Administrators, students react to Elevate arrests

Updated: Sunday, Oct. 3, 8:44 p.m.

Cries of police brutality swept across campus Saturday in the wake of an early morning raid at the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate Lounge on Crown Street.

Students who were at the scene say that police used excessive force and profanity as part of a crackdown on underage drinking. Five students were arrested at the raid; three were taken to jail, and one was first treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital for injuries sustained during arrest. Two other students were arrested outside of the club, but were not taken into custody. All students had been released by Saturday evening.

New Haven Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez said early Saturday morning the police conducting the raid did not act inappropriately, but students say they experienced violence from authorities. In a press release late Saturday evening, New Haven Police Department spokesman Joe Avery said the raid was one of three “compliance inspections” conducted that night.

Witnesses said one student was Tasered at least five times, and five students said several police officers proceeded to surround and repeatedly punch and kick him. An officer then turned to the student crowd and yelled, “Anybody else?” while another shouted, “Who’s next?,” according to accounts from students.

There have been conflicting accounts about the events leading up to this incident. While Avery said the student struck a police officer and had to be Tasered to “be brought under control,” four eye-witnesses said the student had only asked why he could not speak with his friends and never showed any signs of resistance.

In the midst of the ensuing outcry, Dean Mary Miller urged students to be patient.

“Our experience is that the leadership of the New Haven Police will take any complaints very seriously and will conduct, in response to them, an internal investigation,” Miller wrote in an e-mail that University spokesman Tom Conroy said captured the attitude of Yale administrators.

Ezra Stiles College Master Stephen Pitti said the Yale administration will be working with New Haven officials in coming weeks to address the situation.

In an e-mail to the Stiles community, Jaya Wen ’12, a Stiles student activities committee coordinator, said that only one arrest was for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor, and the other four were directly caused by the NHPD’s “poor tactics.”

“The government’s crime-fighting strategy was unnecessarily violent and confrontational,” she wrote.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga wrote in an e-mail to the News that the city will “thoroughly review and investigate” any complaints of police brutality.

“The New Haven Police Department does not tolerate or advocate for the use of excessive force,” Mayorga wrote.

Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11 said he was troubled by accounts he had heard of the raid, but that he had yet to receive any documented testimonies for what happened from either people at the event or the New Haven Police Department.

While underage drinking is a phenomenon occurring in all college campuses, Jones said, it is not the reason why violence happens in the streets.

“Going into establishments preventing underage drinking isn’t going to do much to lower the crime rate,” Jones said. “Given the financial situation, spending $15,000 a weekend to check IDs for ‘Operation Nightlife’ seems like a waste of resources.” Operation Nightlife is a recent NHPD initiative to cut violence in the downtown entertainment district.

Melendez said the NHPD chose to raid Elevate after receiving an anonymous tip between 9:30 and 10 pm. that a Yale College party there would likely involve underage drinking. Still, several students said Elevate was particularly strict about checking IDs at the event.

“It was actually the best control of underage drinking I’d seen in my years at Yale,” Lee Kennedy-Shaffer ’13 said.

Kennedy-Shaffer said Elevate had at least six security guards supervising the bar area and making sure only attendees with over-21 wristbands were allowed to have drinks.

Police said overcrowding in the club created a potentially dangerous situation. The Alchemy/Elevate complex has a capacity of 150 people, Avery said, but the compliance check — one of three the NHPD conducted that night — showed 256 were in the establishment at the time.

Once the police arrived, wearing bullet-proof vests and holding assault rifles, students were forced to sit on the ground and were told to neither speak nor touch their cellphones.

Several students reported being assaulted for not following these rules.

A senior Stilesian, who wished to remain anonymous, said a police officer grabbed him for having a cell phone out, cursed at him, confiscated his ID and put him in 90 minutes of “time out.” When the senior asked why he was detained, he said the officer gave no explanation and told him to “sit in the corner and shut the f— up.”

“I didn’t know my rights, so I asked him if I had to put my phone away and he told me ‘not to f—ing question him and to do what he said,’ ” the Stilesian said, adding that he has a bruise on his right arm from the interaction. “As I was standing up, he grabbed me, pulled me toward him, and ripped my shirt.”

Several other students reported being placed in similar “time outs,” and seven said they heard police officers yelling and cursing at the crowd and specific individuals.

As students filed out of the club, the police made some stay behind because they did not have IDs on them during the raid.

Elizabeth Freeburg ’13 was forced to remain on the first floor because she had not taken her ID with her that evening. After waiting for more than 15 minutes, and speaking to several police officers who were unsure of why the students were being held, she said they were released.

“Things were absolutely beyond what was necessary,” she said.

Students assembled in both Morse and Stiles colleges Saturday to discuss with masters and deans what had occurred at Elevate. Additionally, a Facebook group created by Ben Stango ’11 called “I Witnessed Police Brutality at the Morse-Stiles Screw” had 30 members as of 9 p.m.

“The whole idea right now is that there is a lot of anger, frustration, and a lot of people who want to riot,” he said. “We need to channel that anger in a productive rather than destructive way.”

Last weekend, the NHPD stopped 15 people for underage drinking and seized eight fake IDs.

Egidio DiBenedetto and Colin Ross contributed reporting.

Comments

  • nickss

    NEW HAVEN POLICE MISSION STATEMENT
    We, the men and women of the New Haven Police Department, believe in a shared responsibility with our community to create a safe and inclusive city. We are dedicated to reducing crime and providing a safe environment by targeting quality of life issues in our neighborhoods and business community through aggressive enforcement of the law. We will carry out this mission with professionalism, fairness and absolute integrity.

  • austinc

    @nickss
    Could you please explain to me how this raid constitutes “professionalism, fairness and absolute integrity” on the part of the police:

    “Witnesses said one student was Tasered at least five times, and five students said several police officers proceeded to surround and repeatedly punch and kick him.”

    This doesn’t seem terribly fair or professional to me.

    On a different note, I would also like to point out that Jordan Jefferson was justified in insisting on his right to keep a cell phone during a police raid. (a quick google search brought up this article)
    http://www.startribune.com/local/98718939.html

    The NHPD should not be able to get away with such an egregious misuse of police power and authority, and I look forward to the investigation of their actions.

  • Skeptic

    Re comment by nickss: This boilerplate is either posted with irony, or as a lame attempt to excuse what was clearly unprofessional police action. True professionalism includes using appropriate techniques for the situation, advance planning for contingencies; good public relations, and above all, skills at defusing confrontations, not exacerbating them. Several members of the NHPD have a well-deserved reputation for sadistic behavior cloaked in official acts, and they have long been protected by a code of silence, if not a culture of falsehood that is excused as unit support and cohesion. A police force that sees the citizens of its city as adversaries and who treat every action or exercise of a citizen’s right as a threat to authority that must be quashed is one that will ultimately fail.

    An internal review is all well and good, .. every organization should to that, but public credibility, which is essential for good police work, requires a entirely independent outside investigation by credible people. The people of New Haven deserve better from its leaders than the police force we have. The beatings, deaths and cruelty at the hands of the police must stop. Better training and fair and appropriate internal discipline are essential changes we need.

  • mrmike527

    Does anyone else think this was completely intentional?

    On one hand, you can believe that the mayor and the city are stupid. You could say they’re going about reducing gun violence the wrong way, that Yale students haven’t been involved with crime, that the club crackdown strategy itself is totally incompetent, and etc.

    But is it possible that the city is actually trying to choke out the clubs? They’ve clearly accused the clubs of making problems. I say its possible that the city is intentionally trying to send a message to Yale students not that they don’t want to see underage drinking, but that they don’t want to see students in the clubs.

    Without college students, many of those clubs and restaurants are going to struggle. Is it more likely that DeStafano and company don’t know this, or that their goal is to bankrupt the clubs? Who even owns the clubs? I say its more likely that this was a measured attempt at scaring students out of the clubs as it is likely that the raid was just a stupid attempt at crime reduction that got out of hand.

    You’d normally think a city would want to help its business grow. But maybe in this case, they think they can deal with their violence problems better if they force the clubs to fail.

  • MsMoneypenny

    I’m not quite sure I understand why this wasn’t held in the Morse-Stiles Dining Hall/Common Room as so many other parties in the past (i.e. Casino Night) were. When did parties start being held in downtown (townie) venues? And was this a set-up?

    And Mrmike, it seems like New Haven is sending out mixed messages about helping businesses grow. Even during daytime hours, they say they WANT people to come shop here and then make the meters more expensive – when you can find one (because of all the construction)

  • Sara

    Money,

    Removing most of those parking meters and replacing them with pedestrian plazas and parks, like NYC is doing, would boost business more than trying to add meters would. People want what they can’t have. The most congested cities in the U.S. are also the most prosperous. Easy parking is a bad sign. The city already has tens of thousands of parking spaces downtown, taking up over 80 acres in square footage.

    This city relies too much on parking and bringing in outside people (this is known as the “toilet bowl flush” model) than it relies on building up the city organically and making it a more desirable place to hang out. If the city stopped catering to your type of perspective, it probably wouldn’t have these problems with mega clubs.

  • YaleMom

    I’m very upset about the use of profanity! I didn’t send my little cupcake to Yale to learn how to cuss!

  • Prof3

    Yalemom: I *learned* to cuss from Yale students.

  • dwscmt

    https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0Bzw6RLBkLgdeY2UzMTdlNWUtOGNkMy00YTgzLWIyM2YtN2M4ZGJhMDU5NmNi&hl=en

    Dear Downtown Partners,

    Please save the date and join us this Tuesday evening at 6pm at the Omni
    Hotel in New Haven for a Downtown New Haven Quality of Life and Security
    Summit.
    Tuesday
    October 5th
    6-7:30pm

    The panel will consist of:

    Bitsie Clark – Alderperson, Ward 7

    Lt. Rebecca Sweeney – District Manager, NHPD

    Rena Leddy – Executive Director, Town Green Special Services District

    Rub Smuts – Chief Administrative Officer, City of New Haven
    Kelly Murphy – Economic Development Administrator, City of New Haven

    The discussion wil be moderated by the Downtown-Wooster Square Community
    Management Team. Please join your neighbors and discuss the recent issues
    affecting our downtown.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to the DWSCMT executive board at
    dws…@gmail.com or 203-936-9643

    Best,

    Doug Hausladen
    Chairman
    Downtown-Wooster Square CMT


    Welcome to the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management
    Team< http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/Police/Districts/Downtown.asp>
    For more options, visit our google group:
    http://groups.google.com/group/dwscmt
    Find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=56113805469
    Follow us on twitter: http://twitter/dwscmt
    Email us: dws…@gmail.com
    As a public meeting, it is alright and expected that members of the public
    cannot stay or arrive for the complete discussion. Please feel free to email
    our board with any questions with regards to your city.

  • nickss

    @ autsinc and Skeptic: I obviously posted the mission statement out of irony. i thought it would speak for itself, but thank you both for reinforcing the points I wanted to make by posting the mission.

  • wellpreserved

    One doesnt neet a Yale Education to know why you posted this. I loved it. My son was texting me during the entire event(I wonder how the police would have reacted if he wasnt such a devilishly clever scofflaw) so I was getting up to the minute details of the tasing, the profanity, the automatic weapons, etc. out on the west coast. I dont know about everyone else’s perspective, but raiding clubs only makes them more attractive to the populous, it doesnt shut them down. Ms. MoneyPenny, WHERE the event was taking place has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Inferring it wouldnt have occurred if the Yale Students were in their SAFE HAVEN, takes away from the actual problem itself, which needs to be addressed.