EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A Connecticut town has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit by Latino residents and adopt what an attorney called some of the nation's strictest limits on immigration enforcement by local police.
East Haven agreed to limit questioning about immigration status and won't enforce immigration detainers, said Michael Wishnie of the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School who was among the attorneys and Yale students representing the plaintiffs.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. said the town did not admit wrongdoing and called the settlement an important step forward.
"This agreement ends the threat of protracted litigation, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and avoiding the potential risk of a large, adverse monetary judgment," Maturo said. "Perhaps most importantly, this agreement will provide necessary closure to a difficult and painful chapter in our town's history."
Police treatment of Hispanics in East Haven has been under federal scrutiny since 2009, when the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil rights probe that found a pattern of discrimination and biased policing.
The 2010 lawsuit named about 20 defendants and alleged repeated abuses by police officers, including false arrests, assault, illegal searches and obstruction of justice. Discussions to settle the lawsuit began after four officers were convicted of criminal charges.
Lawrence Sgrignari, an attorney who represented the town, said there could still be circumstances when police will inquire about immigration status or hold a person, but he declined to cite specifics.
Wishnie called it a ban on enforcement of any detainer, a request from Immigration and Custom Enforcement to state or local authorities to notify the federal agency before releasing someone so ICE can transfer the person to federal custody. He pointed to language in the agreement that says no person will be detained or held in the East Haven Police Department's custody based solely upon a civil detainer request.
In 2012, East Haven signed a consent decree with the Justice Department requiring changes in the police department to ensure an end to bias. A federal monitor said earlier this year that the town — which has nearly 30,000 residents, about 10 percent of whom are Latino — has made "remarkable" progress.
"We are very happy to be finished with this long struggle for the recognition of our rights, and look forward to moving on with our lives," said Marcia Chacon, a plaintiff who owns a store where police were accused of carrying out illegal searches and a false arrest. "My husband and I run a law-abiding small business and will continue to do so. We strongly believe that this settlement will be good for the town and other business owners like us."
The Rev. James Manship, another plaintiff whose arrest at the store led to charges against police, praised police for the reforms.
"I am thankful that this aspect of our work to reform the culture of the East Haven Police Department was successfully concluded," Manship said. "My sincere hope is that once the Department of Justice finishes their formal relationship with the East Haven Police Department that the whole community will have a department very different than the one we had when we began this process."