Four East Haven, Conn. police officers arrested for civil rights violations
Four East Haven, Conn. police officers were arrested on civil right charges a month after the Justice Department issued a scathing report condemning the department’s biased policing against Latinos.
A federal grand jury indicted Sergeant John Miller, Officer David Cari, Officer Dennis Spaulding, and Office Jason Zullo on 10 counts of conspiracy to violate civil rights, obstruction, excessive force, and false arrest.
The four are accused of intentionally targeting Latino individuals and businesses for false arrests and unlawful searches; doctoring police reports to justify and cover up their misconducts; and harassing and intimidating Latino advocates and even members of the police department to discourage them from cooperating with the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation.
Three of the four arrested – Miller, Spaulding, Zullo – are also accused of assaulting people they’ve unlawfully detained. “In some cases, the victims were handcuffed with their hands behind their backs when they were assaulted by the officers. Some of the victims were particularly vulnerable because they were undocumented aliens or otherwise marginalized, having little perceived standing in the community, and thus unlikely to raise objection to the abuse,” according to the indictment.
(To report police abuse or information that may help the Justice Department’s investigation of the East Haven police department, contact the FBI at 212-384-1000.)
“Today’s indictment should serve as a powerful message that we in the Department of Justice will not tolerate the abuse of power or victimization of civilians by anyone in law enforcement. The serious crimes alleged in the indictment undermine the public’s trust in the fine men and women of law enforcement who serve the people bravely and with integrity everyday,” said David Fein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut.
The seriousness of the charges were apparently lost on East Haven’s mayor, Joseph Maturo. When asked by WPIX reporter Mario Diaz what he would do for the Latino community in light of the arrests, Maturo answered, “I might have tacos when I go home. I’m not quite sure yet.”
Maturo’s comment drew an angry response from Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. “The comments by East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo are repugnant. They represent either a horrible lack of judgment or worse, an underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable,” said Malloy. “He owes an apology to the community, and more importantly, he needs to show what he’s going to do to repair the damage he’s done.”
Maturo later apologized for his comment, citing stress.
But Maturo’s flippant remark reveals a prejudice against Latinos by city leaders, which could explain why the racial profiling by East Haven police was allowed to continue for so long.
Allegations against East Haven officers
The indictment singled out Sergeant John Miller as the pack leader who allegedly conspired with other officers in the 4 p.m. to midnight shift to harass the Latino community through unlawful searches, traffic stops, and arrests. Officers Carni, Spaulding, and Zullo were known as “Miller’s boys.”
“The four officers charged…allegedly formed a cancerous cadre that routinely deprived East Haven residents of their civil rights,” said Janice Fedarcyk, the FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office. “In simple terms, these defendants behaved like bullies with badges.”
Sergeant John Miller
According to the indictment, Miller allegedly attacked an individual identified as “N.D.” while the person was handcuffed. Miller committed this assault in front other East Haven police officers. One of the officers reported the incident to another supervisor and was later reprimanded by Miller for doing so.
In another incident, Miller witnessed an officer attacking an individual identified as “T.S.” while the person was in handcuffs. Not only did Miller failed to stop the assault, which was his duty as the supervising sergeant, Miller allegedly slapped the handcuffed T.S. time and time again inside a patrol car.
Miller is also accused of playing an instrumental role in helping other officers cover up their misconducts. The indictment also suggests that Miller used his position as president of the police union to intimidate and harass EHPD staffers who were cooperating with investigators examining the department’s alleged misconducts.
As a supervising sergeant, Miller’s actions created an environment where “the use of unreasonable force and unreasonable searches and seizures was tolerated and encouraged,” according to the indictment.
Miller is charged with conspiracy against rights and excessive force, and each count can carry up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 fine if convicted.
Officer Dennis Spaulding
Spaulding is accused of throwing a man, identified as “M.M.,” to the ground and repeatedly kicking him while he was handcuffed. The incident took place in the parking lot of La Bamba, a Latino-owned restaurant and bar. Spaulding allegedly tried to cover up the beating by arresting M.M. under false charges.
Spaulding faces two counts of false arrest, two counts of obstruction, one count of conspiracy against rights, and one count excessive force.
Officer Jason Zullo
According to the indictment, Zullo repeatedly attacked two individuals identified as “J.L.A.” and “G.X.C.” after placing them under false arrest. Zullo allegedly slammed both J.L.A. and G.X.C’s heads to the wall and assaulted J.L.A. inside the station cellblock.
Zullo is charged with one count of conspiracy against rights and one count of excessive force.
Officer David Cari
Under Miller’s supervision, Cari allegedly arrested an individual identified as “F.J.M.,” a religious leader and advocate for Latinos in East Haven. The arrest took place inside My Country Store, a Latino-owned grocery store, that’s frequently targeted by EHPD. Cari is accused of drafting false police reports to justify the unwarranted arrest of a community activist. Cari, Spaulding, and Zullo were directed by Miller to illegally search and seize the store’s video recording of the arrest.
Cari faces one count of conspiracy against rights, one count of false arrest, and one count of obstruction.
The Justice Department’s investigation is ongoing and more charges and arrests could follow.
- WhatTheFolly.com: Justice Department report condemns East Haven PD’s deliberate discrimination against Latinos
- Justice.gov: United States of America v. John Miller, David Cari, Dennis Spaulding, and Jason Zullo (PDF)
- Justice.gov: Press release – Four East Haven police officers charged with civil rights offenses
- Justice.gov: Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez speaks at the East Haven police department indictment announcement
- U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Connecticut: Four East Haven police officers charged with civil rights offenses
- FBI.gov: Prepared remarks of Assistant Director in Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk on indictment of East Haven police officers
- Connecticut Governor’s office: Gov. Malloy: East Haven mayor’s comments are “repugnant” and “unacceptable”
- WPIX.com: Conn. mayor reacts to arrests of 4 officers, says he’ll have tacos
- WPIX.com: East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. issues statement regarding racially insensitive statements made to PIX news
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: 212-384-5000 to report abuse, misconduct, or information pertaining to the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation against East Haven Police Department
- Office of East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo: 203-468-3204