Racial Profiling
8:39 am
Tue June 10, 2014

East Haven Reaches Civil Rights Suit Settlement

Michael Wishnie, at far right, speaks in the basement of St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven. Father James Manship is at far left, and Marcia Chacon near left.
Michael Wishnie, at far right, speaks in the basement of St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven. Father James Manship is at far left, and Marcia Chacon near left.
Credit Diane Orson / WNPR
"What I've always said is, we're just looking to work in peace."
Maria Chacon

The town of East Haven, Connecticut has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit involving its police department. The suit alleged police misconduct against Latinos.

For years, Latinos in East Haven complained of systematic abuse and harassment at the hands of the town’s police force.

Standing in the basement of St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven, where she first spoke out about police intimidation, business owner Marcia Chacon said she’s pleased by the agreement. 

"Como siempre he dicho, lo que hemos buscado es trabajar en paz….What I’ve always said is, we’re just looking to work in peace," Chacon said.

Under the agreement, East Haven will pay $450,000 to Chacon and eight other plaintiffs. The town’s police department has agreed to changes in the way it enforces civil immigration laws.

Michael Wishnie teaches at Yale Law School where he co-directs the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic.  He said, "The town has adopted the most far-reaching and protective set of policies of any city or town in Connecticut and perhaps in the nation." He said the town has agreed to separate its policing function from civil immigration enforcement. "To mention one example of the new policy," he said, "the town of East Haven has agreed to enforce no ICE detainers, no civil immigration detainers." 

That goes even farther than Connecticut’s already restricted policies on police inquiries about immigration status durng normal police operations. Speaking Monday to reporters at East Haven Town Hall, Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr. said a painful chapter in the town’s history is drawing to an end.

"I’m just happy that the settlement is closed and we’re on to bigger and better things with our community," Maturo said. 

The agreement contains no admission of liability or wrongdoing.

Below is part of Mayor Joseph Maturo's statement on the settlement:

Specifically, the settlement agreement among the participating parties calls for a monetary payment by the Town of East Haven to the defendants in the amount of $450,000.00 dollars, inclusive of all claims for attorneys fees. It also calls for a revision to the East Haven Police Department’s policy relating to the “Secure Communities Program.”

In return, this agreement calls for the release of all claims and counterclaims by all parties to the agreement. Finally, for purposes of consolidation, the parties to the agreement will be filing a joint motion with the court requesting that supervision of the policy aspect of the settlement be transferred to the presiding judge in the Town’s pending case with the Department of Justice.

I wish to emphasize that this settlement agreement is in no way an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the Town or the East Haven Police Department. Rather, this settlement is another important step forward in the healing process for our community and for our police family. This agreement ends the threat of protracted litigation, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and avoiding the potential risk of a large, adverse monetary judgment. Perhaps most importantly, this agreement will provide necessary closure to a difficult and painful chapter in our Town’s history.

This agreement was not formulated overnight. Our legal team, led by Special Town Counsel Lawrence Sgrignari and Town Attorney Joseph Zullo, worked tirelessly to bring a conclusion to this incredibly challenging case. I especially want to take this moment to thank Attorney Sgrignari for his contributions to this case and for his help bringing it to a swift conclusion.

Additionally, I want to thank the men and women of our Police Department for their continued hard work and dedication. Only a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of swearing in Ed Lennon as our next Deputy Chief of Police – an officer who has risen through the ranks of our Police Department. When I appointed him, I emphasized that his appointment marks the beginning of a new era of accountability and self-sufficiency for our Police Department. The end to this litigation will further serve to reinforce the “remarkable” progress our Police Department has made since 2011.

Moving forward, with this painful chapter in our Town’s history coming to a close, I am confident that our community and Police Department will continue to heal, grow, and prosper.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.