EAST HAVEN, Conn. - Santiago Malave has worked law-enforcement jobs in Connecticut for more than four decades, but as a Puerto Rican, he says he cannot drive through his own town without worrying about police harassing him.
Malave, a probation officer who works in New Haven, says that the racial abuse is so bad that he crosses the town line into East Haven only to go home. He and his wife are now preparing to sell their house and move, joining an exodus of Hispanics who say police have hassled them with traffic stops, false arrests and even jailhouse beatings.
The Justice Department has started a civil-rights investigation, and the FBI recently opened a criminal probe. But that has not changed things on Main Street, where restaurants and stores that cater to Hispanics are going out of business.
If the goal of police was to ruin East Haven's Hispanic community, some grudgingly say, they have succeeded.
Racial-profiling allegations began swirling about two years ago in East Haven, a predominantly Italian-American seaside suburb of about 28,000 people 70 miles northeast of New York City. Hispanics make up only about 7 percent of the population, but their numbers had been growing as the peaceful, small-town setting and thriving businesses attracted newcomers from Mexico and Ecuador.
Police Chief Leonard Gallo, who is on administrative leave, has denied the allegations.
Hispanic business owners say police made a practice of parking outside their shops and stopping any Latinos. Some who complained say they faced retaliation.