This week the last of the East Haven cops prosecuted for the mistreatment of residents of that town, was sentenced in federal court. Sgt. John Miller received the lightest sentence of the four– four months, most likely in a federal prison camp. The most severe sentence of five years was imposed on David Spaulding; while the remaining two, David Cari and Jason Zullo received thirty month and two year terms, respectively. Miller will serve his entire four months; his partners in crime will do 85% of the time imposed. It is a sad commentary that in this age there are still cops who view their badges as the authority to abuse and discriminate.
When I started to practice in the mid-70’s there were rampant client complaints of excessive force. I represented a legion of arrestees who claimed they were brutalized during an arrest, with the bruises and injuries to show for it. In each instance, on top of the crimes they did commit, were the typical abuse cover-up charges of resisting arrest and assault on a peace officer. Typically, in these cases the handful of bad cops who used such heavy-handed tactics would claim they were reacting to an assault by the arrestee which required them to use force. The other side of those stories were men who claimed they were dragged in handcuffs down stairs and beaten, usually for no reason.
As time passed prosecutors and judges became wary of these specious claims. Often the cops involved booked off on comp to let their “injuries” heal. When I started practicing with my dad I saw how these abuse cases pained him. He was a former Bridgeport cop, the first in the state to become a lawyer. His was a family with a long tradition in honest law enforcement. To him there was no place for the use of excessive force.
The cases were difficult to defend. The defendants claiming abuse were generally convicted felons, most probably guilty of the offenses that exposed them to mistreatment. As time passed a number of lawyers developed an expertise in bringing civil rights deprivation law suits, and won substantial jury verdicts. As well, cops became better trained, and departments diversified.
Yet here we are in 2014 with a group that has clung to the belief that they are above the law. In the post-9/11 era we have rightfully developed more appreciation for the dangerous and difficult jobs our police must do. There is no place in a society that cherishes the Rule of Law, for the enforcers of those laws to follow their own abusive agendas. Too often in the past the targets of such behavior could not voice their complaints, fearful of retribution. In East Haven, it was not only possible criminals who were targeted but legitimate Latino business owners as well.
Miller opted to “roll over” and cooperate with the feds, although he never testified at the trials of Cari and Spaulding. In the end this gaggle of abusive cops were left to plead for leniency, invoking the good works they had done in their careers. That type of invocation generally falls flat on our federal judges. I recall the comments of Judge Janet Arterton at the sentencing of Joe Ganim where we had presented a legion of letters from members of the community extolling Joe for his many, great contributions to the City of Bridgeport. Her response was that was what a good mayor was elected to do, good works. It merited him no consideration in his sentence.
The same could be said of the East Haven gang. Undoubtedly each of them had done some good during his career; but that was what a good cop was supposed to do.