- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2012

EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A police chief under fire for his handling of anti-Latino abuse allegations that led to the arrest of four officers last week is retiring from office, the mayor said Monday, describing his departure as a “selfless act” intended to help the town heal.

Chief Leonard Gallo of the East Haven Police Department has been chastised by federal civil rights investigators for creating a hostile environment for witnesses, and his lawyer has acknowledged that last week’s indictment refers to him as an unnamed co-conspirator.

Chief Gallo, 64, was suspended as police chief in April 2010 after the FBI launched the criminal investigation, but he was reinstated in November after his friend Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. took office.

“His decision to retire at this time is a selfless act, designed to assist in the healing process,” said Mr. Maturo, who described Chief Gallo as a devoted public servant who “performed admirably in both his personal and professional life.”

The four officers, who were arrested Jan. 24 by the FBI, are accused of waging a campaign against Latino residents that included beatings, false arrests and harassment of those who threatened to report misconduct. They face charges including deprivation of rights and obstruction of justice. All four officers have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Maturo also is facing heavy criticism for saying last week that he “might have tacos” as a way to do something for the Latino community in the wake of the arrests. He later apologized for the remark.

Frederick Brow, chairman of the town’s Police Commission, said Monday that the panel is preparing to vote Tuesday night on whether to recommend to the mayor that Chief Gallo be fired. He said he believes Chief Gallo should not be allowed to retire.

“It’s been a general breakdown in control in that department for quite a while, and it’s time for Gallo to be terminated,” Mr. Brow said.

He estimated that in retirement Chief Gallo would receive a severance lump sum of $130,000 to $150,000, plus an annual pension of $27,000 to $28,000. Mr. Brow said Chief Gallo should not be rewarded for his conduct.

The FBI also is targeting additional suspects, and state officials say they are preparing for the possibility of widespread arrests that could cripple the town’s police department.

An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, which was separate from the criminal probe, noted concerns in a December report that Chief Gallo had helped created a hostile environment for people who cooperated with federal investigators. It said the chief had warned staff that the Justice Department had agreed to provide him with the names of individuals who cooperated with the investigation, even though that was not the case.

The federal indictment refers to Chief Gallo as Co-conspirator 1, accusing him of blocking efforts by the Police Commission to investigate misconduct. Chief Gallo’s attorney, Jon Einhorn, has denied those allegations.

Mr. Einhorn said Chief Gallo is retiring because he does not want to be a distraction for the town, and his departure is not an admission of guilt. He said Chief Gallo is the target of a lawsuit and could face charges in the criminal probe. He said his client will be vindicated, and he does not believe criminal charges would be justified.

Mr. Einhorn said waiting until the end of the week will give the town time to settle on a retirement package for Chief Gallo. Mr. Maturo said the retirement takes effect Friday, and a search for a new chief will begin immediately.

More than 15,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Mr. Maturo to replace Chief Gallo. The petition was started by Reform Immigration for America, the same group that sent hundreds of tacos to Mr. Maturo’s office to protest his remark.

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