportedly warned staff members that he would given a list of people who cooperated with the DOJ, which was not true. The DOJ’s staff also observed notes on the police union’s bulletin board referring to “rats” within the department.
- Justice.gov: Investigation of the East Haven Police Department (PDF)
- Justice.gov: Department of Justice releases investigative findings on the East Haven, Connecticut, Police Department
- Justice.gov: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Justice.gov: Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968
- Law.Cornell.edu: 14th Amendment