After East Haven arrests, rights group seeks stronger Penn Act
The arrest Tuesday of four East Haven police officers after a federal investigation has one Connecticut rights coalition pushing for a stronger racial profiling law.
“We felt this is the right time for us to come forward and say that discrimination against one part of our community is discrimination against all,” said Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition spokesman Mongi Dhaouadi at a news conference Wednesday.
At the event at the Legislative Office Building, members of the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition made a public call for further funding and true enforcement of the Penn Act.
That 1999 law defined and prohibited racial profiling while also requiring police departments to record traffic stop demographics and submit them to the state’s attorney. Responsibility was shifted to the African-American Affairs Commission in 2005, but the first — and only — report based on the statistics was issued in 2001.
This fresh call for a racial profiling law — with teeth — comes after what’s become a national story out of East Haven. Four police officers, known as “Miller’s Boys” — after a member of the group, Sgt. John Miller — were taken into custody Tuesday following a two-year federal investigation. The indictment accuses the four of various crimes, from the use of excessive force to obstructing justice.
Officers Dennis Spaulding and David Cari and Sgt. Miller were released Tuesday after posting bond. The fourth officer, Jason Zullo, remained in custody Wednesday.
The Department of Justice investigation began after a video recording surfaced of an incident between the officers and the Rev. James Manship of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven. The story was first reported in the New Haven Independent in 2009.
“In light of the investigation in East Haven and the indictments, this is a wake-up call for state leaders,” said ACLU Legal Director Sandy Staub. “We’ve been working for two years to figure out how to get the Penn Act enforced in this state from the top down.”
Staub listed off the Coalition’s recommendations for strengthening the Penn Act, including moving enforcement responsibilities from the African-American Affairs Commission to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and adding religion as a reported category. But largely, she said, it’s about properly funding the collection and analysis necessary to make the data useful.
“The pushback last year in legislative efforts was lack of funds, but we know that’s not true anymore,” Staub said. “We know there’s (state) Department of Transportation funding that the OPM can use to fund analysis.”
Rhode Island passed a similar law in 2000, and created a report on gathered data in 2004. Based on its findings and analysis, the state passed the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2004,” which banned racial profiling and required further data collection.
Connecticut, Staub said, is far behind.
“Twelve years later we know nothing more than we knew in 1999,” she said. “That might not be a crime, but it’s a shame.”
In Connecticut in 2011, a follow-up act failed to pass. The Malloy administration opposed it, citing budgetary restrictions.
Reversing that decision, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released a statement Wednesday noting that, in fact, funds had been available for the past five years through the state DOT.
“I cannot speak to the actions of the previous administration in allowing these funds to languish, but … my Administration is committed to enforcing the laws. Let me be clear: it is simply unacceptable that Connecticut law hasn’t been followed,” the statement read.
Data is only as good as what you do with it, state Rep. Ernie Hewett, D-New London, noted at the news conference. “We need to get some juice into this law, put some money into it and get it moving.”
Hewett also wasn’t shy about commenting on East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo’s now infamous “taco comments.”
Maturo was quoted as saying Tuesday that in support of the city’s Latino community — the alleged target of the four arrested officers — he might go home and eat some tacos.
“They should get rid of him — I hope there’s a recall provision in this town, that’s ridiculous,” Hewitt said.
“The gap between Ph.D and common sense is getting really big. I’ve never been to college in my life, but why would I get in front of a podium and say something as stupid as that. It doesn’t make sense.”
While Coalition members stressed that not every police officer or department in Connecticut has an issue with racial profiling, it should be considered a statewide problem.
“This isn’t just an East Haven example,” said Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto.
It’s easy for someone who’s never been discriminated against to say this doesn’t happen, Hewett added.
“But you’re living in a different world than the one I live in.”
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