By Priya Raman
A member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity who was arrested by the New Haven Police Department in early November during an SAE pledge event is now accusing the police of mistreatment during his arrest.
The charges against David Atlas ’08, including conspiracy to commit criminal mischief in the third degree and larceny in the sixth degree, were dropped on Nov. 29, according to the New Haven Superior Court Clerk’s Office. But Atlas said he was upset by the treatment he received from NHPD officers during his arrest and his time in their custody.
The charges against Atlas, who was already an SAE member at the time of his arrest, were dropped after the defendant furnished several written statements by witnesses who said he was not a participant in the alleged crime, the court clerk’s office said. Atlas’ attorney, William Dow ’63, was unavailable for comment Monday.
Atlas said he forfeited the right to sue the NHPD for a wrongful arrest in exchange for the prosecutor’s dropping the charges against him. The only way to get the charges dropped, he said, was to agree not to sue the NHPD.
“I don’t know if I would have anyway, but the fact that I can’t if I wanted to is absolutely absurd,” he said.
Ryan Atlas ’07, David Atlas’ brother and a fellow SAE member, said that although his brother cannot pursue legal action, he hopes that Yale officials will speak to the NHPD about the matter.
“We’re speaking to some people at the University who we hope will get involved to help protect their students,” Ryan Atlas said.
But Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said it was unlikely that Yale officials would become involved in what they see as an NHPD matter.
“Our police and their police talk daily about a variety of issues, but this is primarily for the New Haven police to address,” she said.
Highsmith said she is confident that the internal review process conducted by the New Haven Police Department will sufficiently address the students’ concerns.
Three other SAE members — Devin Ringger ’09, Stephen Sherrill ’09 and Steven Kuchta ’09 — were also arrested on Nov. 5, the night of the SAE initiation scavenger hunt.
The police report alleged that David Atlas, Ringger and Kuchta broke the glass display case in front of Samurai restaurant on College Street in order to steal a menu, NHPD spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said. Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said Sherrill was arrested for allegedly stealing toilet paper dispensers from Lanman-Wright Hall.
David Atlas said he was walking with a friend on High Street on the evening of the alleged crime when Kuchta approached him, claiming that he had been mugged after leaving Samurai. Atlas, who was standing with Kuchta, said NHPD officers approached him and mistakenly assumed that he had also been involved with the incident in front of Samurai.
“I did absolutely nothing,” Atlas said. “The only thing I asked the cop was why they were arresting [Kuchta], and they turned around and arrested me.”
Atlas said he was taunted by NHPD officers, including Officer Marco Francia, for nearly an hour after his arrest and was not told why he was being detained. After being taken into custody, Atlas said he was not allowed to make a phone call for several hours.
Winchester confirmed that Francia was the officer who arrested Atlas, but could not comment on Francia’s conduct. She said Francia works the bar detail and is often the arresting officer in areas near campus, including the property around SAE.
This is not the first time a Yale student has accused Francia of misconduct.
Francia was accused of using excessive force when arresting Ilan Zechory ’06 outside his apartment on High Street last August. Eyewitnesses said at the time that Zechory was slammed against a wall without provocation and bled profusely from the head as he was escorted to the squad car.
In September 2004, Samuel Espinosa ’06 accused Francia of mistreatment while Espinosa was being arrested on charges of interfering with a police officer. Later that year, Francia and two other officers were sued by Seymour, Conn., resident Garrett Vorio, who alleged that police beat him after he attempted to spit on them, according to the New Haven Register. A federal jury rejected Vorio’s claims.
Officials from the Superior Court Clerk’s Office said the charges against Ringger, which also included one count of criminal mischief in the third degree and one count of interfering with an officer, were dropped Jan. 17 after Ringger agreed to perform community service.
Michael Sherman, a Stamford, Conn. based lawyer representing Kuchta, said he expects the charges against Kuchta to be dropped at his upcoming court date. Kuchta, who was charged with conspiracy to commit criminal mischief in the third degree and larceny in the sixth degree, agreed to perform 35 hours of community service.
“This was an unfortunate incident, but he feels that he was treated very fairly in the matter,” Sherman said. “He looks forward to putting this behind him.”
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said that while he is not sufficiently familiar with the case to comment, he will contact David Atlas to offer his assistance as a liaison between students and city and police officials.
Kuchta and Sherrill are scheduled for a court appearance on Jan. 31, when the court will decide whether or not to drop the charges against them.