Cop’s suit al­leges re­tal­i­a­tion

FBI asked him to as­sist in ex­pos­ing il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity in his po­lice depart­ment

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Dixon

East Haven Po­lice

Of­fi­cer Vin­cent Fer­rara is a lo­cal hero who stepped up when fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors asked him to ex­pose il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity in his agency.

Now he’s a marked man, pay­ing a high price for de­tail­ing the sys­temic pro­fil­ing, ha­rass­ment and as­sault of Lati­nos that sent four other cops to fed­eral prison.

He’s also a vic­tim, ac­cord­ing to his fed­eral law­suit claim­ing an or­ches­trated at­tempt by the town — led by con­tro­ver­sial Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. — to os­tra­cize, in­tim­i­date and now fire Fer­rara.

Maturo, who as the mayor is the di­rect and only

su­per­vi­sor of Po­lice Chief Ed­ward Lennon, de­nies know­ing any­thing about the al­leged cam­paign against Fer­rara that could cul­mi­nate this week in a ter­mi­na­tion hear­ing.

Dur­ing a re­cent sworn de­po­si­tion, Maturo used the terms “I don’t re­mem­ber,” or “I don’t re­call” 86 times in the some­times-com­bat­ive two-hour in­ter­view fo­cused on Fer­rara’s treat­ment by East Haven of­fi­cials, and the fall­out from the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion that un­cov­ered a blue wall of si­lence — and ret­ri­bu­tion — in the po­lice depart­ment.

“I’m the pol­i­cy­maker, I guess, and make sure all the rules and reg­u­la­tions are fol­lowed,” Maturo said in an an­swer from early in the 103-page tran­script of the de­po­si­tion. Asked whether he dis­cussed the is­sue of re­tal­i­a­tion with Leonard Gallo, a close friend of Maturo’s who re­tired as po­lice chief shortly the four of­fi­cers were ar­rested in Jan­uary 2012, Maturo said, “I didn’t say I didn’t and I didn’t say I did.”

FBI asks for help

Fer­rara, who de­scribes him­self as an hon­est cop, could not see into the fu­ture back in De­cem­ber of 2010, when the FBI asked for his as­sis­tance in ex­pos­ing the mis­con­duct that even­tu­ally rocked the town of 29,000 on Long Is­land Sound. A few months later, he tes­ti­fied be­fore a fed­eral grand jury in New Haven.

Now, sit­ting in the kitchen of his Bran­ford home, the 53-year-old fa­ther of two and the grand­fa­ther of a tod­dler, pauses when asked if he re­grets it.

“I know it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I couldn’t sit and watch that hap­pen. Do I wish things were dif­fer­ent? Maybe, but what kind of cow­ardice does it take to hit some­one who’s hand­cuffed?”

He couldn’t pre­dict the re­ac­tion of the co-work­ers he once called broth­ers: the

aban­don­ment of re­quested backup of­fi­cers dur­ing latenight ve­hic­u­lar stops; the al­legedly trumped-up in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and dis­ci­plinary de­ci­sions; the whis­pers that he was “a rat” for ex­pos­ing the depart­ment’s dirty se­crets; the gun pointed at his chest by an of­fi­cer who ended up in prison for beat­ing a hand­cuffed sus­pect.

At union meet­ings in 2011, months be­fore the crim­i­nal in­dict­ments of the four of­fi­cers, Fer­rara was al­legedly con­fronted by East Haven Po­lice per­son­nel, who told him not to tes­tify.

Three cur­rent po­lice of­fi­cers are named as de­fen­dants in Fer­rara’s civil law­suit, which claims that on March 29, 2016, then-Po­lice Chief Brent Larrabee sus­pended him af­ter “ma­li­ciously made ma­te­rial mis­state­ments” were in­cluded in re­ports pre­pared by fel­low of­fi­cers who had en­gaged in threat­en­ing be­hav­ior. Other in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions fol­lowed, cul­mi­nat­ing in a paid sus­pen­sion or­dered on Dec. 15, 2017, fol­low­ing an in­ter­view dur­ing which Fer­rara was ill, suf­fer­ing from a se­vere headache.

The next day he was hos­pi­tal­ized at Yale New Haven Hos­pi­tal and di­ag­nosed with glioblas­toma, the type of brain cancer that killed U.S. Sen. John McCain.

When he was put on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave, Fer­rara was shut out of the com­put­er­ized pay­roll sys­tem and could not mon­i­tor his pay and ben­e­fits. Four months later, at the end of April, he asked for cov­er­age un­der the Fam­ily Med­i­cal Leave Act.

That was around the time that of­fi­cials al­legedly be­gan de­plet­ing his sick and va­ca­tion days with no no­tice. At the end of Au­gust, Town Hall of­fi­cials warned him that his pay and health ben­e­fits would end Sept. 1, es­sen­tially fir­ing him, even though Fer­rara and James S. Brewer, one of his lawyers, said they un­der­stand that he re­mains on paid sus­pen­sion.

Fer­rara is now pay­ing out

of pocket for in­sur­ance costs that he de­scribes as dev­as­tat­ing.

“They’ve de­stroyed us fi­nan­cially,” he said. “I’m an em­ployee of East Haven and they just cut me off.”

He says he’s re­ceived no phone calls from su­per­vi­sors or even co-work­ers dur­ing the time he’s been on leave.

Ready to go back to work, Fer­rara feels aban­doned by the town he helped pro­tect for 10 years fol­low­ing seven years on the Walling­ford Po­lice Depart­ment. He said he is wor­ried about what might be a con­tin­u­ance of the cul­ture that led to the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and its ef­fect on new hires.

“They’re deal­ing with him in a ma­li­cious and sneaky way,” said Brewer. “They fraud­u­lently used up his sick time and va­ca­tion when he was on paid sus­pen­sion. So now they’re try­ing to go back and fire him. It’s like whack-a-mole. They took the fact that the guy is gravely ill from cancer and are us­ing it against him. It makes no sense to me other than they’re play­ing games with some­one’s life.”

Po­lice links to Town Hall

Chief Lennon’s lone su­per­vi­sor, ac­cord­ing to town char­ter, is Maturo, who in­fa­mously said he “might eat ta­cos” in re­ac­tion to the 2012 ar­rests of four po­lice of­fi­cers for abus­ing Lati­nos.

Dur­ing the re­cent sworn de­po­si­tion when Brewer asked Maturo to re­call the “taco” re­mark, which was video­taped and made na­tional news at the time, Maturo said that in­ci­dent was taken out of con­text. Pressed fur­ther by Brewer, Maturo replied: “I’m not go­ing to an­swer that ques­tion. Have me ar­rested.”

The four of­fi­cers, John Miller, David Cari, Den­nis Spauld­ing and Ja­son Zullo, were found guilty of civil rights vi­o­la­tions — in­clud­ing beat­ing a hand­cuffed pris­oner — and were sen­tenced to prison terms rang­ing from four months for Miller, to 60 months for Spauld­ing.

They’re all out of prison now. Miller, a for­mer sergeant who al­legedly once put a gun to Fer­rara’s chest and said “I won­der if your vest can stop this bul­let,” now works for a po­lice union.

As part of the fed­eral set­tle­ment, Maturo promised not to re­tal­i­ate against law en­force­ment per­son­nel who might have as­sisted in build­ing the cases against the town and po­lice.

The agree­ment, how­ever, ex­pired at the end of 2017. Fer­rara’s law­suit al­leges that days af­ter he filed his law­suit in March of 2017, a se­ries of re­tal­ia­tory acts es­ca­lated.

Fer­rara said that fed­eral law en­force­ment did lit­tle to shield his iden­tity dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and they’re do­ing noth­ing to help now.

“They didn’t pro­tect me at all,” Fer­rara said.

Kelly Laco, in the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s Civil Rights Unit in Washington, last week de­clined to com­ment on Fer­rara’s case against Maturo and the town. The suit was filed in March, and on Tues­day, Brewer ap­peared be­fore U.S. Dis­trict Judge Janet C. Hall in a pre­trial sched­ul­ing ar­gu­ment.

At the other ta­ble were Hugh Keefe and Matthew D. Popi­lowski, the town at­tor­neys.

Be­cause of the with­drawal of health ben­e­fits, Brewer asked that Joseph Cop­pola, the city’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­ment, added to the list of de­fen­dants in the al­le­ga­tions of re­tal­i­a­tion, along with Sal Bran­cati, Maturo’s hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor and the en­tire East Haven Board of Po­lice Com­mis­sion­ers.

“It’s un­clear who made the de­ci­sion as of April this year to stop pay­ing him while on paid leave,” Brewer told Hall. Popi­lowski then stood and be­gan to make a case for why the law­suit should be re­jected. Hall in­ter­rupted. “Let’s not try the is­sue right now,” she said. “I will see you in a cou­ple months.”

Mean­while, the town’s ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing, in which Fer­rara’s job is on the line, is sched­uled for Thurs­day, Nov. 29. Maturo on Fri­day de­clined to talk about Fer­rara. “This is a very del­i­cate case and I don’t want to make a com­ment on it un­til it’s ad­ju­di­cated,” he said.

Ken Dixon / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

East Haven Po­lice Of­fi­cer Vin­cent Fer­rara

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