FORMER EAST HAVEN POLICE OFFICER SENTENCED TO FIVE YEARS IN PRISON FOR CRIMINAL CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Deirdre M. Daly, 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, announced that former East Haven Police Officer DENNIS SPAULDING, 30, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson in Hartford to 60 months of imprisonment, followed by one year of supervised release, for violating the civil rights of members of the East Haven community.
“Dennis Spaulding repeatedly violated the civil rights of Latino members of the East Haven community,” said U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly. “He arrested people for no good reason, used cruel and excessive force causing physical injuries and executed illegal searches. His actions assaulted, intimidated, demeaned and humiliated decent and hardworking people who came to fear their own police department. Today’s sentence properly reflects that this defendant abused vulnerable victims, undermined the legitimacy of the East Haven Police Department and damaged the public’s trust in law enforcement. This is a difficult day, but we are reminded that every day the vast majority of officers in East Haven and throughout this country serve their communities bravely and honorably. As this case nears the end, we remain hopeful that the East Haven community will continue to heal and their police department will continue to rebuild.”
“Spaulding’s efforts to harass, intimidate, and humiliate members of the East Haven community violated the rights afforded to them by our Constitution,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos. “Furthermore, his unethical behavior and illegal conduct threatened the character of a law enforcement community whose members take an oath to protect and serve with honor and integrity. Today’s sentencing is a step forward in restoring the public’s trust and a reminder that this type of dishonorable behavior will not go unpunished.”
This matter stems from a criminal investigation into members of the East Haven Police Department using excessive force during arrests, conducting unconstitutional searches and seizures, and filing false police reports. As a result of the investigation, SPAULDING, Sergeant John Miller and Officers Jason Zullo and David Cari were charged with various civil rights offenses.
According to the evidence presented during the trial of SPAULDING and David Cari, from approximately 2007 through 2011, SPAULDING conspired to injure, threaten, and intimidate various members of the East Haven community in violation of their Constitutional rights. SPAULDING and other members of the East Haven Police Department maintained and perpetuated an environment where the use of unreasonable force and unreasonable searches and seizures was tolerated and encouraged. SPAULDING 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 an arrest when the victim was 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, SPAULDING and David Cari illegally searched a vehicle parked outside of a Latino-owned grocery store. Inside the store, David 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.
On October 21, 2013, SPAULDING was found guilty of one count of conspiracy against rights, one count of use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer, two counts of deprivation of rights for making arrests without probable cause, and two counts of obstruction of a federal investigation for preparing false reports to justify the false arrests.
SPAULDING, who has been released on a $300,000 bond since his arrest on January 24, 2012, was ordered to report to prison on March 4.
Cari was found guilty of one count of conspiracy against rights, one count of deprivation of rights for making an arrest without probable cause, and one count of obstruction of a federal investigation for preparing a false report. On January 21, 2014, he was sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment.
On October 23, 2012, 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. On December 16, 2013, he was sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment.
On September 21, 2012, John Miller pleaded guilty to one count of violating an individual’s civil rights by using unreasonable force during the course of an arrest. He awaits sentencing.
This matter has been investigated by the Civil Rights Squad of the FBI’s New York Field Office, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna R. Patel and Senior Litigation Counsel Richard J. Schechter.
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