Civil Case Next For East Haven Police
The convictions of the officers were a somewhat rare event, according to several civil rights practitioners.
"It's quite unusual for the government to even bring a criminal prosecution for civil rights violations like this against police," said John Williams, a New Haven attorney who has handled discrimination complaints against police for 30 years. "The initial comments by [East Haven Mayor John Maturo Jr.] when the indictments were announced demonstrated that there had been a culture of not only tolerating, but encouraging police abuse of minorities for many years."
After the officers were arrested, Maturo was asked what he would do for the local Latino community. He replied, "I might have tacos."
The conviction of the East Haven officers comes less than a month after former Meriden Officer Evan Cossette was convicted for using unreasonable force against a handcuffed suspect and then lying about the incident in a report. Williams hopes that they episodes will cause municipal police forces to review their policies. "I hope these successful prosecutions will help to educate both local political leadership and the public as a whole," said Williams, "that we all are damaged" by these incidents.
Attorney Josephine Miller has handled several civil rights lawsuits against police agencies. She said criminal prosecutions against police are rare, particularly because juries are often reluctant to find fault with their actions in the course of duty. "Juries tend to view the police as the 'good guys,'" she said, "and as a result the conviction rate of police officers charged with crimes is much lower than the conviction rate for general population crimes."
But this case was different. "There was videotape of the misconduct entered into evidence," she said. "And police radio calls documented the unlawful intent of the officers."
Miller added, in her opinion, that "independent evidence, as opposed to only testimonial evidence, was likely a strong reason for the verdict."
As far as the pending civil suit goes, Miller expects the conviction of the officers will make the civil action "much easier" for the plaintiffs, since the standard of proof in a civil case is so much lower than in a criminal case.
"These convictions, coming on the heels of the conviction earlier this year of the Meriden police officer," Miller said, "should be a wake-up call to law enforcement leadership that much more work needs to be done to ensure that the civil rights of the general population are safeguarded."