Arrest prompts complaints of excessive force

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A senior arrested Monday night for disorderly conduct accused police of violently restraining him and repeatedly hitting him on the head with a flashlight, a claim supported by several of his friends but sharply denied by city police.

Ilan Zechory ’06 was arrested by New Haven Police officers outside the Oxford Apartments on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with an officer, NHPD spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said. Police were attempting to break up parties at SAE and Sigma Nu.

Winchester said that Zechory repeatedly disobeyed the police.

“The officer said that when he tried to take Zechory by the elbow to escort him into the car, Zechory swung at him with his right hand and then attempted to flee,” she said.

The incident started when police asked students, including Zechory, to move from the steps of the apartment building at 36 High St., Winchester said. Zechory said when he asked the officer if he could remain on the steps, the officer seemed to take his question as a challenge.

“I apologized to the officer, but he blew up at me,” he said. “He stood me up, put his hand on my chest and demanded I show him my ID.”

Jessie Pizarro ’06, one of Zechory’s friends who watched the incident from a few feet away through the Oxford’s glass doors, said NHPD Officer Mark Francia pushed Zechory against the wall in the alcove of the building.

Pizarro said after the officer returned Zechory’s ID, the cop made a comment about jail and grabbed Zechory’s right arm.

“He grabbed him really hard, put him in a hold and said to put his arms behind his back,” Pizarro said.

While Francia had Zechory held against the wall, a second officer ran over and began hitting Zechory over the head with a flashlight, Zechory and his friends said.

“The officer’s partner, Officer [Jillian] Knox, came in with a flashlight and struck me on the right temple three times and I started bleeding down my face and neck and on my clothes,” Zechory said.

Pizarro and Jason Meizlish ’06, another friend of Zechory who witnessed the event, said Zechory was completely restrained against the wall and unable to move when Knox hit him. He was bleeding as the officers escorted him to their car, they said.

Winchester said there was no mention of a second officer or a flashlight in the report filed by the officers,

Several eyewitnesses said police told them that Zechory had been resisting arrest and had pushed Francia when he asked Zechory to move. Pizarro said he, along with several other bystanders, repeatedly told cops that Zechory was not resisting arrest.

Jeremy Kessler ’06, a friend of Zechory, arrived in time to hear Francia’s explanation for his actions to the crowd outside his squad car.

“Officer Francia kept saying ‘I don’t have to explain this to you,’ but then he kept trying to explain himself,” he said.

The police report said that the students congregating outside the Oxford were in possession of alcoholic beverages, Winchester said. Zechory said he was not carrying an alcoholic beverage, had consumed only three beers over the span of a few hours, and was not intoxicated.

When in the squad car, Zechory said he asked officers to take a picture of his bloodied face, but that his request was refused and his face was cleaned off without his consent.

“They took me to jail, gave me no information and didn’t let me make any phone calls,” he said.

Zechory was kept in jail until 9:30 a.m Tuesday morning and filed a civilian complaint against the NHPD. Pizarro took Zechory to University Health Services in the afternoon to make sure he had not suffered a concussion or needed stitches. Pizarro and Zechory also met with Trumbull Dean Jasmina Regan to discuss the matter.

After Zechory was taken away, bystanders called University and city police to file a complaint. Pizarro said the NHPD agreed to send a sergeant to the scene, but the sergeant never arrived.

Students have accused the NHPD of using excessive force in the past. Last April, two students arrested during a brawl outside Toad’s Place said the NHPD were unnecessarily forceful when detaining people. The students, who denied involvement in the brawl, were charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police. The police declined to comment on the conduct of their officers at that time.

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