Marcia Chacon, et al. v. East Haven Police Department, et al.: Lawyers for nine East Haven Latinos who settled their lawsuit with the town for $450,000 called it a groundbreaking agreement that should serve as a model for other towns’ immigration policies.
“[The settlement] sharply defines and limits the extent to which local police departments are acting as border patrol agents doing immigration enforcement in addition to their real job, which is criminal law enforcement,” said one of the lawyers for the immigrants, David Rosen, of David Rosen & Associates in New Haven.
“It’s a chronic issue in local and state police departments around the country and it’s being addressed,” continued Rosen. “This is the best [agreement]. This is the one that sets up the cleanest, clearest boundaries between immigration enforcement and criminal law enforcement.”
The 2010 lawsuit was filed on behalf of a priest and other Latino residents who alleged racial profiling and repeated abuses by police officers, including false arrests, illegal searches and obstruction of justice. Settlement discussions began in the fall of 2013 after four officers were convicted of criminal charges.
A study done by Yale Law School students analyzed 376 traffic tickets issued by the East Haven Police Department along Main Street and Route 80 from June 2008 through February 2009. The students determined that the police issued 58 percent of the traffic tickets to Hispanic drivers in a town where Latinos comprise only 7 percent of the population.
Rosen, who was assisted in negotiations by Michael Wishnie, head of the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, explained that his clients wanted more than just a monetary settlement.
“The reason we were willing to settle for as little as $450,000 was our clients gave us very clear instructions that they wanted a settlement that would help the entire community,” said Rosen. “They told us they wanted reform and we think that this agreement is real reform.”
Rosen explained that Immigration and Customs Enforcement service uses something called a civil administrative immigration warrant for persons with outstanding removal, deportation, or exclusion orders. He said it looks like a criminal warrant but it’s not signed by a judge and can be issued by a court clerk without probable cause.
“This agreement specifically says these warrants will not be used [in East Haven] to detain people, unless signed by a judge,” said Rosen. “That introduces fundamental protections that have been missing for immigration enforcement.”
The other notable reform outlined in the settlement pertains to ICE detainers. Police departments will no longer detain immigrants due to their immigration status if they are otherwise free to be released from custody. However, East Haven police will be permitted to contact ICE officials to let them know a suspect has been released.
Rosen offered a succinct summary of the agreement: “East Haven is getting out of the immigration enforcement business.”
Former East Haven Town Attorney Lawrence Sgrignari, of Hamden’s Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Sgrignari, was brought in by the town to handle the settlement negotiations. Sgrignari said the police department’s agreement to no longer hold defendants due to an ICE detainer is probably the biggest reform. “If there’s no other basis for holding them, we’re not going to hold them solely on the basis of a civil detainer,” said Sgrignari.
Sgrignari explained that the restrictions put on East Haven police are similar to those that the town agreed to in a 2012 settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. That settlement, however, didn’t include any monetary terms.
That agreement included mandatory training for officers in bias-free policing and in use of force; measures to ensure that all allegations of officer misconduct are received and thoroughly investigated; and the hiring of a compliance expert to make sure the reforms are implemented.
Sgrignari said he would not describe the latest settlement as groundbreaking. He said East Haven wasn’t the first community and won’t be the last to implement these kinds of changes.
“Frankly, if you review the existing policy and changes that were made, I don’t think it’s as groundbreaking as the plaintiffs would suggest,” said Sgrignari. “We had implemented a lot of the provisions they initially asked for when we began the discussions. All we did was clarify some and expand on some.”
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. says that in agreeing to the settlement, the town did not admit to any wrongdoing.
“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,” Marturo said in a prepared statement. “Perhaps most importantly, this agreement will provide necessary closure to a difficult and painful chapter in our town’s history.”•