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East Haven, Connecticut, Police Scandal and Racial Profiling: Town Agrees to Change Immigration Enforcement Laws, Pay $450,000 to Latinos

First Posted: Jun 10, 2014 12:50 PM EDT

East Haven, Connecticut, will pay a settlement of $450,000 in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Latino residents. In addition, the town will limit what local police can do when enforcing illegal immigration laws.

As part of the settlement, East Haven will no longer detain undocumented people for immigration authorities unless they have a judge-signed criminal warrant, The Associated Press reported. This means the town cannot hold someone on a civil detainer, or a request from Immigration and Custom Enforcement for notification before the person's release so that ICE can bring him or her into federal custody.

According to Michael Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School who represented the plaintiffs with students via Yale's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, the changes make East Haven stand out.

"[The town] now has the strongest separation of policing and immigration enforcement of any law enforcement agency in Connecticut and, I believe, in the nation," he told AP.

Despite the settlement money and change in enforcement, Joseph Maturo Jr., East Haven mayor, said the town is not admitting to doing anything wrong.

"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," he said. "Perhaps most importantly, this agreement will provide necessary closure to a difficult and painful chapter in our town's history."

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil rights probe in East Haven and discovered a history of discrimination and bias law enforcement.

In 2010, a lawsuit was filed against 20 defendants. It made accusations of repeated police abuse, such as assault, obstruction of justice, illegal searches and false arrests. After four officers were convicted of criminal charges, settlement discussions began.

In 2012, the town signed a consent decree with the Department of Justice that required the town to effect changes to stop racial profiling.

"We are very happy to be finished with this long struggle for the recognition of our rights and look forward to moving on with our lives," said Marcia Chacon, a plaintiff and owner of a store where police allegedly conducted an illegal search and a false arrest. "My husband and I run a law-abiding small business and will continue to do so. We strongly believe that this settlement will be good for the town and other business owners like us."

East Haven has almost 30,000 residents, and about 10 percent of them are Latino, AP reported.

Earlier this year a federal monitor said that East Haven made "remarkable progress."

"I am thankful that this aspect of our work to reform the culture of the East Haven Police Department was successfully concluded," said Rev. James Manship, a plaintiff who was arrested at a store, leading to charges against local police. "My sincere hope is that once the Department of Justice finishes their formal relationship with the East Haven Police Department, that the whole community will have a department very different than the one we had when we began this process."

Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @ScharHar

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