Fighting Back Against Racial Profiling – NYT

We are filing a major lawsuit tomorrow on behalf of clients who have endured racial profiling and police brutality in East Haven, CT.  Our clients’ story just made the New York Times:

Latino Immigrants to Sue a Connecticut Police Dept., Asserting Racial Bias


When Yadanny García asked police officers in East Haven, Conn., why they were ordering him to the ground, they shocked him three times with a Taser gun, punched him and told him to “go back to your country.”

When José Luis Albaraccín was arrested after questioning an officer, he was taken to the police station, sprayed with pepper gas and beaten to the floor.

And when Edgar Torres vowed to complain publicly that officers had used a Taser gun on him four times for no reason, an officer threatened to kill him.

These are some of the accusations in a lawsuit to be filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court in New Haven on behalf of nine Latino immigrants against the East Haven Police Department, the former police chief and 19 officers, 9 of whom are named.

The suit, the latest in a series of complaints by Latino residents, says the police in this town have practiced racial profiling and intimidated them with beatings, false arrests and unwarranted raids on legitimate businesses.

“It isn’t just one thing,” said David Rosen, a New Haven lawyer who is filing the suit in collaboration with the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School. “The point of the case is that it’s a lot of things, and that none of the instances were promptly and appropriately responded to by the department’s leadership.”

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and asking the court to force the police to stop “the profiling campaign.”

The acting police chief, Gaetano Nappi, did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Over the past two decades, the Hispanic population in East Haven has nearly quadrupled to about 1,900, or about 6 percent of the population, according to census estimates. The local police have a long history of tense relations with immigrants and minorities, and the federal Justice Department is investigating whether officers have practiced discriminatory policing.

In April, the federal agency warned the town attorney that a preliminary review had found the Police Department in disarray, with outdated policies, insufficient guidelines on using force and poor guidelines for internal investigations. Soon afterward, Mayor April Capone Almon placed the police chief, Leonard Gallo, on administrative leave.

The lawsuit says the police have routinely harassed Latino shopkeepers and intimidated customers. It quotes officers using slurs to refer to Latinos. And it cites the Yale students’ analysis of eight months of traffic tickets; nearly 60 percent, the suit says, went to people with Hispanic surnames.

Many problems outlined in the lawsuit center on My Country Store, a small grocery owned by two plaintiffs, Wilfrido Matute and Marcia Chacón, that acted as a community hub for many Latinos.

The suit says that beginning in September 2008, Officer Dennis Spaulding began parking outside the store, stopping Latino customers, ticketing their cars and removing their license plates. When Mr. Matute confronted him, Officer Spaulding said that he aimed to drive away business, and that customers could “park in New Haven and walk,” according to the complaint. New Haven is about a mile away from the store.

While the suit describes several violent attacks that have not been previously alleged — including jailhouse beatings, the unwarranted use of Tasers and physical threats — Mr. Rosen said the problem was not rogue police officers.

“It isn’t that it’s a bunch of bad apples,” he said. “The problem is structural.”