They were known as "Miller's boys," a small group of East Haven officers on the 4-to-midnight shift arrested Tuesday following a long federal investigation and charged with terrorizing Latinos who dared enter the town's borders.
Federal authorities called them "bullies" and the indictment against them alleges a long list of crimes ranging from excessive force for beating suspects with their hands cuffed behind them to obstructing justice. Federal prosecutors argued in court that one of them -- Dennis Spaulding -- was so dangerous that he should be barred from entering East Haven while his case is pending.
Besides Spaulding the other three officers arrested were Jason Zullo, David Cari and Sgt. John Miller. All but Zullo were released late Tuesday after pleading not guilty and posting bonds ranging from $100,000 to $300,000. Miller and Cari were arrested at the East Haven police department just as their shift was ending. Miller was whisked out so quickly he left his service handgun on his desk. All are facing potential jail sentences of 10 years or longer if convicted.
"The four police officers charged today allegedly formed a cancerous cadre that routinely deprived East Haven residents of their civil rights," said Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director-in-charge of the New York office of the FBI. "The public should not need protection from those sworn to protect and serve. In simple terms, these defendants behaved like bullies with badges."
"At its core, this is an abuse of power case," added Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, of the justice department's civil rights division.
The investigation was prompted by a video recording of an encounter between some of the officers arrested Tuesday and the Rev. James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven. The federal probe found a pattern of discrimination by police, particularly against Latino residents.
Connecticut's U.S. Attorney, David B. Fein, said more arrests and additional charges could be forthcoming as the investigation continues.
Fein said the "indictment should serve as a powerful message that we in the Department of Justice will not tolerate abuse of power or victimization of civilians by anyone in law enforcement."
At arraignments Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Spaulding was released after posting $300,000 bail. Conditions of his release are that he is barred from entering East Haven and that he must live with his father-in-law in New Haven. Spaulding has been on leave.
Zullo was ordered held until a bail hearing on Thursday. Cari was released on $100,000 bail, pending the turnover of 12 weapons at his home to authorities. Miller was released after posting $200,000 bail.
The government vehemently opposed allowing Spaulding to go free. Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel said numerous victims and potential witnesses have beeen intimidated by Spaulding.
"He has created so much fear and created so much terror in the very community that he is supposed to be protecting" Patel told U.S. Magistrate Holly Fitzsimmons.
Patel also asked that Spaulding undergo a psychiatric evaluation before his release because of his "very bizarre and disturbing behavior."
The baby-faced Spaulding said little during his arraignment. His attorney, Frank Riccio Jr., said he lives in East Haven with his wife and 5-month-old baby and that Spaulding has already been on leave from the department for six months.
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