Case Dismissed, Priest Goes On Offense
by Thomas MacMillan
March 26, 2009 3:24 PM
Moments after a Fair Haven priest’s case was dismissed, Latino advocates gathered outside the Elm Street courthouse to announce they’ve asked the feds to investigate allegations of race-based harassment perpetrated by East Haven police.
Father James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, was in State Superior in New Haven Thursday morning, answering charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. After a two-hour wait, the charges against the priest were dismissed in less than a minute. State prosecutor David Strollo said the state did not have sufficient evidence to go forward with the case.
Manship was arrested by East Haven police on Feb. 19 while videotaping what he described as systematic police harassment of Latinos in East Haven. East Haven business owners say local police have targeted them and their customers for intimidation and traffic stops without reason.
Father Manship’s video footage of his arrest, which he released two weeks ago, contradicted the police arrest report and undermined the prosecution’s case. Thursday was his second court appearance, following a plea of not guilty three weeks ago.
With their priest exonerated, Manship’s parishioners are now going on offense. Angel Fernandez, a parish leader at St. Rose of Lima, announced that Yale attorneys filed a complaint with the Department of Justice on Thursday morning seeking a federal investigation into allegations of race-based harassment by East Haven Police. East Haven Latinos and their advocates said they hope that a federal investigation will result in oversight and reform of East Haven’s police department.
Courtroom C was filled to capacity at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, its gallery brimming with Father Manship’s supporters wearing yellow ribbons. The yellow ribbon “signifies simply that we are united,” said Carmen Zambrano, head of the New Haven Ecuadorian group, Virgen Del Cisne.
Strollo, delayed nearly two hours because of scheduling confusion, requested a nolle. A successful nolle means that the case is closed, but gives the prosecution 13 months to bring the charges a second time.
Manship’s attorney, Yale law student Sarah Chervinsky, objected to the nolle and requested that the charges be dropped entirely. Strollo agreed, and the judge dismissed the case. The entire exchange took less than a minute.
“Can you imagine being arrested for no reason?” Father Manship asked rhetorically at a press conference on the New Haven green following his court appearance. He said that he had been fortunate to be a white man and a priest, represented by a team of attorneys. Others facing false charges are not so lucky, he said.
“I’m happy that this case is over. It’s been a distraction,” the priest continued. “Now we can get to the business at hand.”
The business at hand, announced St. Rose parish leader Angel Fernandez, is a federal investigation of racially motivated police harassment in East Haven. This abuse, Fernandez said, includes Latino drivers being pulled over without reason, Latinos being beaten while in police custody, and the systematic harassment of Latino businesses in East Haven.
Student attorneys from Yale’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, a clinic at the law school, have collected over 20 personal stories of alleged police harassment and compiled them into a formal complaint, which they sent to the U.S. Department of Justice. The 14-page complaint requests an investigation of East Haven’s police department.
The document alleges a “pattern and practice of race-based violence and racial profiling against Latinos in East Haven.” It outlines four main areas of concern: racially motivated violence against Latinos, harassment and intimidation directed at Latino motorists and business owners, the “tacit approval” of the police department, and police retaliation against Latinos that have spoken out. Fernandez said that police abuse has escalated in East Haven in recent weeks, since Latinos have gone public with their experiences.
Taken together, the stories of East Haven Latinos form a “picture of a community living in justifiable terror of their local police force,” Fernandez said.
East Haven officials have repeatedly denied harassing Latinos in town. The town’s mayor met last week with Latino residents for a general conversation. (Discussion about cop harassment was off limits.)
Lindsay Nash, a second-year law student with the Yale clinic, said that the attorneys are hoping that a Justice Department investigation will result in federal oversight of the East Haven police department. She said that in other cities in similar situations, the Justice Department has put in monitoring, oversight, and external complaint procedures. “We’re looking for similar reform,” Nash said.
The Yale attorneys said that they have put in a number of Freedom of Information Act requests to the East Haven Police Department, asking for information on policies and procedures and data regarding racial profiling. After several weeks and several letters, East Haven police have not responded to the FOIA requests.
East Haven Responds
“Were they authorized to speak for the Latino community?” said Attorney Hugh Keefe, lawyer for the East Haven Police Department.
Contacted by phone, Keefe took issue with the notion that members of the St. Rose of Lima Church could speak for an entire community of Latinos in East Haven.
“I don’t mean to nitpick,” Keefe said, “but who are they authorized to speak for?”
“Absolutely, people ought to speak on their own behalf,” Keefe said. But people should not “pretend to represent a whole ethnic group.”
Keefe said that he doesn’t understand why complaints about the East Haven police haven’t been brought to any of the “all kinds of agencies” that could handle them in East Haven, including the mayor’s office and the police commissioners.
East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon could not be reached by phone. On Thursday afternoon, she issued a statement by email: “It is not unusual for a situation such as this, to go the route of a Department of Justice complaint. East Haven, like many other towns, has been through this process before and been given a ‘clean bill of health’. I respect the Department of Justice process and I look forward to its findings.”
State and Church Take An Interest
Two attorneys from the Connecticut Human Rights Commission were present at the press conference and exchanged contact information with the Yale attorneys. The HRC lawyers — who declined to give their names — said that they have begun to “look into” the situation in East Haven. The commissioners have been very concerned about the allegations of racially motivated police harassment, the lawyers said.
The commission is just beginning to examine the relationship between East Haven Latinos and police, the lawyers said. Potential outcomes of the investigation include the initiation of a public hearing, or the issuance of a cease and desist order against the EHPD. The commission could also mandate training and require a change of police policies.
“That’s a long process,” one of the commission’s attorneys said.
Also present in the courtroom and at the press conference was Father Joseph Cronin, priest at Our Lady of Victory church in West Haven and a former seminary classmate of Father Manship. Cronin said that he was there to support Manship and said that the Fair Haven priest has the support of other clergy as well.
“A lot of priests understand it,” Father Cronin said. “Standing up for people he’s serving - that’s what he should be doing.”
“I’m half happy,” said Marcia Chacon after the press conference. Chacon is the co-owner of My Country Store, the small grocery store in East Haven where Manship was arrested.
Chacon said that although she was pleased with the outcome of Manship’s case, she was afraid about police retribution in response to the Department of Justice complaint. She said that police intimidation had increased after she spoke out at a previous press conference.
“I feel partly more safe, but I don’t know what the police is going to do after this,” Chacon said. “I am very afraid.”
“I’m very, very nervous,” Chacon continued. “But if we don’t do something, this behavior will continue.”
Lent Prayer for Immigrants
God of the journey, God of the traveler,
We pray for those who leave their homes in
search of work and safe refuge;
may they feel your loving presence.
We pray for all citizens of the United States;
may we welcome and assist those who come
to us in their need as our brothers and sisters
in Christ Jesus.
We pray for wisdom and courage for our
legislators; may they reform our immigration
laws to reflect God’s justice and compassion
toward those emigrating to our country.
We pray for those who fan the flames of fear
and discrimination against immigrants,
whether documented or undocumented, may
their hearts be touched by your divine love.
We pray all this in the name of our God, our
creator, Jesus, Our Savior, and the Holy
Spirit, who unites us all. Amen.
Plegaria Cuaresmal Pro Inmigrantes
Dios del caminar, Dios del viajero,
Rogamos por los que dejan sus hogares en busca
de trabajo y refugio seguro
Que sientan Tu presencia amorosa.
Pedimos por todos los ciudadanos de los Estados
Que acojamos y ayudemos a los que vienen aquí
en su necesidad como hermanos y hermanas en
Rogamos por la sabiduría y valentía de nuestros
Que reformen las leyes migratorias para reflejar
la justicia y compasión divinas hacia los que
inmigran a nuestro pais.
Rogamos por los que inflaman las llamas del
miedo y la discriminación para los inmigrantes,
documentados o no:
Que sus corazones sean movidos por tu amor
Pedimos todo esto en el nombre de nuestro Dios,
Jesús nuestro Salvador y el Espíritu Santo que
nos une a todos. Amen
by Rev. Charles W. Dahm, O.P., Priests for Justice for Immigrants