East Haven Police Probe May Swing Toward the Chief

Jan 25, 2012

First Lennie Gallo, an aspiring New Haven police chief, was exiled to the animal shelter—because his boss said he couldn’t be trusted with humans. He reemerged as chief of next-door East Haven—where he’s now the center of a federal probe into alleged evidence-tampering that goes far beyond harassing Latinos.

Gallo’s own lawyer acknowledges that he is likely “Co-Conspirator 1” named in a fresh grand jury indictment charging wide-ranging civil-rights violations against Latinos and cover-ups carried out by East Haven cops under Gallo’s command. Authorities arrested four East Haven cops Tuesday based on that indictment. (That case grew out of incidents involving immigrants and advocates from New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood, first reported in the Independent.)

The grand jury’s work is not done; Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein noted Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing.

And Gallo may be emerging as the big fish in the middle of a closing net.

According to two people familiar with testimony before the grand jury, the questioning of alleged conspirators went far beyond the racial profiling and harassment and false arrests of Latinos. It centered on whether Gallo oversaw and perhaps participated in the repeated rewriting and altering of reports involving other arrests—arrests of white people, not Latinos. Especially an arrest of former East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon. The report in that case may have been altered dozens of times.

“What they’re after now is cover-up and intimidation. It’s a classic case of the crime is bad, but the cover-up is worse,” said one person familiar with the grand jury’s line of questioning. “That’s clearly where they’re headed.”

“It had nothing to do with Latinos,” said another person familiar with the questioning, who appeared before Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel and the two dozen or so grand jurors in the room in the Bridgeport federal courthouse where testimony has been taken.

Gallo for now has held on, defiant in the face of all charges. So has his key support, current East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo.

“Who is this?” Gallo said Wednesday when reached on his cell phone. Informed it was a reporter, he hung up.

Gallo’s attorney, Jonathan Einhorn, declined comment on the grand jury’s line of questioning. He called the obvious references to Gallo in this week’s indictment “unfair.”

“It implies that he’s guilty of a crime,” Einhorn said. “In fact, he’s not charged with a crime.”

With the feds circling, the episode marks the latest turn in a drama that began in New Haven. The city’s fraught relationship with Gallo continues to dog him.

Bad Blood

In the 1980s, Gallo was a rising star in New Haven’s police department. He was an aggressive cop, known for rough policing on the street. And he was ambitious, seen as a possible future chief; he commanded a loyal following among some white rank-and-file cops who took a physical approach to the job. Gallo rose through the ranks in the 1980s when the city’s police chief and mayor embraced aggressive policing, defended rather than disciplined cops accused of brutality. It was the era of the “Beat-Down Posse,” a roving van full of officers who stopped on random street corners in the black community and roughed people up.

Gallo’s fortunes changed when the city’s first black mayor, John Daniels, took office in 1990. Daniels appointed a Gallo foe, Nicholas Pastore, as chief with a mission to bring in community policing, disband the Beat-Down Posse, and repair relations with the minority community. Pastore pushed all top-ranking cops loyal to the old guard into retirement—except Gallo, who defied the pressure and emerged as the unofficial standard-bearer of the old-style officers. Pastore responded by reassigning Gallo to the city’s animal shelter. He said he couldn’t trust Gallo to deal with people.

After Daniels left office, the next mayor, John DeStefano, rescued Gallo in 1994 by offering him a job as a investigator in the corporation counsel’s office. After Maturo became mayor in 1998, East Haven embraced Gallo, bringing him on as chief.

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