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Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin Jr. Speaks at the East Haven Police Department Investigative Findings Announcement
New Haven, Conn. ~ Monday, December 19, 2011

Good afternoon and thank you U.S. Attorney Fein for the assistance of your office and your great commitment to civil rights.   We are here to announce the results of our civil, civil rights investigation of the East Haven Police Department.  

 

We began our investigation in September 2009 with a single objective – to seek the truth.   We set out to determine whether East Haven police officers systemically deprive individuals of their federally-protected rights.   Our investigation focused on whether officers engage in discriminatory or biased-based policing, use excessive force, and conduct unlawful searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution and federal law.   

 

Our investigation was thorough and involved multiple visits to East Haven.   We interviewed numerous individuals, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, observed the Police Department’s operations, and met with Town and Police officials and community members.   During the course of our investigation, we were assisted by two respected former police executives, and highly-experienced statistical experts who helped us review two years-worth of traffic stop data produced by the Police Department.  

We have been in contact with East Haven’s leadership throughout our investigation.   Two weeks ago, we briefed the new mayor and town attorney on the status of our investigation and advised them that we were in the final stages of our fact-finding.   We also met several times with the former mayor and town attorney who worked collaboratively with us during the course of our investigation.

 

We offered to meet with Town and police leadership this morning.    Unfortunately, that meeting could not be arranged.    We are scheduled to brief the Mayor this afternoon.

 

Based on our investigation, we find that the East Haven Police Department engages in discriminatory policing against Latinos including:  targeting Latinos for discriminatory traffic enforcement; treating Latino drivers more harshly than non-Latino drivers after traffic stops; and intentionally and woefully failing to design and implement internal systems of control that would identify, track, and prevent such misconduct.   The pattern or practice of discriminatory policing that we observed is deeply rooted in the Police Department’s culture and substantially interferes with the ability of the Department to deliver services to the entire East Haven community.

 

We recognize the challenges and danger that police officers face day in and day out and respect the great work done by the vast majority of law enforcement officers.   It is out of that respect and respect for the Constitution that we do this work.  

 

We based our findings on the following:  

  • A statistical analysis of the Police Department’s traffic stop data from 2009 and 2010 demonstrating clear and significant disparities in the number of traffic stops of Latinos, as well as more punitive treatment of Latinos.   We also observed that Latinos who were stopped were subjected to more punitive actions for minor traffic violations, such as being arrested or having their vehicle towed, than non-Latinos.
  • For example, we found that nearly one in two, almost 50%, and one in three, over 33%, of drivers stopped by certain officers were Latino when compared to even the most generous estimates of Latino drivers in East Haven – 15%.    We found that the number of Latinos stopped by this Department, by independent squads in this Department, and by individual officer in this Department was extraordinarily high.     

We also found:  

  • Serious incidents of abuse of authority and retaliation against individuals who complained or criticized the Police Department’s discriminatory treatment of Latinos;   and  
  • A failure to remedy a history of discrimination and deliberate indifference in the Police Department by failing to guide, train, supervise, and discipline officers engaged in unlawful discrimination.   A history of discrimination verified by the findings of a federal court after the shooting death of Malik Jones by East Haven police officers.  

In addition, we found significant deviations from standard police practices that resulted in covering up or exacerbating the Police Department’s disparate treatment of Latinos, such as:  

  • a failure to collect and analyze traffic stop data as required by state law;
  • a failure to implement policies prohibiting discrimination;
  • a failure to hold officers accountable through internal investigations;
  • a failure to provide limited-English proficient Latinos with appropriate language access;   and
  • a failure to abide by individual’s consular rights.   

Separately, although not warranting a formal pattern or practice finding at this time, we have serious concerns in two related areas.

 

First, we have serious concerns that EHPD’s management practices and accountability systems fail to ensure that individuals are free from unlawful searches and seizures and use of excessive force.    The Town lacks the most basic forms of accountability commonly used by police departments across the nation.

 

Second, we have grave concerns that Department leadership is creating a hostile and intimidating environment for anyone seeking to provide relevant information in our investigation.    It is a crime to interfere with someone because they are assisting with a federal investigation and we encourage anyone who believes they have been the subject of retaliation or intimidation to contact us.   You may reach us toll-free at (855) 202-1830 or as U.S. Attorney Fein mentioned, the FBI at (212) 384-5000.

 

Although the East Haven Police Department has taken small steps to begin to address some of the preliminary concerns we identified last year, the Police Department remains profoundly broken in many ways.   Discrimination and institutionalized indifference remain deeply rooted in the culture of the Police Department.   This not only results in the systematic violation of individuals’ civil rights, but also poses serious challenges to East Haven’s crime-fighting efforts.   Constitutional policing and public confidence are essential to effective crime fighting .   Constitutional policing and effective law enforcement are inseparable.   We hope to work with Town officials, the Police Department, and community stakeholders towards that end.

 

Now that I’ve outlined our findings, let me discuss where we go from here.   Going forward, we want to work collaboratively with the East Haven Police Department, Town officials, and members of the community to develop a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform.   We believe the community’s voice in this process is critical and we looked forward to engaging with the many people who rely and depend on EHPD for public safety.  

 

Over the course of the next days and weeks, we will reach out to all segments of the community.   We want to hear your concerns and include remedies that will work for East Haven.   The Department of Justice will remain engaged until reform is achieved, but when we are done, it is up to the people of East Haven and the officers of the East Haven Police Department to ensure that the reform is sustained.

 

In recent years, we have worked productively and effectively with law enforcement agencies and communities to implement reforms that reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution, and increase public confidence in law enforcement.   We have 20 pattern or practice investigations underway nationwide, which is more than any time in the Division’s history.   An increasing number of these investigations were initiated at the request of the police department, such as the New Orleans and Miami Police Departments.   In our police reform work, collaboration and constructive engagement is the rule; confrontation and combativeness is the exception.   However, if collaboration proves elusive, we will not hesitate to take prompt, appropriate legal action.  

 

There is no time to waste.   The problems identified in our letter are very serious.   It will not be easy, but together we can build a community where everyone feels safe and there is respect for the rule of law.  

 

We invite anyone who has information that they believe is relevant to this investigation to contact us toll free at (855) 202-1830 or email us at community.ehpd@usdoj.gov .

 

Thank you.

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