NEW HAVEN - The police department in suburban East Haven engaged in a pattern of discrimination against Latino residents, according to investigators from the US Justice Department, who said yesterday that their investigation was complicated by efforts to interfere with witnesses and a “blue wall of silence.’’
The investigation by the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which examined traffic stops from 2009 and 2010, found there was a “failure to remedy a history of discrimination and a deliberate indifference to the rights of minorities.’’
The report alleges that the police department intentionally targets Latinos for traffic enforcement and treats Latino drivers more harshly after stops.
A separate criminal investigation by the FBI is underway and could lead to indictments of individual officers.
The US civil rights investigation began in September 2009, in East Haven, Conn., a New Haven suburb where Hispanics and their advocates say police targeted them with traffic stops and false arrests. Latino business owners said rough treatment by police drove many newcomers from Mexico and Ecuador to leave the seaside town of about 28,000 people.
Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said discrimination is deeply rooted in the police department’s culture, which could take years to change. He said at a news conference at the US attorney’s office in New Haven that the problem involves both individual officers and the police department as a whole.
Austin said investigators encountered a “blue wall of silence’’ and efforts to interfere with witnesses, which made it challenging to conduct the inquiry.
Mayor Joseph Maturo, who took office Nov. 19, recently reinstated Police Chief Leonard Gallo, who had been put on paid administrative leave last year after federal authorities began their investigation.
FBI agents had raided Gallo’s locked office less than two weeks earlier.