If you need an illustration of why there is little public confidence in the criminal justice system, look no further than the federal prosecution of four East Haven police officers. The case ended with a howl, and a whimper, this week when David Miller, leader of the eponymous “Miller’s Boys,” was sentenced, despite the government’s plea for leniency, to four months in prison.
That’s right. The government asked Judge Alvin Thompson to let Miller walk right out the courthouse door after Miller pleaded guilty to being a “bully with a badge,” to recite the government’s initial comments about the case. When the judge refused to oblige, and instead slapped Miller on the wrist, Miller’s wife howled, and his lawyer, Donald Cretella, looked stunned, according to press accounts.
Miller, of course, came to the government on bended knee shortly after he was charged with leading a conspiracy to deprive illegal immigrants of equal protection of the law in East Haven. Three of his subordinates were also charged: Jason Zullo, David Cari and Dennis Spaulding. (I represented Zullo.)
Now follow justice’s bouncing ball.
All are charged with being part of a racist cabal.
Miller signs a secret cooperation agreement, and promises, if need be, to testify against his co-defendants. When the government is leaning on East Haven to agree to greater federal oversight of the police department, Miller, at the government’s request, is rolled out to plead guilty, in an effort to persuade the town’s fathers that things are rotten in the police department. It works. The town folds, and signs an expensive consent decree. Things become so intolerable in the now over-policed police department that attrition becomes a problem. Officers don’t want to work in a politically correct hothouse.
No one pays much attention to the fact that Miller never pleaded guilty to a race-based charge of intimidation. He is a felon for using unreasonable force against an Italian American. One of his co-defendants, Zullo, pleads guilty to omitting information about a collision between his cruiser and an Italian-American motorcycle operator. Like Miller, he does not plead guilty, and is not found guilty, of any crime involving ethnic or racial animus. Unlike Miller, he never agrees to cooperate with the government, or to be used as a pawn in a publicity stunt.
At sentencing, the government calls Zullo a racist. The judge agrees with the government. Despite sentencing guidelines that call for a sentence of 10 to 16 months, Thompson sentences Zullo to two years in prison, to show his outrage at conduct just like Miller’s.
The other two co-defendants, Cari and Spaulding, decide to exercise their right to go to trial. They are convicted. Miller never testifies. By the time of trial, he is rumored to have cold feet. These two are convicted of engaging in discriminatory arrests and seizures. Cari is sentenced to 30 months in prison; Spaudling gets a five-year sentence.
Where’s all that leave us?
Miller, the leader of the pack, gets a slap on the wrist after becoming the government’s tool. A prosecutor even asks for leniency, telling the judge the man is no racist. A co-defendant who never pleaded guilty to a charge involving race or ethnicity is treated as a racist at sentencing, and slammed, only to have the government move to dismiss the marquee charges against him after he was sentenced. The two men who insisted on their right to trial are punished for going to trial, victims of what everyone knows is a trial tax.
Lady Justice wears blindfolds. I guess she doesn’t want to see what goes on in the courts. The sound you hear is her retching, however. She paid attention to the handling of Miller’s Boys.
Norm Pattis is a criminal defense attorney and civil rights lawyer in Bethany. He blogs most days at www.pattisblog.com.