Grand Jury Probes Gallo & Evidence Tampering
by Paul Bass | Jan 25, 2012 2:12 pm
First Lennie Gallo, an aspiring New Haven top cop, was exiled to the animal shelter when his boss said he couldn’t be trusted with humans. He reemerged as next-door East Haven’s chief—and now the center of a federal probe into alleged evidence-tampering that goes beyond harassing Latinos.
Gallo’s own lawyer acknowledges that he is likely “Co-Conspirator 1” named in a fresh grand jury indictment charging wide-ranging civil-rights violations against Latinos and cover-ups carried out by East Haven cops under Gallo’s command. Authorities arrested four East Haven cops Tuesday based on that indictment. (That case grew out of incidents involving immigrants and advocates from New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood, first reported in the Independent.)
The grand jury’s work is not done; Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein noted Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing.
And Gallo may be emerging as the big fish in the middle of a closing net.
According to two people familiar with testimony before the grand jury, the questioning of alleged conspirators went far beyond the racial profiling and harassment and false arrests of Latinos. It centered on whether Gallo oversaw and perhaps participated in the repeated rewriting and altering of reports involving other arrests—arrests of white people, not Latinos. Especially an arrest of former East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon. The report in that case may have been altered dozens of times.
“What they’re after now is cover-up and intimidation. It’s a classic case of the crime is bad, but the cover-up is worse,” said one person familiar with the grand jury’s line of questioning. “That’s clearly where they’re headed.”
“It had nothing to do with Latinos,” said another person familiar with the questioning, who appeared before Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel and the two dozen or so grand jurors in the room in the Bridgeport federal courthouse where testimony has been taken.
Gallo for now has held on, defiant in the face of all charges. So has his key supporter, current East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo.
“Who is this?” Gallo said Wednesday when reached on his cell phone. Informed it was a reporter, he hung up.
Gallo’s attorney, Jonathan Einhorn, declined comment on the grand jury’s line of questioning. He called the obvious references to Gallo in this week’s indictment “unfair.”
“It implies that he’s guilty of a crime,” Einhorn said. “In fact, he’s not charged with a crime.”
With the feds circling, the episode marks the latest turn in a drama that began in New Haven. The city’s fraught relationship with Gallo continues to dog him.
In the 1980s, Gallo was a rising star in New Haven’s police department. He was an aggressive cop, known for rough policing on the street. And he was ambitious, seen as a possible future chief; he commanded a loyal following among some white rank-and-file cops who took a physical approach to the job. Gallo rose through the ranks in the 1980s when the city’s police chief and mayor embraced aggressive policing, defended rather than disciplined cops accused of brutality. It was the era of the “Beat-Down Posse,” a roving van full of officers who stopped on random street corners in the black community and roughed people up. Gallo held the title of “commander,” right below “chief.”
Gallo’s fortunes changed when the city’s first black mayor, John Daniels, took office in 1990. Daniels appointed a Gallo foe, Nicholas Pastore, as chief with a mission to bring in community policing, disband the Beat-Down Posse, and repair relations with the minority community. Pastore pushed all top-ranking cops loyal to the old guard into retirement—except Gallo, who defied the pressure and emerged as the unofficial standard-bearer of the old-style officers. Pastore responded by reassigning Gallo to the city’s animal shelter. He said he couldn’t trust Gallo to deal with people.
After Daniels left office, the next mayor, John DeStefano, rescued Gallo in 1994 by offering him a job as a investigator in the corporation counsel’s office. After Maturo became mayor in 1998, East Haven embraced Gallo, bringing him on as chief.
It was the era of the Malik Jones case—the aftermath of the chase by a white East Haven cop of an unarmed black New Havener into Fair Haven. The cop shot the man dead at close range in his car. New Haven protests erupted at what people called a long pattern of racial harassment and brutality by East Haven cops.
In his new East Haven job, Gallo sent a clear message to his old city and his old critics: He elevated the cop who killed Malik Jones to to department spokesman. When New Haven’s NAACP organized a protest caravan to East Haven one night, New Haven cops accompanied members’ cars to the town border. Gallo met them there with his own East Haven officers. He ordered the New Haven cops to stay out of his town; he and his cops would handle the “accompaniment” from then on.
A new generation of New Haven critics took on Gallo and his force beginning in 2009.
New Haven had embraced Latino immigrants in town. That community was spilling over into East Haven; the town’s Latino population grew from 1 percent in 1980 to 10 percent. East Haven, or at least its police, did not embrace the newcomers.
The priest of St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven, where many immigrants worship, went to investigate complaints that Gallo’s cops were routinely targeting, stopping, ticketing, threatening, arresting, sometimes beating Latinos who live, work, or visit the commercial strip of Latino-owned businesses on Main Street just over the New Haven-East Haven border. On one visit, cops arrested the priest, Father James Manship, as he video-recorded them in action (as first reported in this Independent story). The cops claimed in a report that they thought Manship was pointing a gun at them. But the video revealed that they knew he had a camera all along.
Click the play arrow to watch the video, featuring Officers David Cari and Dennis Spaulding, who were arrested Tuesday.
The “interfering” charges against Manship were dropped. But the case was just starting. Two groups of New Haveners—members of St. Rose of Lima, and Yale law students—compiled a list of profiling and harassment complaints against the East Haven cops. They filed a federal suit. And they called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
It did. In separate criminal and civil investigations, it spent two years looking into Gallo’s crew. It examined computer records, messages sent among officers, police reports. Throughout, officials charged, Gallo himself and some of his underlings not only refused to cooperate—they blocked the feds’ work. And they allegedly intimidated rank-and-file cops who considered daring to provide information to the feds. Last month the U.S. Attorney’s office released a report detailing alleged widespread abuses; Gallo was a key character in the report. (Read about that here.)
The report accused Gallo “and other EHPD officers” of “creat[ing] a hostile and intimidating environment for persons who wished to cooperate with our investigation.” The report cited “messages on a police union bulletin board that referred to ‘rats’ at EHPD.” It said “Chief Gallo had warned that DOJ had agreed to provide him with the names of individuals who cooperated with the investigation,” even though DOJ had told Gallo names would remain confidential. And, “remarkably,” according to the report, EHPD officers at “a late evening meeting ... warned DOJ staff and a police practices consultant that they could not guarantee their safety during ride-alongs with officers.” Officials said if East Haven doesn’t clean up its act, a civil lawsuit could follow.
Meanwhile, a criminal case proceeded based on grand jury testimony being presented in Bridgeport. That led to this Tuesday’s arrests of four cops.
Gallo isn’t named in the indictment. (Click here to read the indictment.) “Co-conspirator-1” is. This person “protected” the four officers who allegedly routinely targeted, harassed, and arrested Latinos and lied about it, according to the indictment. This person blocked the Board of Police Commissioners from gaining information about or investigating the officers and the complaints. “Co-Conspirator 1” ordered that police commissioners be blocked from the premises, the indictment noted.
Gallo was the one who issued that order. “It’s obvious to anybody who’s followed this situation. He’s clearly the person they refer to as ‘Co-Conspirator 1,’” noted Einhorn, Gallo’s attorney.
What Goes Around ...
Thomas MacMillan File Photo
Not only do the indictment’s references suggest the grand jury is looking at Gallo, so did the questions the grand jury and Assistant U.S. Attorney Patel asked witnesses who came before them last summer, according to the two people with knowledge of the deliberations.
They said much of the questioning concerned a notable arrest Gallo’s cops made on Sept. 4, 2009: East Haven’s mayor, April Capone Almon.
Gallo and Almon had been at odds. It was a replay of the scenario that led to Gallo’s reversal of future in New Haven in the early 1990s. A mayor who supported his controversial, aggressive approach, Joe Maturo, was voted out of office. A new mayor, Almon, came in promising change.
Gallo’s cops arrested Almon and her secretary for allegedly interfering with the towing of cars at a town beach. (Read the Register’s original story here.) The state eventually dropped the charges. Gallo’s police then retaliated by getting the Register to run a front-page story during a reelection campaign quoting unnamed “sources” raising questions about her sexual preference. That, too, backfired; politicians rallied around Almon and she won reelection
Meanwhile, the feds were in town. Among the many files they examined was apparently Capone’s arrest report. According to the people familiar with the grand jury proceedings, investigators discovered that after her arrest, cops had returned to the report and altered it as many as two dozen times. Witnesses were asked repeatedly about the details of the incident, about the report, and about the alterations.
“It was clear they had repeated instances of rewriting,” said one of the people familiar with the proceedings. “They [investigators] went back and figured who went in and changed what in what police report. They’re clearly going down that road.”
In addition to the Almon’s case, the probe examined the arrest of an elderly veteran whose car was hit by the wife of a Maturo aide, and whether Gallo was involved in altering facts of that incident, too. Also being examined is the police report in the arrest of Father Manship.
Feds Helped Gallo, Too?
Back in East Haven, as the feds proceeded with their inquiry, Almon put Gallo on administrative leave pending the outcome. Gallo’s backers plotted revenge again. They won a temporary victory last November by helping to get Maturo back into office. He unseated Almon by a mere 34 votes. And Maturo returned the favor by returning Gallo to the position of police chief. Maturo also stopped the mayoral cooperation with the probe, officials indicated at last month’s U.S. attorney press conference.
But that victory may be short-lived, given the focus of the continuing grand jury probe. Mayor Maturo continues to stand behind Gallo and the department. (He faces his own problems now because of his reaction to Tuesday’s arrests; click here to read a Register editorial about that, which has sparked calls for Maturo’s ouster from office.)
Ironically, the feds might not have had to spend so much extra effort—and money—tussling with the town of East Haven over this case.
If the arrests had come before the November mayoral election rather than soon after, Maturo might not have squeaked back into office by 34 votes. Gallo would not have returned to the chief’s office. The town would still be cooperating with the feds, not fighting them. The feds might not be preparing a possible civil-rights lawsuit to go along with the criminal indictments.
Asked about that at last month’s press conference in the New Haven U.S. Attorney’s office, Roy Austin, the DOJ’s deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, denied the feds ever hold off on arrests or reports until after elections. (Click on the play arrow to watch Austin’s remarks.)
Despite what Austin said, a DOJ policy manual specifically suggests that agents wait until after elections to proceed with sensitive investigations. (Click here to read about that.) The feds are instructed to avoid “causing the investigation itself to become a campaign issue.”