The FBI arrested three Connecticut police officers and one sergeant for allegedly mistreating Latino suspects and residents while on patrol, law-enforcement officials say.
Three East Haven police officers and the sergeant were taken into custody early Tuesday and are expected to be arraigned in federal court in Bridgeport on the civil rights-related charges later today, law enforcement officials said.
An indictment charges Dennis Spaulding, David Cari, Jason Zullo and Sgt. John Miller with conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights and obstruction for allegedly executing unreasonable searches and seizures, using unreasonable force and concealing their actions.
Prosecutors say the group of officers was known as "Miller's boys" after the name of the sergeant charged in the indictment.
The group often worked the midnight shift.
Investigators say the officers are charged because they worked "to injure, oppress and intimidate various members of the East Haven community."
Prosecutors 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 to not be arrested on false and misleading evidence.
The officers also are accused of harassing and intimidating individuals, including advocates, witnesses and other officers who tried to investigate or report misconduct or abuse committed by the four officers.
Connecticut U.S. Attorney spokesman Tom Carson said a news conference would be held later Tuesday morning.
Donald Cretella, the lawyer for John Miller, 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., 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.''
The East Haven Police Department has been under scrutiny for months amid allegations some officers mistreat Latinos. Allegations of false arrests and bogus traffic stops are widespread.
The arrests of the law-enforcement officials come weeks after the Justice Department issued a report saying some members of the department intentionally targeted Latinos for enforcement and traffic stops, and that there may have been efforts to cover up the alleged misconduct.
The Justice Department also found "serious deficiencies" in how the department is managed, officials told NBC New York.
Rev. James Manship is among those who worked to document what he said was harassment of Latino businesses by police for no apparent reason. Manship was arrested and locked up while videotaping one arrest. He was later released.
The former chief of the East Haven Police has denied his department systematically engaged in any wrongdoing. But he acknowledged certain members of the department were being investigated.
The New York FBI joined in the investigation to avoid any appearance of a conflict by the FBI Connecticut, which works closely with local police departments. An FBI New York spokesman declined to comment.
There was no immediate comment from an East Haven police department spokesperson either.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo said he backs the police.
"I stand behind the police department," he said. "We have a great police department."
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy commented on the allegations of racial profiling last week saying, "As governor, I will continue to insist that every effort is taken to protect individual rights in every community, and that racial profiling is eliminated.”
Some residents and civil rights groups have held vigils and rallies to protest the alleged police misconduct. Previous news reports suggested as many as 15 officers were under scrutiny for alleged misconduct.
The New York FBI office has established an email address and tipline seeking help with the investigation of alleged civil rights violations by East Haven Police. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and the tipline is 212-384-1000.