EAST HAVEN, Conn. -- The arrests of four police officers accused of tyrannizing Latinos could be the start of a bigger scandal in this working-class suburb, where the FBI is targeting additional suspects. The state is preparing for the possibility of widespread arrests that could cripple the town's police department.
Federal prosecutors have urged witnesses to come forward with details of abuses in East Haven, which was rocked by last week's arrests of the officers. The FBI described them as a "cancerous cadre" that subjected Hispanics to beatings and false arrests.
"Many people are afraid to talk. We have to be careful," said Wilfrido Matute, the owner of My Country Store, the site of many incidents of alleged harassment of its largely Hispanic clientele.
The case adds to a history of friction between police and minorities in East Haven, an increasingly diverse community of 28,000 people that was nearly all white a generation ago.
"State police are continuing to monitor the possibility that a significant number of police officers will be indicted," said Mike Lawlor, the governor's liaison on criminal justice policy. "It seems like that is going to happen."
The police chief, Leonard Gallo, is apparently referred to by the federal grand jury as an unnamed co-conspirator, accused of blocking efforts by the police commission to investigate misconduct.
Mario Marin, who testified before the grand jury in Bridgeport, said he knows of many Latinos who have refused to testify and even moved out of the state to avoid the police.
Marin, a native of Ecuador who is pursuing U.S. residency, said his brother, Moises Marin, was videotaping alleged profiling outside Moises' restaurant, La Bamba, in November 2008 when an officer threw his brother to the ground and repeatedly kicked him while he was handcuffed behind his back.
"I am happy they are paying for their wrongs," said Marin, 40. "I agree with the laws of the United States, but not the laws that the police make up themselves."
That beating is among the crimes attributed in the indictment to Officer Dennis Spaulding, described as the most dangerous defendant and barred from entering East Haven while he is free on bond. He and Sgt. John Miller, David Cari and Jason Zullo face charges including deprivation of rights and obstruction of justice.
Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. says he has taken steps toward reform. But his efforts toward healing the rift were set back by his quip to a television reporter last week that he might "have tacos" as a way of doing something for the Hispanic community. He has apologized.