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EAST HAVEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - The police chief in this working class community abruptly resigned on Monday amid a police harassment scandal made worse by a bungling mayor who further enraged the Latino community with a quip about tacos.
Police Chief Leonard Gallo, 64, oversaw the East Haven Police Department where four officers were charged with harassing and using excessive force against Latinos. His resignation comes a week after a federal indictment charging the officers was unveiled.
"While Chief Gallo's departure comes at a difficult time for the police department, it provides an opportunity for a new leader to come in and move forward," Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr., who has heard calls for his own resignation, said at a news conference.
A deputy chief was appointed to temporarily lead the department once Gallo's resignation becomes effective February 3. A search committee was formed to find Gallo's successor, the mayor said.
Meanwhile, a move was underway by the chairman of the East Haven Police Commission to fire Gallo before his resignation takes effect, which would save about $150,000 in personal and sick time pay.
"I expect the road ahead to be difficult," said Maturo, whose ham-fisted response to the rift in his community has become national news.
Last week, Maturo, in response to a reporter's question about what he would do for Latinos, quipped, "I might have tacos."
Although the mayor later apologized, angered Latino advocates sent a mountain of 500 tacos to Town Hall the next day to draw a spotlight to what was variously criticized as ineptness, racism or some combination of the two.
At Monday's news conference, Gallo's lawyer, Jonathan Einhorn, also confirmed that the police chief was the unnamed "co-conspirator 1" who appeared in the federal indictment.
As such, Gallo is accused trying to block the FBI from investigating allegations against Sergeant John Miller and Officers Dennis Spaulding, David Cari and Jason Zullo, who were later arrested.
The federal grand jury indictment also said Gallo -- as the unnamed co-conspirator -- and two union leaders sought to "strongly discourage, and even to threaten, fellow officers and other witnesses, who might report officer misconduct or cooperate in the investigations of the East Haven Police Department."
Gallo's decision to step down from the job, which he reached on Friday and then shared with the mayor, is not an admission of
wrongdoing, his lawyer said.
Rather, it was an effort to stop mounting calls for Gallo and Maturo's resignations, which have been upsetting, his lawyer said.
"He desires not to be a distracting element," said Einhorn.
Both Gallo, who was 50 when he became chief, and Maturo have held their posts for years with one brief gap. After Maturo was narrowly voted out of office in 2007, the new mayor put Chief Gallo on leave once the Justice Department began investigating the police department. When Maturo was voted back in as mayor in 2011, he quickly reinstated Gallo, angering some community members.
Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Paul Thomasch