Conn. mayor makes "taco" quip after cop arrests

U.S. Attorney David B. Fein, left, and Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, speak about an indictment charging four East Haven police officers with federal civil rights offenses during a press conference in Bridgeport, Conn. on Jan. 24, 2012. Ned Gerard,AP Photo/The Connecticut Post

EAST HAVEN, Conn. - The mayor of a Connecticut community roiled by allegations of police discrimination against Hispanics is under fire for saying he "might have tacos" as a way to do something for those minorities.

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo apologized Tuesday for his response to a reporter's question, saying he'd had a long day of interviews after the FBI arrested four town police officers.

Maturo told a WPLR radio show Wednesday that the quip was "stupid" and insensitive and gave ammunition to "people who want to make matters worse."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday deemed Maturo's comments "repugnant," calling on him to immediately rectify the damage.

Police treatment of Hispanics in East Haven has been under scrutiny since a civil rights probe started in 2009, finding patterns of discrimination and biased policing.

Officers Dennis Spaulding, David Cari and Jason Zullo and Sgt. John Miller were arrested Tuesday and charged with conspiring to deprive Latinos of their rights and other offenses. They have pleaded not guilty.

FBI arrests 4 Conn. cops in discrimination probe

According to the federal indictment, the accused assaulted individuals while they were handcuffed, unlawfully searched Latino businesses, and harassed and intimidated individuals, including advocates, witnesses and other officers who tried to investigate or report misconduct or abuse the officers committed.

Federal officials say the officers denied Latino residents and their advocates the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to not be arrested and detained without probable cause and the right to not be arrested on false and misleading evidence.

Donald Cretella, Miller's lawyer, said his client has been honored with awards and risked his life in shootouts.

"John Miller is a hero in East Haven," he said. "He's decorated. He's a wonderful family man. Hopefully, we'll clear his name."

Hispanic business owners in East Haven -- among them Luis Rodriguez -- welcomed the arrests. "They should have to pay, not with many years, but enough to make an example of them," he said. "They should not abuse their power. All I ever wanted was to be left in peace."

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