In a case that divided a town and exposed deep-seated racial tensions, two police officers in East Haven, Connecticut were found guilty of violating the civil rights of Latino residents.
Officers Dennis Spaulding, 30, and David Cari, 36, were convicted Monday by a federal jury and face at least 10 years in prison. The verdict drew gasps from the courtroom audience who appeared to expect an acquittal in the case.
The two officers were arrested in January 2012 after a number of complaints that they targeted Latinos by stopping and harassing them as well as sometimes punching and kicking them while they were handcuffed.
The officers’ lawyers argued that East Haven had become heavily populated by a recent wave of Latin immigrants and that some of them are involved in criminal activities. There has recently been a slew of vehicles registered fraudulently out of state to avoid taxes, insurance and registration fees and the officers countered that this was the reason for the stops of Latinos.
“They have a whole underground scheme going on. They’re charging $1,500 for illegal plates. Something’s got to be done about it,” Spaulding said, according to the New York Times.
Spaulding was released on bond until sentencing on January 21 and went home with his parents. His wife gave birth to a daughter last weekend. Cari, on the other hand, made the unusual move of declining to go free until January and opted to go to jail immediately.
The lawyers for both officers said they were shocked by the verdict. Cari’s attorney, Alex V. Hernandez, said that he would consider an appeal.
“David Cari is a certified American hero who was shot while protecting other officers,' Hernandez said, according to the Hartford Courant.
Cari was shot in the line of duty in 2006.
While many in the courtroom were shocked by the verdict, some East Haven residents – including Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. – appeared hopeful that the town could move forward following the ruling.
“For some in our community, today’s verdict provides a sense of vindication and closure,” Maturo told the New Haven Register. “For others, especially our police family, it is a difficult and sad occasion."
“I implore the residents of our community to acknowledge today’s verdict, regardless of your individual opinion of it, as an opportunity to move forward. I know we can and I know we will — together.”