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Spaulding v. United States

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 15, 2018



          Alvin W. Thompson United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Dennis Spaulding (“Spaulding”), proceeding pro se, filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence. He claims that his trial attorney provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to each of the charges against him by conducting an inadequate pretrial investigation, by not making use of certain testimony or other evidence that Spaulding believes should have been used at trial, and/or by not objecting to certain statements made by the prosecution at trial. For the reasons set forth below, his motion is being denied without a hearing.


         On September 25, 2012, a grand jury returned a 12-count superseding indictment against East Haven Police Department (“EHPD”) officers Spaulding, David Cari and Jason Zullo. Zullo pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice by preparation of a false police report. Spaulding and Cari went to trial on the charges against them. On October 21, 2013, the jury found each of them guilty on all counts against them. Spaulding was convicted of one count of conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241 (Count One); one count of deprivation of civil rights by the use of excessive force, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 (Count Five); two counts of deprivation of civil rights by false arrest, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 (Counts Six and Nine); and two counts of obstruction of justice by preparation of false police reports, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519 (Counts Seven and Ten).

         Spaulding and Cari each moved for a new trial and for a judgment of acquittal. The court denied these motions and, on January 23, 2014, the court sentenced Spaulding to a sentence of, inter alia, 60 months in prison.

         Spaulding appealed, as did Cari. On appeal, they contended, among other appellate issues, that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions, error in evidentiary rulings, improper statements by the government in closing argument, and procedural error at sentencing. On November 23, 2015, the Second Circuit denied Spaulding's and Cari's claims and affirmed their convictions and sentences. See United States v. Spaulding, 631 F. App'x 5, 8 (2d Cir. 2015), cert. denied sub nom. Cari v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1680 (2016).

         The government's evidence at trial established that, beginning as early as 2008, Spaulding and Zullo began a concerted campaign of harassing and intimidating Latino business owners and their customers in East Haven. Communications between Spaulding and Zullo demonstrated that they were motivated by anti-immigrant bias. Fellow officer David Cari joined the conspiracy when he falsely arrested Father James Manship, an advocate for the victims of Spaulding's and Zullo's abuse, and then prepared a false police report to justify the arrest.

         In August 2008, based on concerns raised by another EHPD officer, then-Lieutenant Henry Butler met with and advised Spaulding about the racial profiling laws in Connecticut, making clear to Spaulding that it was illegal to target individuals based on race or ethnicity. Despite this warning from his superior officer, Spaulding continued his pattern of discrimination against Latino residents in East Haven.

         With respect to Spaulding and Cari, the superseding indictment, and the evidence at trial, focused primarily on three incidents. The first two incidents involved Latino victims who were arrested by Spaulding without probable cause. Spaulding assaulted one of the victims, which served as the basis for Spaulding's conviction for use of excessive force. The third incident involved Father Manship, who Cari arrested without probable cause; this served as the basis for Cari's conviction on Count Eleven (false arrest) and Count Twelve (obstruction of justice). All three incidents were part of the larger conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of East Haven's Latino residents and Father Manship, as charged in Count One.

         A. Counts Five, Six and Seven: Arrests of Moises Marin Without Probable Cause, Use of Excessive Force Against Marin, and Preparation of a False Arrest Report

         Moises Marin is a native of Ecuador and a United States citizen who owned and operated La Bamba, an Ecuadorian restaurant located in East Haven. Marin testified to the jury about a history of harassment and intimidation by Spaulding of his customers, many of whom were Latino. In addition, an individual in the EHPD also harassed Marin by reporting him to the State's liquor commission for alleged violations of his liquor license.

         To document the harassment, Marin followed the advice of the State's liquor commission representative and sought to document Spaulding's harassment by photographing his improper conduct. On the evening of November 21, 2008, Marin was informed that Spaulding was harassing some of his customers who had out-of-state license plates. Marin walked outside, approached Spaulding, and asked him to stop harassing his customers. In response, Spaulding laughed. Marin retrieved his camera from the restaurant and then took two photographs of Spaulding and his squad car. When Spaulding realized that Marin had photographed him and his squad car, Spaulding ran to Marin, told him he was under arrest, and pushed him to the ground. Marin testified at trial that Spaulding repeatedly kicked him and cursed at him during the arrest.

         After Spaulding put Marin in the squad car, he took Marin to the police station. During the drive, Spaulding told him that Spaulding did not want Latino-owned businesses operating in East Haven. At the police station, Spaulding took Marin's camera, deleted the two photos that Marin had taken, and then threw the camera, rendering it inoperable. Marin was then fingerprinted and photographed for booking; the booking photo shows some of his injuries. Spaulding told Marin to wash his face, and then placed him in a jail cell.

         Meanwhile, Marin's sister, Wesfalia Rocha, went to the East Haven police station to ask about her brother. At the station, Rocha saw three male officers and one female officer. When Rocha approached the window to inquire about her brother, she was told to wait. While she was waiting, she heard a male voice say: “‘Fucking Spanish people.'” No. 3:12-cr-00017-AWT, Tr. vol. II, 317 (Doc. No. 548 at 79:14). According to Rocha, the officers then laughed. Spaulding was among these officers at the station, but Rocha could not identify Spaulding as the speaker of the derogatory statement.

         Almost an hour after Rocha arrived at the EHPD station, Marin was released. He testified that he was in significant pain and was fearful that, because his back was hurt, he would be disabled. When Rocha saw her brother, she walked outside with him and asked another brother, who had accompanied her to the station, to call for an ambulance. Before the ambulance arrived, Rocha photographed Marin's injuries. The photographs of Marin's injuries, as well as his blood-stained clothes from that evening, were submitted as evidence at trial. An ambulance arrived in front of the police station and transported Marin to the hospital.

         The hospital records indicate that Marin was pushed to the ground, and state that Marin was assaulted, suffered a lip laceration and suffered contusions. Although Marin testified that Spaulding had kicked him repeatedly, the emergency room records do not indicate that Marin was kicked.

         Spaulding prepared a police report regarding Marin's arrest on November 21, 2008. That report contains several statements that were contradicted by other evidence. For example, the report states that on the night of his arrest, Marin was accompanied by three other men and had “flagged down” Spaulding, and that when Spaulding rolled down his window, Marin became irate and started yelling very loudly and throwing his hands in the air. According to Spaulding's report, Marin was yelling, “‘You fucking police tow everybodies [sic] car.' ‘You know everyone that comes here has no license.' ‘You know everybody is illegal, they are only in this count[r]y to work.'” Gov't's 2255 Resp., Ex. A (“Doc. No. 11-2”) at 72. When he testified, however, Marin denied that he was accompanied by anyone, denied flagging down Spaulding, and denied yelling or making any of the statements attributed to him. In fact, Marin testified that the expletive attributed to him in Spaulding's report was the same expletive that Spaulding used several times when speaking to him.

         Spaulding's report also states that because Marin was yelling at Spaulding, a crowd had started to form around Spaulding's police car, and that, in response, Spaulding got out of his car and ordered the crowd to disperse. But Marin testifed that no crowd ever formed, and that the only time Spaulding got out of his car was to follow Marin after Marin photographed him. Also, the report states that Marin resisted arrest, but Marin denied resisting arrest. Finally, the report states that Marin's actions resulted in a crowd forming around Spaulding and that an unknown male pulled on Marin's arm in an attempt to free Marin from Spaulding's grasp. Marin also contradicted that statement.

         After the arrest, Marin appeared in state court and was granted “accelerated rehabilitation, ” the equivalent of a six-month probationary period after which the charges were dismissed. After Marin's arrest, Spaulding began to follow him and twice stopped him without any proper reason. Marin became frightened and concerned that if he got a ticket or was arrested again, he could lose his liquor license and his business. Consequently, he went to Ecuador for four months to avoid any further contact with Spaulding.

         Counts Five, Six and Seven charged Spaulding for his conduct in connection with the arrest of Marin. Count Five charged that he used excessive force against Marin, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Count Six charged Spaulding with false arrest, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, and Count Seven charged Spaulding with obstruction of justice by preparation of a false police report about Marin's arrest, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519.

         B. Counts Nine and Ten: Arrests Jose Luis Alvarracin and John Espinosa Without Probable Cause and Preparation of a False Police Report

         On January 21, 2009, four friends, Jose Luis Alvarracin, John Espinosa, Xavier Criollo and Wellington Salinas, gathered at the house where Espinosa and Alvarracin lived. All four men were born in Ecuador; Espinosa was a United States citizen. After a brief discussion, they decided to go to La Bamba for dinner. Salinas drove but did not have a driver's license; Alvarracin and Espinosa rode in the back seat. While they were driving to La Bamba, Spaulding began to follow them. When they pulled into the La Bamba parking lot, Spaulding turned on the lights of his police car. After Salinas stopped the car in the parking lot, Spaulding approached the driver's side of the car.

         When Spaulding asked Salinas for his license and registration, Salinas explained that he did not have a license, but handed Spaulding the car registration and his New Haven identification card. Criollo, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, handed Spaulding his driver's license. Espinosa testified that Spaulding looked at the license, said it was “not good.” No. 3:12-cr-00017-AWT, Tr. vol. V, 817-18 (Doc. No. 569 at 84:16, 85:2). According to Alvarracin, Spaulding added, “All you fucking Spanish drivers drive without a license.” Gov't's 2255 Resp., App. (“Doc. No. 11-1”) at 186:22-23 (Tr. vol. VI, 1095). When Alvarracin asked Spaulding why he was treating them that way, Spaulding responded, “Do you want to be arrested?” Doc. No. 11-1 at 188:7 (Tr. vol. VI, 1097). When Alvarracin said that they had done nothing wrong, Spaulding placed him under arrest.

         By this time, Officer Zullo had arrived on the scene and searched Criollo. Criollo, who was now outside the car, repeatedly asked the officers to return his license. In response, Spaulding told Criollo that he was going to be arrested and then arrested him. Around the same time, Espinosa asked Spaulding if he could exit the car. After Spaulding responded in the affirmative, Espinosa got out. Then, when Espinosa asked the officers why they were arresting Criollo, Spaulding arrested Espinosa too. At some point after that, Salinas was arrested and placed in the patrol car with Espinosa.

         All four arrestees-Espinosa, Criollo, Salinas, and Alvarracin-were transported to the East Haven police station. At the police station, Officer Zullo pushed Alvarracin into a wall, pulled him off, and then pushed his head into the wall. Alvarracin fell to ground, bleeding from his forehead and asking for help. Another police officer came to assist Alvarracin and placed him in a cell. Alvarracin asked for medical help, but instead of providing help, Zullo tried to grab Alvarracin through the cell bars ...

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