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Mayoral Campaign Renews Memories Of Arrest Of East Haven Police

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East Haven Town Hall. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer.

East Haven Town Hall. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer.

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press

EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. is running for re-election in a town still dealing with the effects of a police bias scandal, one that attracted widespread attention for a remark by the mayor that many saw as insensitive.

A Republican leader said he’s thrilled Maturo is running and denied the controversy created divisions in town.

But one of Maturo’s opponents said the mayor embarrassed East Haven.

After the FBI arrested four police officers, Maturo was asked what he would do for the local Latino community. He replied that he might “eat tacos.”

“At times he’s been a flat-out embarrassment,” said Gary DePalma, a retired police sergeant seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Maturo did not mention the controversy in a statement announcing his re-election bid that touted accomplishments, including keeping taxes low and installing a traffic signal. He did not return telephone messages seeking further comment.

East Haven, a coastal town of about 28,000, reached a settlement last year of claims that officers engaged in a pattern of discrimination and abuse toward Latinos, who make up about 7 percent of the population. The agreement, which mandated wide-ranging reforms of the police department, resolved allegations by the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division that officers regularly used excessive force and retaliated against those who witnessed police misconduct or criticized officers.

A separate, criminal investigation by the FBI led to the January arrests of four East Haven police officers on civil rights charges. One of them has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and another pleaded guilty to using unreasonable force during an arrest, while the two others have pleaded not guilty.

At the time of the settlement, Maturo said the agreement would start a new chapter for the police department.

The New Haven Register promptly issued an editorial declaring Maturo unfit to lead East Haven, noting that when he was elected mayor in 2011 he reinstated a police chief who had been suspended while the FBI investigated claims that his officers harassed Hispanic residents. The newspaper also said Maturo joked while signing the consent decree that maybe they should “put a whip” behind him to get him to accept it.

The Rev. James Manship, who helped bring attention to police abuse of Latino residents, said he was reluctant to get involved in partisan politics but said he would be concerned about the pace of police reforms under Maturo.

“I think the folks in East Haven have been through a lot,” Manship said Wednesday. “I’m hoping they’ll make the right decision for their town and for their future.”

Ben Mazzucco, chairman of the East Haven Republican party, said he was “delighted” Maturo was running for re-election, saying he has a lot of support. He called the mayor a good man and said the taco comment was a slip of the tongue after a long day but has not led to lingering divisions.

Abu Bakr, an East Haven resident who works with disabled children, said there are disagreements in town over the mayor.

“I don’t know if it’s going to cost him the re-election but certainly it has people reflecting on their vote and why they voted him into office in the first place,” said Bakr, who is black.

Charlie Walters, an appliance repairman who lives in town, predicted Maturo would get re-elected, saying he’s not raising taxes and has put money in the schools. He said many residents want to move past the police scandal.

“Everybody just wants to let it go,” said Walters, who is white. “It was a bad mark on the town of East Haven. East Haven isn’t like that.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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