East Haven — Michael P. Lawlor, the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice and Planning, said Wednesday evening that the state may examine the convictions of defendants who were arrested by the four local police officers now facing federal charges stemming from a racial-profiling investigation.
“These four officers are very tainted — in essence they were lying in police reports,” said Lawlor, a former prosecutor and state legislator from East Haven. “Assuming that’s all substantiated, [the state] will consider opening those cases back up.”
Lawlor noted that that state does have authority to act in such situations, and is evaluating all possibilities.
“We’re reviewing our options with the hope of announcing something as soon as possible,” he said.
His comments came as clergy called for a review of convictions in cases involving arrests by the four officers.
The town’s police department is under federal investigation, and charges of racial profiling against Latinos in the community have been made against four police officers.
Sgt. John Miller and officers Dennis Spaulding, David Cari and Jason Zullo were arrested this week, and the town’s police chief, Leonard Gallo, retired under a barrage of criticism. Gallo’s lawyer has confirmed that his client is an unnamed co-conspirator in the case.
Lawlor’s comments followed a day of continuing reaction to the arrests of the East Haven officers. Wednesday morning, religious leaders from across the state got together and called for changes in the town’s police department, from improved police training and accountability to stronger community involvement on the part of the police department.
“Look — this is just an enormous problem. We’re not going to get out of this in a few days, a few months,” said the Rev. James Manship, speaking to reporters from the basement of his own St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven.
“But I think that these are some very specific, concrete steps that can be taken right now to move things ahead,” he said.
The clergy also asked for a review of all convictions based on arrests made by the indicted officers since 2008.
“We believe that convictions based on arrests founded on racial prejudice and misconduct by EHPD should not be allowed to stand,” said Rabbi Robert Orkand of Temple Israel in Westport.
Manship and the four other clergy members at Wednesday’s news conference are leaders of a statewide religious social advocacy organization called CONECT — or Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut.
Manship also said he lacks confidence in State’s Attorney Michael Dearington’s ability to appropriately investigate the arrests. Manship, a co-chairman of CONECT, was arrested in 2009 by the indicted officers while attempting to film them. Video evidence contradicted the official police report.
“It’s obvious from the video that officers lied,” Manship said. “State’s Attorney Dearington exonerated these officers, and I think for credibility on this, someone from outside of his office needs to review these convictions.”
Orkand suggested that Connecticut’s Police Officers Standards and Training Council should also get involved in an investigation of the town’s department.
“Since Father Manship’s arrest, everyone has known that the police report simply didn’t match what was recorded on tape,” the rabbi said. “Yet no one has taken action to prevent continued misconduct.”
The standards and training council can revoke police officers’ credentials if there’s evidence that they falsified reports.
“There is a state law that gives the ability to revoke certification of police officer who you can prove committed perjury, bypassing even the collective bargaining procedure,” Lawlor confirmed. “If you’re proven to lie under oath, then what good are you?”
Other suggestions from the clergy’s group concerned improved police training, accountability and discipline, and stronger community involvement by the police department — recommendations made by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Department of Justice.
Systematic change can be overwhelming, Manship acknowledged. But he said that CONECT’s suggestions were offered in a spirit of healing and collaboration.
“I can’t imagine that there’s anyone in East Haven who doesn’t want to bring calm to the community,” Rabbi Orkand said.
“I think the good people of the community have been embarrassed, and if they know that they are not alone and they can speak out, perhaps this is an opportunity for reconciliation.”
Lawlor said that there are a few options for approaching the cases, and that his office hopes to use the statistical analyses and databases already created by the Department of Justice.
“There’s a fair amount of work to do here,” he said, adding, “We take it seriously, and we’ll work out a solution.”
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