The last of the East Haven cops prosecuted for the mistreatment of residents of that town, was sentenced last week in federal court. Sgt. John Miller received the lightest sentence of the four who were charged --four months, most likely in a federal prison camp.
It’s a sad commentary that in this age there are still cops who view their badges as the authority to abuse and discriminate.
The most severe sentence, five years, was imposed on David Spaulding; while the remaining two officers, David Cari and Jason Zullo, received 30 month and two year terms, respectively.
Miller will serve his entire four months; his partners in crime will do about 85 percent of the sentences.
When I started to practice in the mid-70’s there were rampant client complaints of excessive force. I represented a legion of arrestees who claimed they were brutalized during an arrest, with the bruises and injuries to show for it.
In each instance, on top of the crimes they did commit, there were the typical abuse cover-up charges of “resisting arrest” and “assault on a peace officer.” Typically, the handful of bad cops using heavy-handed tactics would claim they were reacting to an assault requiring them to use force.
Prosecutors and judges became wary of these specious claims.
When I started practicing with my dad, I saw how these abuse cases pained him. He was a former Bridgeport cop, the first in the state to become a lawyer. His was a family with a long tradition in honest law enforcement. To him there was no place for the use of excessive force.
These cases were difficult to defend. The defendants were generally convicted felons, and most probably guilty of the offenses that got them arrested. In time, a number of lawyers developed an expertise in bringing civil rights law suits, and won substantial jury verdicts. And cops became better trained, and departments diversified.
Prior good work
In the post-9/11 era we have more appreciation for the dangerous and difficult jobs our police must do. There is no place in a society that cherishes the Rule of Law, for enforcers of those laws to follow their own abusive agendas.
Miller opted to “roll over” and cooperate with the feds, although he never testified at the trials of Cari and Spaulding. In the end, they were left to plead for leniency, invoking the good works of their careers.
I recall the comments of Judge Janet Arterton at the sentencing of former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim where we had presented a legion of letters from the community extolling his many, great contributions. Her response was, what a good mayor was elected to do, is good works. It merited him no consideration in his sentence. The same could be said of the East Haven gang. Undoubtedly each did some good during his career; but that’s what a good cop was supposed to do.
Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. is a nationally certified civil and criminal trial specialist and a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He can be contacted through his Web page at www.meehanlaw.com