Connecticut Town Discriminated Against Latinos, DOJ says

The Justice Department said a police department in suburban Connecticut targeted Latinos in traffic enforcement and engaged in a pattern of discrimination practices.

The investigation by Justice Department's civil rights division, which examined traffic stops from 2009 and 2010, found that in East Haven Police Department there was a "failure to remedy a history of discrimination and a deliberate indifference to the rights of minorities." The DOJ said their probe was initially complicated by efforts to interfere with witnesses and a "blue wall of silence."

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 under way and could lead to indictments of individual officers.

The U.S. civil rights investigation began in September 2009 in East Haven, 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 U.S. 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 probe.

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.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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