Jason Zullo has become the second member of the group of four East Haven Police officers indicted in January by a federal grand jury for alleged civil rights violations against Latino residents to change his plea from not guilty to guilty.
And the officer's court appearance Tuesday in federal district court in Hartford came only a few hours after the U.S. Department of Justice and Mayor Joseph Maturo announced the town and federal agency had reached a proposed settlement agreement regarding the DOJ's ongoing investigation in the East Haven Police Department.
Zullo Pleads Guilty
Zullo, 34, pleaded guilty Tuesday before Chief United States District Judge Alvin W. Thompson to one count of obstruction stemming from his filing of a false police report to prevent a possible excessive force investigation, according to Thomas Carson, a spokesperson for the United States Attorney for Connecticut Office.
Zullo becomes the second officer to change his plea to guilty after initially pleading not guilty to the charges leveled against the four officers earlier this year. East Haven Police Sgt. John Miller changed his plea to guilty last month.
Carson reports that, according to court documents and statements made in court, on Oct. 18, 2008, Zullo struck a motorcycle carrying two individuals with his police car at least twice during a chase.
"The motorcycle subsequently crashed and the two victims were thrown to the ground," Carson stated in a press release.
He added that on Oct. 22, 2008, Zullo prepared and filed a police report that omitted the fact that he struck the motorcycle during the chase.
Carson reported that although Zullo contends that he unintentionally collided with the motorcycle, he admitted today that he omitted facts and in his police report of the incident in order to obstruct any potential investigation of criminal excessive force.
'Deceitful Police Work'
“During a chase, this defendant repeatedly struck a motorcycle with his police cruiser, causing the motorcycle to crash.” David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, stated in the Tuesday press release.
“He then tried to cover up his conduct and prevent an excessive force investigation by filing a false police report of the incident. This kind of deceitful police work cannot be tolerated, as it decays the public trust in all law enforcement officers," Fein said.
“Maintaining the public’s trust in elected officials and particularly law enforcement is of the utmost importance,” said FBI Acting Assistant Director-in-Charge Mary Galligan.
“Four years later, Mr. Zullo stands guilty of obstructing our investigation," Galligan said. "It is our hope that today’s developments bring us closer to renewing confidence and respect for those, particularly in East Haven, who enforce the law.”
On Jan. 18, a federal grand jury in Bridgeport returned an indictment charging Zullo, Miller and two other East Haven Police officers — Dennis Spaulding and David Cari — with various civil rights offenses.
After Miller pleaded guilty late last month, Zullo and two co-defendants were charged in a superseding indictment that was returned on Sept. 25.
Carson noted that on Tuesday, Zullo pleaded guilty to Count 4 of the superseding indictment.
Maximum Term: Up to 20 Years
"Chief Judge Thompson has scheduled sentencing for Jan. 18, 2013, at which time Zullo faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000," Carson stated.
to one count of violating an individual's civil rights by using unreasonable force during the course of an arrest. He awaits sentencing.
Investigation is Ongoing
As to the defendants who are awaiting trial, Spaulding and Cari, U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, he said, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being investigated by the Civil Rights Squad of the FBI’s New York Field Office.
Fein stated that the investigation is ongoing and encouraged individuals with information that may be helpful to call the FBI at 212-384-2240.