Opinion: A New American Story of Courage — The East Haven Police Case

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By Angel Fernandez-Chavero
Special to CTLatinoNews.com

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You can accuse them, but rarely convict them.

Police officers, that is, when they’re alleged to have committed criminal acts in the course of duty.

So it was a virtual miracle when two East Haven, Connecticut officers were found guilty late last month on all counts for racial profiling and brutality of Latinos.

To be sure, the prosecution had a strong case, epitomized by the video shot by my pastor, Rev. James Manship, clearly showing that East Haven police officer David Cari’s report was shameless fiction. The report was used in the arrest of Father Manship.

But without corroborating witnesses, even damning video evidence is useless in court.

The conviction depended on witnesses willing to put themselves at risk. Consider their position. They were already victims of racial profiling, having endured harassment, intimidation and possibly brutality by the police. Testifying against the police meant risking more of the same — or worse. Those cops had proven that they have no problem crossing the line.

The witnesses had seen how the police hide behind the authority of their badges. And that their departmental and municipal leaders would use the natural sympathy we all have for the tough job of policing to manipulate public opinion and vilify witnesses credibility and motivations.

As far as potential witnesses were concerned, the deck was stacked against them. Some might even be among the most vulnerable: lacking federal documentation and sensing they had no rights. Why bother testifying when the police had even arrested a white, American citizen priest!

Yet, the Sunday after Father Manship was arrested, witnesses responded to our appeal to stay after Mass at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church to tell their stories of harassment by the East Haven police. More than 100 people, men and women of all ages, sometimes entire families, waited patiently for hours in the sanctuary to talk to our lawyers.

Some told me their stories as they waited: How officers deliberately…

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