By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — Hours after four of his town’s police officers were arrested on federal charges of harassing and abusing Latinos, East Haven, Conn., Mayor Joseph Maturo said he could reach out to the Latino community by going home and eating a taco.
The remark, which was roundly condemned by Connecticut’s governor and others, prompted the mayor to issue an apology. Maturo also said he would stop giving interviews in the wake of the outcry caused by his answer to a reporter’s question Tuesday.
Federal officials announced the charges against the four officers Tuesday. They face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for charges including conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the violation of the rights of Latinos. Prosecutors allege more than 30 violations, including falsifying reports, improperly detaining Latino suspects and harassing and intimidating members of the Latino community.
The charges are the latest response to years of complaints by Latinos and their supporters about the East Haven Police Department of about 50 officers. Those complaints led to a Department of Justice probe and a finding last month that there was a pattern of abuse by the department against the growing Latino community in the town of about 30,000.
Maturo spent much of Tuesday fielding reporters’ questions about the scandal. In general, he decried the charges and defended his department. At one point he was interviewed by WPIX-TV’s Mario Diaz, who asked the mayor, “What are you doing for the Latino community today?”
“I might have tacos when I go home. I’m not quite sure yet,” the mayor responded. On Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy lashed out against Maturo.
“The comments by East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo are repugnant,” the governor said in a statement on his official website. “They represent either a horrible lack of judgment or worse, an underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable. Being tired is no excuse. He owes an apology to the community, and more importantly, he needs to show what he’s going to do to repair the damage he’s done. And he needs to do it today.”
Maturo took to the airwaves Wednesday to issue his apology.
“It was stupid, it was insensitive and I gave my detractors … a reason to make matters worse with a ‘gotcha’ and an insensitive and stupid answer to something I should have never said,” Maturo said on WPLR-FM’s morning show.
“Unfortunately, I let the stress of the situation get the best of me and inflamed what is already a serious and unfortunate situation,” Maturo said in a statement his office released later Wednesday. “I regret my insensitive comment and realize that it is my job to lead by example.”
Maturo said in the radio interview that it would be the first and only interview he would give.
“I think I got myself in enough hot water yesterday,” he said.