FBI arrests 4 Conn. officers on conspiracy charges

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EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Four police officers, including the president of the local police union, were arrested Tuesday by the FBI on charges that they assaulted illegal immigrants and created false reports to cover up abuses in a New Haven suburb where a federal investigation found life was made miserable for Hispanics.

The East Haven officers assaulted individuals while they were handcuffed, unlawfully searched Latino businesses, and harassed and intimidated individuals, including advocates, witnesses and other officers who tried to investigate or report misconduct or abuse the officers committed, according to the federal indictment.

Federal authorities began investigating the police in 2009 in East Haven, where the federal probe last month documented a pattern of abuse. Latino business owners said rough treatment by police drove many newcomers from Mexico and Ecuador to leave the blue-collar city.

The arrests were welcomed by Hispanic business owners in East Haven, including Luis Rodriguez, an immigrant from Ecuador who had complained of harassment by police at his Los Amigos Grocery store.

“They should have to pay, not with many years, but enough to make an example of them. They should not abuse their power,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “All I ever wanted was to be left in peace.”

Officers Dennis Spaulding, David Cari and Jason Zullo and Sgt. John Miller, president of the police union, are charged with conspiracy, deprivation of rights and obstruction of justice.

Federal officials say the officers denied Latino residents and their advocates the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to not be arrested and detained without probable cause, and the right to not be arrested on false and misleading evidence.

Officer Zullo allegedly described taking joy in singling out Latinos, telling Officer Spaulding in a 2008 exchange quoted by the indictment that he liked harassing drivers and referred to “persons who have drifted to this country on rafts made of chicken wings and are now residing” in East Haven.

Sgt. Miller repeatedly slapped a man handcuffed in his car, while Officer Spaulding threw a man to the ground and repeatedly kicked him while he was handcuffed, according to the indictment.

Mayor Joseph Maturo said the four men were arrested around 6 a.m. Tuesday at their homes and at the police department.

Donald Cretella, Sgt. Miller’s lawyer, said his client has been honored with awards and risked his life in shootouts.

John Miller is a hero in East Haven,” he said. “He’s decorated. He’s a wonderful family man. Hopefully, we’ll clear his name.”

Frank Riccio Jr., Officer Spaulding’s attorney, said his client is an exemplary police officer.

“At this early stage it’s our position Mr. Spaulding is not guilty of the charges. He’s been nothing but an exemplary police officer. That’s why this is shocking.”

It wasn’t immediately clear who was representing Officers Cari and Zullo.

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