- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A former East Haven police officer charged in an investigation of mistreatment of Latinos and others become the last of four officers sentenced in the case Wednesday, getting four months in prison for using unreasonable force during an arrest.

John Miller, a sergeant and former president of the police union, received a lighter sentence after the federal judge overseeing his case cited his cooperation in the investigation that also landed three other officers behind bars.

Miller, 44, pleaded guilty in 2012 to violating a person’s civil rights. Authorities say he admitted that in 2010 he struck a handcuffed individual while the victim was in the secure custody of two other police officers.

Miller’s lawyer, Donald Cretella, has said the allegation against Miller did not involve mistreating any minorities. Miller, who retired from the police department, was ordered to report to prison on March 13.

Cretella had sought probation for Miller, citing his awards, cooperation in the investigation and the effects of having to shoot someone.

“I’m very disappointed,” Cretella wrote in an email. “I thought that with Mr. Miller’s background cooperation he earned the benefit of probation. I don’t think a jail sentence was necessary. Mr. Miller is a good family man and was a good cop. A hero, in fact.”

Judge Alvin W. Thompson did credit Miller for his cooperation in the investigation in sentencing him below guidelines that called for 12 to 18 months. Miller also received a $3,000 fine at his sentencing in federal court in Hartford.

Police treatment of Latinos in East Haven has been under federal scrutiny since 2009, when the Department of Justice launched a civil rights probe that found a pattern of discrimination and biased policing in the town, which is more than 88 percent white, according to the Census.

The officers falsified arrest reports, unlawfully searched Latino businesses and harassed and intimidated those who tried to investigate or report their misconduct or abuse, prosecutors said.

Last month, Dennis Spaulding received a five-year prison sentence for conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of Hispanics, making false arrests and using unreasonable force.

Spaulding defended his actions as the colorblind enforcement of motor vehicle laws during an investigation of massive license plate fraud. He said those involved in the fraud just happened to be those who lived in the U.S. illegally, who would pay up to $1,500 for phony vehicle registrations and insurance cards.

“I am not a racist, nor do I use racist language,” he said.

But Thompson said Spaulding could not explain away the abuse of Latinos, including the false arrest and beating of a restaurant owner who was taking pictures to document the police surveillance of his business.

David Cari, another officer convicted of civil rights charges during that trial, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Officer Jason Zullo received a two-year sentence in December after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

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