EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The mayor of a Connecticut town embroiled by allegations of Latino bias by police on Monday announced the appointment of an interim police chief to lead a department tainted by charges of false arrests and other forms of harassment.
Mayor Joseph Maturo said Brent Larrabee is "exactly the kind of leader" needed in East Haven, an Italian-American bastion that has experienced an influx of South American immigrants in recent years.
"He brings a career of policing experience working to provide community oriented, progressive public safety practices in diverse communities," the mayor said.
An official from the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department said in a letter last week to the town's attorney, Hugh Keefe, that it has concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection of the interim chief, the New Haven Register reported. The letter from Special Litigation Section Chief Jonathan M. Smith was dated Friday and sent after reports emerged that Larrabee had already been selected.
"The apparent lack of transparency and deliberation in selecting the interim chief is a serious concern and risks undermining the town's efforts to rebuild EHPD and restore the public's confidence," the letter says.
Keefe declined to comment on the letter from the civil rights division, which has called on the town to address issues in the police department including outdated policies and a lack of supervision.
Two weeks ago, Maturo announced the retirement of the previous police Chief Leonard Gallo. He had been suspended as police chief in April 2010 after the FBI launched the criminal investigation but was reinstated in November after the mayor, a friend, was elected. That decision has been questioned by officials including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Gallo announced his retirement days after the FBI arrested four police officers on charges they violated Latinos' rights through false arrests and unnecessary searches. The officers, who are on paid administrative leave, have pleaded not guilty.
East Haven's Police Commission, an advisory body that oversees the police department, voted unanimously to recommend that the 64-year-old Gallo be fired and not be allowed to retire and cash in on a retirement package estimated at more than $100,000. Among their accusations, commissioners said Gallo failed to provide leadership as demonstrated in the arrests.
Maturo ignored the advice. In accepting Gallo's retirement, the mayor said he acted selflessly and praised him for performing admirably.
On Monday, Maturo said in the statement announcing Larrabee's appointment that he "brings a career of experience for community-oriented and progressive public safety practices in diverse communities."
Larrabee, who has served as police chief in Stamford and Framingham, Mass., said he looks forward to working with Maturo, police officers, community leaders and neighborhood groups "to strengthen confidence in policing and bring a standard of excellence to East Haven."
He is scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday. It wasn't clear how long Larrabee will serve on an interim basis. The mayor's office didn't immediately return a call seeking that information.