East Haven Police Officers Found Guilty of Federal Civil Rights Offenses
|U.S. Attorney’s Office October 21, 2013|
Deirdre M. Daly, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, today announced that a federal jury in Hartford has found East Haven Police Officer Dennis Spaulding and former East Haven Police Officer David Cari guilty of conspiring to violate and of violating the civil rights of members of the East Haven community. The trial before U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson began on September 23, and the jury returned its verdict today.
“This prosecution and the jury’s swift and unambiguous verdict should send a very strong message that there is no place in law enforcement for anyone who abuses power or victimizes defenseless individuals,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Daly. “No one is above the law, and no one is beneath the law’s protection. The illegal behavior detailed during the course of this trial chips away at the public’s trust in all members of law enforcement, the vast majority of whom serve honorably and bravely each and every day. I want to thank the FBI agents who have tirelessly investigated this matter and our prosecution team for achieving this successful result under especially difficult circumstances. Since these charges were announced, the East Haven Police Department, under the direction of the Justice Department, has made great strides to purge itself of unlawful and unethical behavior within it ranks and change the way it does business. It is our expectation that new policing policies will ensure that this kind of conduct is part of East Haven’s past, not its future.”
“As Mr. Spaulding and Mr. Cari learned today, no one is above the law,” stated FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos. “Law enforcement takes an oath to protect and serve our communities. We are, and rightfully should be, held to a higher standard. It is unconscionable when law enforcement, anywhere, breaks that vow. Today, these defendants find themselves guilty of violating the very rights for which this country was founded. There is no excuse for law enforcement who betrays the public’s trust.”
According to the evidence presented during the trial, from approximately 2007 through 2011, Spaulding and Cari, together with other East Haven Officers, conspired to injure, threaten, and intimidate various members of the East Haven community in violation of their Constitutional rights. The defendant officers maintained and perpetuated an environment where the use of unreasonable force and unreasonable searches and seizures was tolerated and encouraged. Defendants Spaulding and Cari engaged in unlawful arrests and searches, including the baseless arrests of a Catholic priest and several Latinos who lived or worked in the community. Additionally, Spaulding used excessive force during arrests when victims were unarmed, neither resisting nor interfering with the police. Certain victims were particularly vulnerable because they were undocumented aliens and thus unlikely to raise objection to the abuse.
The evidence at trial further revealed that Spaulding intimidated, harassed, and humiliated members of the Latino community and their advocates and conducted unreasonable and illegal searches at Latino-owned businesses. Trial testimony established that in November 2008, Spaulding used excessive force against an individual in the parking lot of a Latino-owned restaurant and bar. Spaulding then arrested the individual under false pretenses to cover up the assault and prepared a false report to justify the false arrest. Later, in January 2009 in the same parking lot, Spaulding and another officer arrested three individuals under false pretenses. Spaulding also prepared a false report to justify these arrests.
In February 2009, the defendant officers illegally searched a vehicle parked outside of a Latino-owned grocery store. Inside the store, Cari then arrested a Catholic priest, who is also an advocate for Latinos, on false pretenses. The officers then conducted an illegal search of the back room of the store in an effort to unlawfully seize the store’s video recording equipment. In the days following the arrest, Cari drafted various false versions of an arrest report to cover up the false arrest of the religious leader.
The jury found Spaulding and Cari guilty of one count of conspiracy against rights, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000. In addition, Spaulding was found guilty of one count of use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000. Spaulding was found guilty of two counts and Cari of one count of deprivation of rights for making arrests without probable cause. Each of these counts carries a maximum term of imprisonment of one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Finally, Spaulding was found guilty of two counts and Cari of one count of obstruction of a federal investigation for preparing false reports to justify the false arrests. Each of these counts carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Judge Thompson has scheduled sentencing for January 21, 2014.
Two other former members of the East Haven Police Department have been convicted as a result of the investigation. On September 21, 2012, Sergeant John Miller pleaded guilty to one count of violating an individual’s civil rights by using unreasonable force during the course of an arrest. On October 23, 2012, Officer Jason Zullo pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction stemming from his filing of a false police report in order to prevent a possible excessive force investigation.
Miller and Zullo await sentencing.
This matter is being investigated by the Civil Rights Squad of the FBI’s New York Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna R. Patel and Senior Litigation Counsel Richard J. Schechter.