The New Haven Police Department Internal Affairs unit faces the challenge of using a mountain of evidence and personal testimonies to understand exactly what occurred on the night of Oct. 2 at the Elevate Lounge. But two months after the chaotic incident at the downtown club, students have yet to receive any news of the investigation, and some question the structure of the procedure.
One week after the Oct. 2 raid of the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate Lounge, approximately 30 Yale students filed official complaint forms for what they claimed was police misconduct. Now, NHPD Captain of Internal Affairs Denise Blanchard said her unit is in the process of reviewing those forms and investigating the incident that resulted in the tasing of a Yale student. But Blanchard said she could not comment on how long the review process might take but that there is no deadline set for the investigation. This, coupled with a policy against commenting on open cases, has left students in the dark about the process and awaiting some form of news. The NHPD, however, was able to share some city-wide tasing statistics with the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday, and the committee will request the presence of NHPD Chief Frank Limon at the next meeting to discuss the topic in more depth.
As for the Elevate investigation, Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 directed all questions to the NHPD, but admitted, “I’m confused as to what’s taking the internal affairs process so long.”
Blanchard said that complaints may be received as late as one year after an incident, so there is no obvious end in sight for the investigation.
“Time restraints are loose,” she said. “We want the most information regarding a particular complaint.”
The incident investigation process begins when the department receives a complaint, Blanchard said. But for a single incident, “100 complaints will merit a much more thorough investigation than will 15 complaints,” DeStefano said in an interview with the News the week after the raid.
That week, several student leaders — who formed a Student Response Committee — sent e-mails and held an event to encourage students to come forward and file complaints.
Blanchard said that once a complaint is received, she assigns an investigator to the file. After that, a letter is sent to the complainant and the department “makes every effort” to persuade him or her to come in to the office. When there, the individual will be asked to give an oral account of the incident and answer questions to supplement the investigation, she added.
This is the only part of the Internal Affairs process that students have been able to see first-hand.
Marty Evans ’11, one of the students present at the raid, said that he participated in an Internal Affairs interview, but has not heard anything back from the NHPD since then.
Morse Freshman Counselor Tully McLoughlin ’11, who was also at the raid, said that he never went into the Internal Affairs office for an interview and never received any sort of response from the police after giving an oral statement to investigators on campus a month ago. He added that he and other students are hoping to hear some news of the internal investigation soon.
But even after every student interview is held, the investigation into the Oct. 2 raid will not be complete, Blanchard said. Officers and supervisors present that night will be interviewed and any available evidence will be collected, she said.
After all the evidence is collected, if the Internal Affairs Department finds that there was a violation of policy or procedure, the case file is given to three parties: the NHPD Chief Frank Limon, the Board of Police Commissioners and the Civilian Review Board. The elected members of the Civilian Review Board will review the investigation process to make sure there was due diligence in the collection of evidence and will make a recommendation as to any disciplinary measures, she said. The final say in disciplinary measures falls to Limon for anything up to 15 days suspension in severity, and the mayor-appointed Commissioners for more severe punishments.
In an Oct. 23 protest march from City Hall to the NHPD station, protesters — some of whom were Yale students — argued that disciplinary power should not fall to the commissioners, and instead be the domain of a more powerful Civilian Review Board that, according to the march press release, is “independent, powerful and representative of our communities.”
“If there is a more representative model, I don’t know what that would be,” said Yale Police Department Interim-Chief and former NHPD Chief James Lewis in an October interview on the subject of the current Internal Affairs process.
Other instances of tasing were revealed at a Board of Alderman public safety committee meeting Wednesday by NHPD Lt. Luiz Casanova. He said there have been 91 Taser incidents so far this year and 116 tasings in 2009.
Casanova said that these incidents are still under investigation by the Internal Affairs department, but that most findings have shown that the officers acted appropriately. He added that there were four incidents of taser use in the month of October, and that one suspect was under the influence of alcohol and/or narcotics, one suffered from mental illness, and the other two “fought with officers.”
The NHPD decided to use tasers without pre-attached cameras under Lewis.
Correction: December 2, 2010
An earlier version of this article misidentified Mayor John DeStefano Jr. as the official who will be requested to attend the next Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee meeting, when in fact Chief Frank Limon will be requested. The article also misidentified Monday as the date of the previous public safety committee meeting, when in fact it was last Wednesday.