EAST HAVEN, CONNECTICUT - A police chief under fire for his handling of anti-Latino abuse allegations that led to the arrests of four officers last week is retiring from office, the mayor said Monday, describing his departure as a “selfless act” intended to help the town heal.
Leonard Gallo, chief of the East Haven Police Department, has been chastised by federal civil rights investigators for creating a hostile environment for witnesses, and his lawyer has acknowledged that last week’s indictment refers to him as an unnamed co-conspirator.
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.
“His decision to retire at this time is a selfless act, designed to assist in the healing process,” said Maturo, who described Gallo as a devoted public servant who “performed admirably in both his personal and professional life.”
The four officers, who were arrested Jan. 24 by the FBI, are accused of waging a campaign against Latino residents that included beatings, false arrests and harassment of those who threatened to report misconduct. They 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 Monday that the commission is preparing to vote Tuesday night on whether to recommend to the mayor that Gallo be fired. He said he believes Gallo should not be allowed to retire.
“It’s been a general breakdown in control in that department for quite a while and it’s time for Gallo to be terminated,” Brow said.
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.
The FBI also is targeting additional suspects, and state officials say they are preparing for the possibility of widespread arrests that could cripple the town’s police department.
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 Gallo as co-conspirator 1, accusing him of blocking efforts by the police commission to investigate misconduct. Gallo’s attorney, Jon Einhorn, has denied those allegations.
Einhorn said Gallo is retiring because he does not want to be a distraction for the town, and 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 and he does not believe criminal charges would be justified.
He said waiting until the end of the week will give the town time to settle on a retirement package for Gallo. Maturo said the retirement takes effect Friday, and a search for a new chief will begin immediately. Until a new chief is selected, Deputy Chief John Mannion will assume the duties.
More than 15,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Maturo to replace Gallo. The petition was started by Reform Immigration for America, the same group that sent hundreds of tacos to Maturo’s office to protest his remark.
State Rep. Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport, said he and members of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission met with Maturo on Monday morning, but he declined to elaborate. Ayala and commission members are calling for the resignations of Maturo and Gallo.
“I think it’s the mayor’s responsibility that the police department represent everyone in the community,” Ayala said.
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.