Mayor rejects firing Conn. police chief in scandal

By the Associated Press | February 3, 2012 | 6:05 PM EST

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2006 file photo, police Chief Leonard Gallo talks with reporters at the East Haven, Conn., police station. Four East Haven police officers were arrested Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, on charges of harassing and intimidating Latino residents. An indictment refers to Gallo as an unnamed co-conspirator, accused of blocking efforts by the police commission to investigate misconduct. His attorney has denied the allegations and criticized prosecutors for including the reference to him when he is not charged. (AP Photo/The New Haven Register, Melanie Stengel, File)

EAST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The mayor of a town embroiled by allegations of Latino bias by police said Friday he won't fire the police chief and will instead allow him to retire with severance pay.

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. said that firing his friend Chief Leonard Gallo would invite a costly lawsuit and that his retirement will let the town move forward.

"This decision is both legally prudent and financially sound and represents a swift resolution that will allow the town to focus on healing and moving forward," Maturo said in a statement.

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 have pleaded not guilty.

The Police Commission, a town advisory board that oversees the operations of the police department, on Tuesday recommended Gallo's firing. A long list of criticisms included "supervisory neglect" that commissioners said was evident in the indictment of the officers.

Fred Brow, who served as chairman of the commission until his term expired Tuesday, said he was not surprised by Maturo's announcement.

"It's just another continuation of his reckless and irresponsible behavior," he said.

Brow has said the 64-year-old Gallo should not be allowed to retire and cash in on a retirement package he estimated at more than $100,000.

Gallo's lawyer, Jon Einhorn, acknowledged that his client is the person characterized by authorities in the indictments as an unnamed co-conspirator, accused of turning away efforts to investigate the officers' conduct. Einhorn disputes the amount of the severance package, and Gallo has denied the allegations.

Einhorn dismissed the recommendation by the Police Commission as politics.

Maturo signaled his intent to let Gallo retire when the mayor made the announcement Monday. He said the chief acted selflessly, performed admirably and was a devoted public servant.

A lengthy civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded in December there was a pattern of biased policing in East Haven, where only one of the roughly 50 police officers speaks Spanish.

After taking office Nov. 19, Maturo reinstated Gallo as police chief. Gallo had been on paid administrative leave since federal authorities began investigating in 2010.

Maturo also faced heavy criticism after the arrests of the four police officers for saying that he "might have tacos" as a way to do something for the Latino community. He later apologized for the remark.