Four East Haven Police Officers Charged with Civil Rights Offenses

David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut; Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Civil Rights Division; and Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI, today announced that a federal grand jury sitting in Bridgeport returned an indictment charging four East Haven Police officers with conspiring to violate, and violating, the civil rights of members of the East Haven community. This morning, Sergeant JOHN MILLER and Officers DAVID CARI, DENNIS SPAULDING, and JASON ZULLO were arrested without incident. The indictment was unsealed today.

“Today’s indictment should serve as a powerful message that we in the Department of Justice will not tolerate the abuse of power or victimization of civilians by anyone in law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Fein. “The serious crimes alleged in the indictment undermine the public’s trust in the fine men and women of law enforcement who serve the people bravely and with integrity every day.”

“The allegations laid out in the indictment are troubling and the Justice Department is committed to vigorously investigating and prosecuting cases where we find allegations of police misconduct,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez. “The EHPD has a critical mission—to ensure public safety in East Haven. The Civil Rights Division is committed to helping EHPD fulfill that mission effectively while respecting the rights of the people it serves. As deeply rooted as these problems are, I remain optimistic that we can fix them.”

“The four police officers charged today allegedly formed a cancerous cadre that routinely deprived East Haven residents of their civil rights,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Fedarcyk. “The public should not need protection from those sworn to protect and serve. In simple terms, these defendants behaved like bullies with badges.”

According to allegations contained in the indictment, from approximately 2007 through 2011, Miller, Cari, Spaulding, and Zullo, while acting under color of law, conspired to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate various members of the East Haven community in violation of their constitutional rights.

The indictment alleges that Miller and others maintained and perpetuated an environment where the use of unreasonable force and unreasonable searches and seizures was tolerated and encouraged. It is alleged that Cari, Spaulding, and Zullo engaged in unreasonable searches and seizures, including unlawful searches of premises and arrests of individuals without probable cause or based on false and misleading information, and that Miller, Spaulding, Zullo, and another officer used unreasonable force during lawful and unlawful arrests.

It is alleged that this unreasonable force was used when victims were unarmed, neither resisting nor interfering with the police, but rather securely under the control of the police or otherwise cooperative. In some cases, the victims were handcuffed with their hands behind their backs when officers assaulted them. Some of the victims were particularly vulnerable because they were undocumented aliens or otherwise marginalized, having little perceived standing in the community, and thus unlikely to raise objection to the abuse.

The indictment further alleges that Spaulding and Zullo intimidated, harassed, and humiliated members of the Latino community and their advocates. Spaulding and Zullo conducted unreasonable and illegal searches at Latino-owned businesses, and Spaulding followed, intimidated and harassed advocates who worked to defend the rights of members of the Latino community.

The indictment alleges more than 30 overt acts by the four defendants and others in furtherance of the conspiracy. The acts include:

A July 2007 incident during which Miller and another officer used unreasonable force against a victim in the vicinity of the Saltonstall Parkway;
A November 2008 incident during which Spaulding used excessive force against an individual in the parking lot of a Latino-owned restaurant and bar. Spaulding then arrested the individual under false pretenses to cover-up the assault, and prepared a false report to justify the false arrest;
A January 2009 incident in the same parking lot during which Spaulding and Zullo arrested three individuals under false pretenses and with Miller and Cari present. Zullo then used excessive force against two of the individuals in the EHPD station, and Spaulding prepared a false report to justify the arrests;
A February 2009 incident during which Spaulding, Cari and other officers illegally searched a vehicle parked outside of a Latino-owned grocery store. Inside the store, Cari and Spaulding, under Miller’s supervision, then arrested a religious leader, who is also an advocate for Latinos, on false pretenses. At Miller’s direction, Cari, Spaulding, Zullo, and others conducted an illegal search of the back room of the store in an effort to unlawfully seize the store’s video recording equipment. In the days following the arrest, Cari drafted various false versions of an arrest report to cover up the false arrest of the religious leader. In the months following the incident, Spaulding engaged in behavior intended to intimidate the religious leader and others;
A January 2010 incident during which Miller used excessive force against an individual in the vicinity of Thompson Avenue, and then reprimanded a fellow officer who witnessed the assault and reported it to a supervisory sergeant;
Intimidation and harassment of East Haven Police Commissioners who were attempting to investigate the arrest of the religious leader and certain alleged misconduct involving Miller;
Intimidation of EHPD personnel, including threatening statements about an EHPD officer who was believed to be cooperating in an investigation of EHPD.

Each of the four defendants is charged with one count of conspiracy against rights, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Miller, Spaulding, and Zullo are also charged with one count of use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Additionally, Spaulding is charged with two counts and Cari with one count of deprivation of rights for making arrests without probable cause. Each of these counts carries a maximum term of imprisonment of one year and a fine of up to $100,000.

Finally, Spaulding is charged with two counts and Cari with one count of obstruction of a federal investigation for preparing false reports to justify the false arrests. Each of these counts carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

The indictment was returned under seal on January 18. The case has been assigned to Chief United States District Judge Alvin W. Thompson in Hartford.

U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This matter is being investigated by the Civil Rights Squad of the FBI’s New York Field Office. New York FBI Special Operation teams, including its SWAT Team, assisted today’s arrests.

U.S. Attorney Fein stated that the investigation is ongoing and encouraged individuals with information that may be helpful to the investigation to call the FBI at 212-384-5000.

Deputy United States Attorney Deirdre M. Daly and Assistant United States Attorney Krishna R. Patel are prosecuting the case with assistance from the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division.