Charges dropped against CT priest who taped police

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) âÄî Connecticut prosecutors on Thursday dropped charges against a Roman Catholic priest who was arrested while videotaping East Haven police officers in an attempt to document alleged harassment of Hispanics. Parishioners of the Rev. James Manship’s church also announced Thursday that they filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division seeking an investigation of East Haven police for alleged brutality and racial profiling of Hispanics. Hugh Keefe, a lawyer for the police department, declined to comment on Thursday’s events. He said he wanted to see the complaint first. Earlier this month, Keefe accused Manship of “creating a controversy where none needed to be,” and he said there never had been a formal complaint accusing town officers of harassing Hispanics. If a complaint was brought forward, he said, town officials would look into it and take it seriously. Manship, pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven, was charged Feb. 19 with disorderly conduct and interfering with police. He was videotaping two officers who were removing what they called illegal license plates from a wall of a food store owned by a Hispanic couple, who said the plates were for decoration. The officers said in their reports that Manship was holding an “unknown shiny silver object” and struggled with one of the officers who tried to take it from him. But a 15-second video released by Manship’s attorneys earlier this month shows one of the officers, before the arrest, asking the pastor, “Is there a reason you have a camera on me?” Manship denied struggling with police. The video goes blank just as Officer David Cari approaches Manship. Manship said Thursday that he was glad the criminal case against him was over. But he said much work remains to be done to address the fears of the Latino community in East Haven, a working-class town of about 28,000 that borders New Haven. “This was a distraction from the work that is at hand … to stop the racial profiling in East Haven and the harassment and intimidation of the Latino community,” Manship said. He said the alleged harassment of Hispanics appeared to begin in last June, and he was continuing attempts to document it when he was arrested. There was some irony in his arrest, he said. “It took a white, gringo priest getting arrested to bring attention to this,” he said. “I had four attorneys working on my defense. Those charges I was charged with are the same charges that many others have been charged with.” The Justice Department complaint, filed with the help of Yale Law School students, alleges that police have subjected Latino residents and visitors in East Haven to violence, including beating people in custody. The complaint also says police have been making traffic stops based on race, using racially charged language and retaliating against Latinos who have reported stories of alleged police misconduct to the media. Police Chief Leonard Gallo did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday afternoon. Mayor April Capone Almon referred questions to Keefe, the police department lawyer. A lawyer and a spokesman for the Justice Department did not return messages. The complaint says East Haven police have an “unfortunate history of using excessive force against minorities, most notably the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager, Malik Jones, in 1997. The killing outraged the African-American community. Former East Haven Sgt. Robert Flodquist told investigators he shot Jones in self-defense as Jones drove a car at him during a chase. State investigators cleared the officer of wrongdoing, but a federal jury issued a $2.5 million award against the town after concluding Flodquist used excessive force and violated Jones’ civil rights. A federal judge threw out the verdict two years ago, but ordered a new trial solely on compensatory damages. Latino residents are hoping federal authorities investigate the police department and that tensions and fears in town subside. “People are too afraid to complain directly to the police department that harasses and intimidates our community,” said Pedro Gutierrez, an East Haven store owner. “Those who have spoken up were met with silence or retaliation. Right now, people feel that there is no safe local recourse.” The issues go much deeper than alleged police misconduct, Manship said. “You cannot eradicate prejudice and racism by enacting laws,” he said. “This is about a conversion of heart.”