Suit accuses police of rights abuses

Francisco Ortiz, director of public security for Yale West Campus, is currently embroiled in a $10 million federal civil rights lawsuit that has also been brought against New Haven Police Department and the city.

New Haven criminal defense attorney Diane Polan filed a complaint Feb. 1 against Ortiz for allegedly condoning anti-constitutional interrogation techniques in his former position as New Haven’s chief of police. The suit was filed on behalf of Ernest Pagan, a resident construction worker who spent 13 months in jail for a crime he did not commit before his acquittal in March 2008.

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Among other things, the suit charges that detectives, whom Ortiz had trained, coerced three witnesses into identifying Pagan as the shooter in a murder investigation, stripped Pagan naked and starved him for three days.

Police arrested Pagan in February 2007 and changed him with the murder of Tony Howell and the attempted murder of James Brown, who had both been shot (Howell fatally) outside Newt’s Café, a nightclub on Whalley Avenue, on Christmas Eve 2006. Three witnesses later identified Pagan as the shooter, and he spent 13 months at the Walker-McDougall Correctional Institution in Suffield before his trial began because he could not pay the $3 million bail.

But when the case went to trial, the three witnesses recanted their statements and a Superior Court jury acquitted him in March 2008.

According to the 31-page complaint Polan filed, the detectives investigating Howell’s murder allegedly ignored descriptions of the shooter that ran contrary to Pagan’s profile and did not ask if witnesses had been using drugs or alcohol. But one witness volunteered that he was smoking PCP and marijuana when the crime occurred and another said he had drunk a lot.

The lawsuit also alleges that Pagan asked repeatedly to phone an attorney during his interrogation but was denied. The complaint says that Pagan saw Ortiz when he was taken out of his eight-by-10-foot room on Feb. 2, 2006, and said, “Chief, when can I get a call to my lawyer?” Ortiz walked away without a word, according to the complaint.

Ortiz, who is being represented by the city, and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.s spokesman Jessica Mayorga both declined comment. Mayorga said in an e-mail that the city is not in a position to comment on the case.

Though Yale currently employs Ortiz, the University is not involved with his defense, University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said in an e-mail.

“It is my understanding that counsel for the City of New Haven is providing representation in this civil case,” said Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith, who handles security matters. “I have complete confidence in Mr. Ortiz and am grateful for his leadership in our security services.”

In an interview, Polan attributed Pagan’s false arrest to the NHPD’s desire between 2006 and 2007 to close cases quickly and arrest somebody, even the wrong person. But she added that she does not know if those attitudes have prevailed under current Police Chief James Lewis.

Polan said she is not claiming Ortiz directly violated Pagan’s constitutional rights but that, under Ortiz’s supervision, detectives were trained to use questionable tactics. Those tactics included asking people who were not at the crime scene to be witnesses and instructing witnesses to identify certain suspects as the perpetrators of a crime. She said Ortiz is at fault because he condoned and encouraged such practices and trained his detectives to compel suspects and witnesses to make false statements.

Yale Law lecturer and human rights attorney Hope Metcalf said it was not uncommon for police chiefs to be sued for the actions of their inferiors for a failure to train or for tolerating abuses.

“The key question is whether the supervisor knew of the constitutional violations by the front-line officers,” she said.

Polan said it is too early to say whether the suit would settle before going to court because the defendants have not yet responded to lawsuit. She declined to name a dollar amount for which Pagan would settle.

“[Pagan is] hoping to get just compensation for what happened to him,” Polan said. “The problem is [the NHPD] can never give somebody back that part of [his] life.”

Polan filed a similar lawsuit in November 2009 on behalf of a man, Norman Falconer, who a state cop had watched New Haven detectives frame during a drug raid in 2006.

Ortiz retired from the NHPD in November 2007 after 25 years in the force and five as chief.

Correction: Feb. 15, 2010

An earlier version of this article misquoted Law School lecturer Hope Metcalf ’96, who said it is not uncommon for police chiefs to be sued for the actions of their inferiors whom the chiefs failed to train or whose abuses they tolerated. “The key question is whether the supervisor knew of the constitutional violations by the front-line officers,” she said. In addition, Metcalf’s position was misreported; she is a lecturer in the Law School, not a professor.


  • scientist, resident of NH

    I do not have confidence in Ortiz or Highsmith’s handling of security matters.
    It is nothing short of ridiculous to post this man at West Campus except for the purpose of an indirect payoff. For that matter, what is the salary of Yale’s Chief of Police?

  • BFD

    This is nothing, just wait until the YPD Chief retires and Ortiz is put in charge of ALL security and the PD. Little Napolean (AKA Ortiz) will bring in all his old NHPD lackey’s and put them in positions they are too incompetent to handle. He was a failed Chief of New Haven so why does Yale think he is so special? Just look at all the corruption that happened under his watch !

  • concerned for students

    Scientist, I also do not have confidence in either Highsmith or Ortiz. Ortiz is not in charge of west campus as the article states. He’s in charge of operations on campus altogether. everyone should wake up! My friends from security were laid off and the New Haven cops are replacing them. YDN should dig deeper in to this story.

  • grd11

    An aquittal because 3 witnesses recanted is not the same as a “not guilty” verdict. It could just as easily have been the 3 persons were advised of future health problems unless thier memory suddenly became faulty. Cooperating with the police is highly frowned upon in New Haven and “snitches” have a low life expectancy. Saying he didn’t commit the crime because of a legal technicality isn’t quite the same thing as an man proven innocent. And now another lawyer has thier hand out for a criminal to be paid off. As to Ortiz, maybe the YDN should read thier own stories, he’s been appointed the new director of Yale security for over a month-he was never on West Campus anyway. I’d worry about the rumored mass layoffs coming in security before anything about Ortiz and his cronies moving in. Maybe Yale can hire off duty New Haven police to walk me to my car. That way Ortiz can still get his cut.

  • scientist, resident of NH

    For all I know there may be some very sick puppies about and it shouldn’t fall upon the YDN to investigate. There is nothing like the facts, up front and in public.

  • concerned for students

    @#5 scientist, you’re absolutely right. my apologies. stay tuned though for facts/events that will be up front and in public.

  • smiling faces

    Ortiz ran to Yale University with his tail between his legs .This is probably just the tip of the icebergs as the public states every 2-3 weeks. The City unleashes cops who should never have been given a badge in the first place, they go wild, people sue , they bring in a new Chief and swear it’ll be cleaned up . You turn your back and it’s the same thing all over again.
    Now Ortiz is promising heavy handed thuggery and a no-nonsense approach to crime on and around campus. He swears the Yale PD and security won’t be corrupt and insidious as the NHPD.

  • PD case19435678933398999

    Why are’nt the detectives named in this suit ? Who are the ones coercing, bribing ,bullying the witnesses into identifying someone “they just don’t like” ? Will the State/City or Legal reps of either side release the DT’s names ?

  • ConcernedStudent

    This is just sick. How did this man get into a position of power ? And why does Yale continue to employ him ? Yale needs to set an example when it comes to dealing with police corruption.