Reprinted with Permission, "Connecticut Law Tribune."
Monday, January 30, 2012
DOJ’s Demography Despots Bully Their Way Into East Haven
Federal Department of Justice officials recently flew into New Haven and, before a gaggle of reporters summoned to a press conference, released the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s at-last-final investigative report into alleged “racial profiling” and abuses of “Latinos” by the East Haven Police Department. Heavy with histrionics and sweeping rhetoric, it reads more like a stump speech by a Democrat running for mayor of a sanctuary city.
For example, it cites the EHPD’s failure to “reach out” to the Latino community (whatever the heck that means), as if there is a federal statute requiring that. I prefer cops reach out and nab drunk drivers and those speeding around town unlicensed and uninsured, without fear of the DOJ’s demography despots swooping down with subpoenas, and Yale law students cutting their liberal teeth on them.
Mere days after staging the civil side show on East Haven, DOJ officials flew to New Haven again, this time to announce the indictment of four East Haven police officers on federal criminal charges related to the same conduct. There are unseemly ties between the DOJ’s dual civil and criminal pursuits of East Haven. More odorous is that for both purposes, the DOJ is using “victims” who also happen to be suing East Haven for money, and whose efforts are clearly buttressed by the DOJ. One hand is washing the other, the second the third.
In production for two bureaucratic years, the DOJ’s civil-side accusatory report on the EHPD was deliberately — and I say unconscionably —timed to coincide with the criminal indictment. Federal officials in the second press conference were flanked by U.S. Attorney David Fein. As with its civil report, the DOJ arranged an announcement of the indictments in the most public way, summoning media to convene for the delivery of inflammatory rhetoric and gratuitous aspersions on the accused, which federal officials knew would be TV broadcast, newspaper headlined, and Internet viral. Among the improper commentary: statements denouncing the accused officers as a “cancerous cadre” and “bullies with badges.”
I was stunned. The U.S. Attorney’s office usually announces indictments by paper press releases only. They are always appropriately sterile, announcing the names of the accused and the charges brought, while steering clear of any statements that amount to personal attacks, undermine the legal presumption of innocence, or work to poison the jury pool.
Consider whether you would ever hear such rhetoric by federal officials at a press conference held to announce the arrests on criminal charges and the holding for deportation of 12 Ecuadorians or Mexicans illegally in the U.S. Imagine one of them taking to a public podium to denounce those arrested as a “cancerous cadre” and “low-lives with stolen Social Security numbers.” I could just see the headlined condemnations in the press, and hear the hysterical screams in the hallways of Yale Law School.
In both cases, Thomas Perez, chief of the DOJ civil rights division, was in the forefront. A controversial Obama administration appointee, Perez was a subject of a recent book by a former DOJ official who describes “how a once-storied…DOJ Civil Rights Division” has, under Perez, “degenerated into a politicized fiefdom for far-left militants, where the enforcement of the law depends on the race of the victim.”
“Injustice,” by J. Christian Adams, suggests the perverse introduction into DOJ enforcement policies of a bygone “whites only” sign, this time to denote not those who might legally sip from a public water fountain, but who might permissibly be targeted for DOJ civil rights investigations. Worth reading, it convinces of the assertion that an overtly racialist clique has infested the DOJ and “squandered its moral authority.”
A paper release with David Fein’s name on it does contain the obligatory statement that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, but it is buried amongst a typeset mass of political rhetoric about cops and abuse. Its content, as well as its instructions to call Washington, D.C., and not Fein, with any questions about it, suggests Fein’s higher-ups wrote it, perhaps even against Fein’s will and better ethical and moral judgments.
To his credit, Fein did not deliver the “cancer” and “bully” statements, but he did before the cameras stand right next to the woman who did, and thereby lent the tacit approval of his office to her unethical harangue. No matter which party has controlled Washington, Connecticut has enjoyed a history of successive U.S. Attorneys who served their office with great distinction, and with respect for appearances, the presumption of innocence, and the need to refrain from the very sort of vitriol that was flung at that press conference. They include Alan Nevas, Christopher Droney, Stanley Twardy, Stephen Robinson, and Kevin O’Connor, none of whom would have abided the public maligning of an accused in such terms by a federal official who was obviously either dim-witted or herself a “bully with a federal badge.”
Fein entered his office with a fine reputation for fairness and ethical fortitude. What remains to be seen is whether he’ll leave with it, or become the first U.S. Attorney in Connecticut to be perceived as allowing politicos in the DOJ to put his face on a blatant use of a prosecution for ulterior civil and political purposes. He can start by publicly disassociating himself from those comments. And if there is any case law that permits the officers to demand a dismissal of the charges based on this grotesque poisoning of their trial environment, their counsel ought to invoke it. •
Karen Lee Torre, a New Haven trial lawyer, litigates civil rights issues in the federal courts. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.