EAST HAVEN, Conn. – The chief of a police department roiled by a Latino abuse scandal announced his retirement Monday, ending a 14-year tenure marked by several episodes of friction with minorities in this shoreline Connecticut suburb.
Leonard Gallo, chief of the East Haven Police Department, has been reproached by federal civil rights investigators for creating a hostile environment for witnesses, and his lawyer said he could face charges in the same probe that led to last week's arrests of four officers.
Gallo, 64, had been suspended as police chief in April 2010 after the FBI launched the criminal investigation, but he was reinstated to the post in November after his friend Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. took office. That decision has been called into question by officials including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
"Knowing what we know now, and really in some senses knowing what we knew before ... one could reasonably question why he was reinstated," Malloy said.
Maturo praised Gallo as a devoted public servant.
"His decision to retire at this time is a selfless act, designed to assist in the healing process," Maturo said.
The four officers, who are all on paid administrative leave, are accused of waging a campaign against Latino residents that included beatings, false arrests and harassment of those who threatened to report misconduct. They were arrested Jan. 24 by the FBI and face charges including deprivation of rights and obstruction of justice; all of them have pleaded not guilty.
Maturo is also facing heavy criticism for saying last week that he "might have tacos" as a way to do something for the Latino community in the wake of the arrests. He later apologized for the remark.
Frederick Brow, chairman of the town's police commission, said he believes Gallo should not be allowed to retire. The commission is preparing to vote Tuesday night on whether to recommend to the mayor that Gallo be fired.
He estimated that in retirement, Gallo would receive a severance lump sum of $130,000 to $150,000, plus an annual pension of $27,000 to $28,000. Brow said Gallo should not be rewarded for his conduct.
If the commission voted to recommend that Gallo be fired and Maturo agreed to fire him, Gallo would still get the pension but lose the severance pay, Brow said.
An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division, which was separate from the criminal probe, noted concerns in a December report that Gallo had helped created a hostile environment for people who cooperated with federal investigators. It said Gallo had warned staff that the Justice Department had agreed to provide him with the names of individuals who cooperated with the investigation, even though that was not the case.
The federal indictment refers to a co-conspirator, later identified as Gallo by his lawyer and others, accusing him of blocking efforts by the police commission to investigate misconduct. Gallo's attorney, Jon Einhorn, has denied the accusations of conspiracy.
Einhorn said that Gallo is retiring because he does not want to be a distraction for the town, and that his departure is not an admission of guilt. He said Gallo is the target of a lawsuit and could face charges in the criminal probe. He said his client will be vindicated.
Racial tension was already an issue in East Haven when Gallo became chief in 1998, after retiring from New Haven police.
The New Haven chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued East Haven in 1993, claiming it discriminated against minorities in its hiring practices for town jobs. A federal judge ruled in 1998 that the town unintentionally discriminated against minorities and ordered local officials to keep records of all job applications and appointments, test scores and interview reports.
A year before Gallo took office, a white police officer, Robert Flodquist, shot a black man to death after a car chase. Authorities say Malik Jones tried to run down Flodquist before the officer shot him. State and federal officials ruled the shooting justified, but Jones' mother sued the town and won a $900,000 jury award that the town is now appealing.
Gallo later drew protests from the NAACP and other activists when he promoted Flodquist to sergeant from officer in 2001.
Gallo said at the time that Flodquist deserved the promotion and that it was time to move on.
"We have experienced a regrettable incident that has affected many people's lives and the community at large," Gallo said then. "But it is my personal opinion that it's time for the healing process to take place and make a move toward the future."
Flodquist went on to become the department's spokesman.
Maturo was mayor from 1997 to 2007 and was re-elected in the fall. After taking office in November, he reinstated Gallo, saying at the time that he did not believe the abuse allegations were true. The previous mayor, April Capone Almon, placed Gallo on administrative leave in April 2010.