Police conduct debated

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Photo by Sello Lekalakala.

The shockwaves of the Oct. 2 New Haven Police Department raid on Elevate continue to resonate through the Yale and New Haven communities.

In the wake of this incident, legal experts met with students and community members on Tuesday night to discuss the legal implications of the incident, and students have formed at least one group to promote policing reform. Additionally, one man is claiming to have been unjustly beat up by the Yale Police Department.

The major topics of discussion during the hour-long forum in the Law School Auditorium were the conduct of the police officers and the issue of using cell phones to record police activity. Tom Tyler, a New York University Law School professor, Jeffrey Meyer ’85 LAW ’89, a Clinical Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University School of Law, and Yale Law School Deputy Dean, and Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law Tracey Meares shared their legal expertise on these issues. Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Yale College Council President were also on hand for the forum, although neither spoke at all after introducing the experts.

Amidst cries of police brutality by some Yale students, Tyler focused on what police aspect of the raid’s procedures merited such a description. It was not the legality of the raid which should be questioned – he said the raid was “perfectly reasonable and makes a lot of sense” – but instead the way in which the police acted.

From his knowledge of the incident, Tyler said, “the police activity was badly planned and poorly supervised.” He added that both the lack of a police-compiled list of underage students and the fact that no serious effort was taken to identify who had been drinking indicated the dearth of a prepared plan.

“I’m just having trouble understanding why the police acted the way they did,” he said. “I’m still puzzled why they didn’t follow correct police procedure.”

Meares added that NHPD officers are known to work a lot of overtime, so there is a chance that a collective weariness could have contributed to the poor police conduct.

Meyer focused primarily on the significance of the police forbidding students to use cell phones during the raid. He said the right to use a recording devise is both protected under the First Amendment and an important symbol of police accountability.

He added that Connecticut laws of “unlawful eavesdropping” might also need revision to meet contemporary needs.

Tyler, for his part, took particular issue with Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s stance on cell phone use, calling it “particularly disturbing.”

In an interview Oct. 5, DeStefano said that citizens have the constitutional right to videotape officers, but added that there are certain scenarios in which cell phone use may endanger officer safety.

In order to address these legal issues and to take part in a community effort to affect change, several Yale students started Citizens for Policing Reform last week, said Seth Bannon, a Harvard student arrested during the Elevate raid.

Due to the police brutality during the Elevate raid, a panel of legal experts held a forum on police conduct for the Yale-New Haven community.
Sello Lekalakala
Due to the police brutality during the Elevate raid, a panel of legal experts held a forum on police conduct for the Yale-New Haven community.

Bannon said that the group, which is composed of roughly half the students originally involved in the Elevate Student Response Committee, is dedicated to work with local groups such as New Haven Copwatch and Unidad Latina en Acción to “pivot the media attention” garnered by the Elevate raid towards actual change.

Yet student and local groups are not only interested in altering the policies and behaviors of the NHPD.

Last Friday, at a meeting in the Afro-American House, several students and local NAACP members met to discuss the role of the police, and there was also criticism about the Yale Police Department.

One individual at the meeting was Robert Lee, a New Haven resident who accused the YPD of needlessly assaulting him. At the meeting, Lee had a swollen eye and used a cane to walk.

Lee claimed that, after running a red light near Walgreen’s at 2:30 a.m. last Tuesday, he was pulled over by a YPD cruiser. When the officer came to his door, he immediately started fumbling with the door handle despite the fact that the window was open. Then, when he was fumbling for his license, Lee claimed the officer reached through the window, opened the door, and pulled him out of the car.

Lee said that after this, he was searched, handcuffed, and searched again as several officers began to go through his car. He claims he was then sat on the ground near the cruiser, and when he asked “What about license and registration?” he was immediately punched in the eye.

Lee said that he does not remember anything else, but woke up the following morning in a police car with gashes in his leg.

In response to these claims, Lieutenant Steven D. Woznyk said in an email last Friday that upon a preliminary review of this case indicates that the officers acted appropriately. He added that Lee is currently charged with Possession of Narcotics, Possession of a Narcotic Substance within 1500 Feet of a School, Interfering with Police and Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Signal.

Lee said he made no attempt to attack anyone, and “any mention of anything other than the explanation of the injuries that I received is smoke and mirrors.”

In conjuction with several New Haven groups, Citizens for Policing Reform is holding a rally outside of City Hall this Saturday to protest police brutality.

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