Connecticut jurors heard opening statements Monday in the trial of two police officers accused of multiple civil rights violations in East Haven. The cops are charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice stemming from a federal racial profiling investigation.
Federal prosecutors told the court the case centers on the use and abuse of police power. Officers Dennis Spaulding and David Cari are accused of harassment and intimidation, including frequent race-based traffic stops. Spaulding faces charges of excessive use of force against those taken into custody, particularly Latinos.
Defense attorneys argued that police work is difficult and dangerous, and arrests were based on probable cause. The lawyers said no one is above the law, including citizens, undocumented aliens and priests.
The two officers are being tried simultaneously in federal court in Hartford, but each has his own lawyer. In his opening statement Attorney Alex Hernandez referred to Father James Manship as "naïve." Manship is an advocate for Latinos in East Haven who was arrested while videotaping East Haven police. Charges against Manship were later dropped. (His video, dated February 19, 2009, is below.)
Spaulding and Cari are among four East Haven cops arrested last year. One pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Another, a sergeant, has pleaded guilty to using unreasonable force.