HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Two East Haven police officers were found guilty Monday of violating the civil rights of Hispanics, bringing to four the number of officers convicted in a case that has roiled the shoreline town for years.
David Cari and Dennis Spaulding were among four East Haven officers arrested by the FBI last year for allegedly harassing and abusing Hispanic immigrants. The other officers, Jason Zullo and John Miller, pleaded guilty to reduced charges and await sentencing.
Lawyers for Cari and Spaulding said federal prosecutors didn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, while prosecutors said the evidence showed the defendants engaged in racial profiling and harassment.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21. Cari and Spaulding could face up to 20 years in prison.
“Today’s verdict is a painful, although important step in the healing process for the town of East Haven and for the East Haven Police Department,” said Mayor
Joseph Maturo Jr. “For some in our community, today’s verdict provides a sense of vindication and closure. For others, especially our police family, it is a difficult and sad occasion. What is clear is that for all of our residents, it is an opportunity to close a difficult chapter in our town’s past and move forward as one, unified community.”
East Haven has held community meetings, offered cultural sensitivity training to town employees and provided language access tools to residents with limited English proficiency, Maturo said.
Prosecutors told jurors that Cari and Spaulding had extreme bias against Hispanics, engaged in racial profiling and acted as though they were above the law. They said Cari and Spaulding made up bogus allegations against Hispanics and wrote false police reports.
Federal prosecutor Richard Schechter said Cari falsely arrested a Roman Catholic priest who recorded Cari and Spaulding on video in a Hispanic-owned store in 2009 in an effort to document East Haven police abuses. Schechter said Cari was upset that he was being recorded and made up a bogus story in a report saying he thought the priest, James Manship, might have a weapon and Manship interfered with an investigation.
Prosecutors presented 14 witnesses over 15 days of trial, while defense lawyers rested their cases last week without calling a single witness.
Cari, who has since retired from the force, and Spaulding, who remains on unpaid suspension, were charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of
Hispanics and their supporters, deprivation of rights by making false arrests and obstruction of justice by filing false reports. Spaulding was also accused of using unreasonable force.
The officers were found guilty of all counts.
A federal indictment said the four officers assaulted people while they were handcuffed, unlawfully searched Latino businesses and harassed and intimidated people, including advocates, witnesses and other officers who tried to investigate or report misconduct or abuse the officers committed.
Police treatment of Hispanics in East Haven has been under federal scrutiny since 2009, when the U.S. Department of Justice launched a civil rights probe that found a pattern of discrimination and biased policing.
Spaulding’s lawyer, Frank Riccio II, and Cari’s attorney, Alex Hernandez, questioned the credibility of government witnesses, saying their testimony at trial conflicted with their testimony before the grand jury.
They also said the arrests that prosecutors called false were actually supported by probable cause, the officers’ reports were true and they did not engage in racial profiling.
Spaulding is very disappointed with the verdict and plans to appeal it, Riccio said.
Hernandez said Cari’s arrest of Manship was done “by the book” and Manship interfered with a police investigation. Manship was arrested, but prosecutors later dropped the charges.
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