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Federal officials accuse police in East Haven of discrimination

Police targeted Latino drivers, they say

East Haven police did not respond to multiple requests for comment

New York CNN —  

In a scathing report, the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday accused the East Haven Police Department (EHPD) in Connecticut of engaging in a pattern of widespread discrimination against Latinos in violation of the Constitution and federal law.

“We find that EHPD engages in discriminatory policing against Latinos, including but not limited to targeting Latinos for discriminatory traffic enforcement, treating Latino drivers more harshly than non-Latino drivers after a traffic stop, and intentionally and woefully failing to design and implement internal systems of control that would identify, track, and prevent such misconduct,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas J. Perez wrote in a 23-page letter to the East Haven mayor, detailing the results of a two-year investigation.

The letter described the discrimination as “deeply rooted in the Department’s culture,” and cited a statistical analysis showing how Latinos were “intentionally targeted” for traffic stops. It provided the example of a particular officer’s stops – 40.5% of which were of Latino drivers.

Overall, the investigation found that 19.9% of traffic stops made by the EHPD were of Latino drivers, concluding it “shows pervasive discrimination against Latinos on every level of EHPD traffic enforcement activity.” The report also said officers were able to target Latinos by focusing on customers leaving Latino businesses.

In addition to the high rate of traffic stops, the report accused some EHPD officers of conducting unauthorized immigration investigations. The report mentioned “numerous incident reports” where EHPD officers contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check on the status or seek an immigration detention of a Latino person. Investigators said the tactic was “used to harass and intimidate Latinos rather than pursue legitimate law enforcement objectives.”

The analysis of the police department’s practices against the Latino community said the Connecticut department, at the very least, turned a blind eye to the blatant cases of biased policing and at worst, enabled it. It also accused the department’s leadership of thwarting the investigation by “creating a hostile and intimidating environment” for anyone willing to cooperate with it.

CNN reached out to the East Haven Police Department multiple times for comment on Monday. It did not respond.

According to 2010 census data, East Haven has a population of some 29,000 people. The vast majority of residents, 88.5%, are white, while 10.3% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino. Close to 3% of residents identify as black or African-American.

The findings come on the heels of a federal investigation that began more than two years ago, involving a massive review of EHPD incident reports, documents and interviews of department personnel.

The Justice Department said it will meet with community leaders, as well with as municipal agencies to address the concerns raised in the report. But the federal agency also made clear that the United States may suspend or terminate federal funding if the town fails to address the civil rights violations.

CNN’s Chris Boyette contributed to this report.