Discrimination in Connecticut Leads to Justice Department Investigation

The Justice Department and the FBI have opened civil rights and criminal probes into the town of East Haven after allegations of police harassment of Latinos has apparently prompted many to move away.

Among the complaints, according to an Associated Press report: False arrests, unnecessary traffic stops, police beatings, questionings over immigration status. Some Latino business owners have alleged that police officers park outside their shops and stop Latino-looking clients on their way into the stores, and tow away cars from the parking lot.

Latinos make up about seven percent of the mostly Italian American town’s population, but that number had been climbing as newcomers arrive, set up businesses and become more visible. But Hispanics in town say that about half of the town’s 1,900 Latinos have fled the town because of racial profiling and harassment.

One store owner, Luis Rodriguez, said he spent five days in jail for child neglect after a woman called cops to report that his son was outside the store unsupervised. He suspects his arrest was revenge brought on by his wife’s videotaping of police harassment outside their store. Another Latino, Puerto Rican probation officer Santiago Malave, who has worked in law enforcement for 40 years, says he only goes into New Haven for work—and then comes right back to his East Haven home for fear of being out and stopped by cops. He says the racial profiling is so unnerving that he and his wife are selling their home and leaving town.

The Justice Department started their investigation in September 2009—after profiling and harassment allegations began pouring in in 2008. Earlier this year, they made a preliminary report showing concern over East Haven cops’ outdated policies and use of force. Mayor April Capone said this month that the FBI is building a case that may culminate in the prosecution of some local police officers.