By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times –
NEW YORK — A suburban police chief whose officers were accused of harassing Latinos is stepping down, but the mayor who appointed him — and who fueled the scandal with a wisecrack about tacos — gave no indication Monday that he would bow to pressure to resign.
The departure of East Haven, Conn., Police Chief Leonard Gallo was the strongest sign yet that the charges against the department could topple the city’s power structure more than two years after the U.S. Justice Department began investigating it.
The investigation began in September 2009 after complaints that police were subjecting Latinos to unreasonable traffic stops and other detentions, targeting their places of business and at times roughing them up. Latinos, who 10 years ago were about 4 percent of the population, now are 10 percent of the city’s 28,000 residents.
Justice Department officials, in a finding released in December, accused the police of “systematically discriminating against Latinos,” and called the problem “deeply rooted” in the department’s culture.
Its report, based on interviews and analyses of traffic stops and other police actions, found that in the case of one police officer, 40.5 percent of the motorists he stopped were Latino, a number investigators called “an extraordinary deviation.”
Despite the damning report and the arrest last week of four police officers, Gallo’s attorney, Jonathan Einhorn, said the police chief was retiring voluntarily. At a news conference in East Haven, Einhorn said Gallo wanted to avoid being a “distracting element” as the city deals with the scandal. “His retirement is not an admission of any wrongdoing,” Einhorn said.
But he acknowledged that Gallo is the unnamed alleged co-conspirator in the indictment that led to the officers’ arrests on charges of conspiracy, deprivation of rights and obstruction of justice. “We don’t believe criminal charges are justified, but it’s anyone’s guess what the Justice Department is planning,” he said.
Mayor Joseph Maturo, who took office last November, said Gallo notified him Friday of his plan to retire. Maturo, who did not take questions, said Gallo’s departure would let the police and the city “move forward with the healing that is necessary, given recent events.”
Maturo has kept a low profile since his remark last Tuesday to a journalist — that he might “have tacos” to help East Haven’s Latinos — sparked outrage by immigrant groups, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called it “repugnant.”
Maturo apologized, , but the taco comment led the New York Times and the Hartford Courant to call for Maturo’s resignation. The Courant reported that Latino leaders met with Maturo on Monday and urged him to quit.