Murder revitalized town-gown relations

The murder of Christian Prince ’93 on Feb. 17, 1991, prompted Yale to improve relations with New Haven and make its campus more secure. Today, the ubiquitous blue phones distributed throughout campus are testaments to that effort.
The murder of Christian Prince ’93 on Feb. 17, 1991, prompted Yale to improve relations with New Haven and make its campus more secure. Today, the ubiquitous blue phones distributed throughout campus are testaments to that effort. Photo by Danny Serna.

For Christian Prince ’93, Feb. 16, 1991 was like any other Saturday night at Yale.

He went to Mory’s with friends, then to a party hosted by the Aurelian Senior Society in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. When the party ended around 1 a.m., his friends were ready for pizza.

But Prince had lacrosse practice in the morning, so he called it a night and headed back to his apartment on Whitney Avenue.

When Rocky Mould ’93, his best friend, went to pick up Prince for practice in the morning, a tradition for the two teammates, Prince wasn’t home. He never made it back to his apartment the night before.

Instead, on the steps of St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue, just a short walk from the house of University President Richard Levin and across from Silliman College, Prince had been shot — a single bullet through the heart, shortly after 1 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 2:05 a.m. on Feb. 17, 1991, 20 years ago today.

It is without question one of the greatest tragedies in Yale’s history.

Students attending the funeral of Christian Prince ’93, who was murdered outside St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue exactly 20 years ago.
YDN
Students attending the funeral of Christian Prince ’93, who was murdered outside St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue exactly 20 years ago.

The murder devastated the campus and opened a gaping wound in town-gown relations; Prince, an upstanding, service-minded student-athlete, was struck dead for no motive other than petty theft. It was the first time a student had been slain since 1974, when Gary Stein ’76 was shot and killed near campus in a similar robbery situation. Prince’s murder shocked the city and the nation, and dealt a blow to the reputations of both Yale and New Haven — applications to the University dropped significantly in the years immediately following the death.

But the Prince murder also marked a major shift in the way Yale interacts with the city. His death sped up a budding process of renewing town-gown relations and led to the security measures University community members take for granted today. Yale could no longer hide from the realities of a decaying city; any semblance of a barrier between Yale and New Haven vanished with one random, senseless act of violence.

THE NIGHT OF

Exactly what happened in the early morning hours of Feb. 17 remains unclear; the primary witness to the events later recanted his account, saying he had been coerced by police. According to his original testimony, the events occurred as follows. Shortly after 1 a.m., when Prince’s friends headed to pizza at Naples on Wall Street, he broke with the group and started back to his Whitney Avenue apartment.

At the same time, Randy Fleming and James Duncan Fleming (no relation), two teenagers from the Newhallville neighborhood, took off from a party in a white Nissan looking to “stick up a cracker,” according to testimony from Randy Fleming. One carried a revolver; the other, a .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol.

Eventually they found their target — Christian Prince, walking alone along Hillhouse. James Fleming, only 16, hopped out of the car and demanded Prince’s wallet. According to Randy Fleming, 17, Prince handed over the wallet, but James Fleming pistol-whipped him anyway, shouting, according to Randy, “I ought to shoot this cracker.”

So he did.

Minutes later, a graduate student passing by spotted Prince lying, arms spread, at the base of St. Mary’s Church. He was pronounced dead at 2:05 a.m. Police would later find Prince’s wallet across the street, complete with $46 and credit cards. His killer had dropped it during his hasty getaway.

Three months later, in May 1991, New Haven police arrested James Fleming and charged him with first-degree murder, felony murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy.

Much of prosecutor Michael Dearington’s case rested on Randy Fleming’s eyewitness account. But when he took the stand a year later, Randy Fleming recanted everything he’d said about the night, saying that police had pressured him into giving them false testimony. Nothing he told the police was true, he claimed.

The case fell apart with Randy Fleming’s testimony, and after two trials, James Fleming was acquitted of first-degree murder, felony murder, and attempted robbery. He received a nine-year sentence for conspiracy and was released from jail. Randy Fleming is currently serving an eight-year sentence for an unrelated robbery.

‘TRAGIC’

Christian Prince’s murder shocked the University. Then-President Benno Schmidt called the murder a “despicable, senseless crime.”

Over 1,000 people attended a funeral for Prince in Washington, D.C., where Ted Prince ’88, Christian’s brother, delivered a eulogy. A 6’2” history major from Chevy Chase, Md., the blond-haired, blue-eyed Christian Prince was a fourth-generation Yalie — his brother, sister and father are all Yale alumni.

“I can remember precisely where I was in Virginia when I heard this tragic news,” said University Secretary Linda Lorimer, then the president of Randolph-Macon Women’s College and a member of the Yale Corporation. “As a mother and a Yale trustee, you can’t think of anything worse to happen.”

Christian cared deeply about environmental issues, and seemed on track to become a public interest lawyer who may one day have sought political office, Mould said. (Green runs in the family — Christian’s sister works for the Environmental Defense Fund, his brother, for National Geographic.)

Mould still thinks of his buddy every February, he says.

“It’s just sad to think that one of our crew didn’t make it all the way through and isn’t here with us today,” he said.

IMPROVING SECURITY

By many standards, the late ’80s and early ’90s marked an absolute low point for town-gown relations. Crime rates reached their all-time high in this period as the city continued an economic decline that began in the 1960s, said Doug Rae, a professor at the School of Management who has written extensively on urbanism. At the time of Prince’s murder, Rae was working as Chief Administrative Officer for New Haven.

Neighborhoods right around campus grew riddled with crime as major economic engines failed, Rae said. Popeye’s on Whalley Avenue used to have bullet holes in its windows, Mould remembers; one night, when he and Prince were showing off fraternity houses on High Street to lacrosse recruits, they heard gunshots just down the street.

“The whole city scares me,” Dave Sussman ’92 told the News Feb. 17, 1991 in the first article about the murder.

There were two possible responses to the urban decline, Rae said — one option was to create a “hard perimeter,” a safe zone within which a University could operate, and the other was to engage the community directly to improve conditions. Prior to the Prince slaying, Rae said, Yale had stuck mostly with the “hard perimeter” approach.

“The tragic murder of Christian Prince called our community to both reflection and action,” said Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the University’s former associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs.

Yale commissioned independent consulting groups to examine its security procedures and determine how best to keep its students and affiliates safe; one consulting firm, the Police Foundation, issued a comprehensive report that guided much of the reform of Yale’s security system, according to James Perrotti, chief of Yale Police from 1998 to July 2010.

Perrotti was commander of the YPD in 1991, and although the department began implementing several of the Police Foundation’s recommendations before his time, he oversaw the vast majority of the changes, he said.

After the Prince murder, the University added 21 Yale Police officers, and installed 400 blue phones across campus and $2.5 million in outdoor lighting. Yale Security enhanced its escort service for students walking home late at night, both in Yale shuttles and on foot. From 1991 to 2009, the crime rate in New Haven dropped 52.6 percent.

“[Prince’s murder] was the beginning of some pretty significant changes in the police department,” Perrotti said.

Perrotti said the most significant and effective of these changes was a reshuffling of responsibility. At the time of Prince’s murder, YPD officers had to do double duty — not only were they responsible for policing campus, they also had to deal with security issues, like lockouts. These issues, though, often went on the back burner until there was a cop free to handle it, which on a bad night could take hours, Perrotti said.

“If it was a busy night, a lot of those security things would either have to wait a long time or just never get done,” Perrotti remembers. “We really didn’t perform good security.”

To fix this, the University established Yale Security, now a separate entity from the YPD, and split responsibilities between the groups. This division was a major factor in boosting campus safety and made Yale a leader in campus security systems across the nation, Perrotti said. Thanks to these improvements, Perrotti said he thinks Yale students are much safer now than they were 20 years ago.

A RELATIONSHIP REBORN

But tighter security alone would not solve the problem. Yale could not just build better walls; it had to help build a better New Haven. The officers of the University knew that, and even before Christian Prince was murdered in 1991 they were examining ways in which they could build stronger partnerships with New Haven. After the Prince murder, improving this relationship seemed all the more urgent; as the leaders of the University in the early ’90s looked for policy changes, the Prince slaying remained fresh in their memory.

“What happened to Christian Prince is certainly on my mind and always will be,” University Secretary Sheila Wellington told the News in 1991.

It was also on the minds of the members of the Yale Corporation when, in 1993, they chose Richard Levin, then chair of the economics department, to become Yale’s next president. Lorimer, who in 1993 served as a trustee of the Corporation, said Levin’s commitment to strengthening relations with the city factored into the Corporation’s decision.

She, too, would return to the University that year, to serve as its vice president and secretary and to help Levin build a new relationship with the city.

“My decision to return to Yale as a member of the staff and leave the Yale Corporation was primarily prompted by my interest in building partnerships with the city of New Haven to ensure a very strong community for the university,” Lorimer said in an interview Tuesday.

Lorimer served as the first director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, founded in 1995 to serve as the University’s liaison to the city. In doing so, her goals were threefold: to strengthen economic development, neighborhoods, and community life. Under the leadership of Bruce Alexander ’65, the office established a Homebuyer program, which emerged out of discussions following the Prince murder, that provides a financial incentive to its employees to live in New Haven. In addition, Yale invested significant resources into the public school system that has recently culminated in programs like New Haven Promise. In 2010, New Haven had the lowest apartment vacancy rate in the nation, at 2.3 percent; that’s even lower than New York City’s, and a sign of economic progress, Morand said.

Alumni returning to New Haven for reunions frequently tell Lorimer how much the city has improved, she said. Indeed, Mould said the area directly around the University is like an “upscale mall” compared to what it used to be.

But work still remains; the city could face serious financial problems as pension obligations continue to rise, and the education system still requires major reforms before it can meet the community’s needs, Rae said. Accordingly, Alexander called Yale’s support of New Haven Public Schools the “next major advancement for our community.”

Twenty years after “one of the most horrible tragedies in Yale history,” as Lorimer called it, Yale is working in tandem with the city more than ever.

“It was an event which changed the course of Yale’s thinking about the city,” Rae said, “much for the better.”

Drew Henderson and Everett Rosenfeld contributed reporting.

Correction: February 21, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the class year of Gary Stein ’76.

Comments

  • rhedbobbin

    This reads like university PR.

  • The Anti-Yale

    It is ironic that Professor Rae is quoted in this article. His father and my parents used to be guests together at Professor D.C. Macintosh’s home for poetry readings, I believe, about 80 years ago.

    My parents came from ***decidedly the wrong side of New Haven’s tracks***. They were more than impoverished. Professor Macintosh drew them into his circle to obliterate precisely the type of town/gown animosity cited in this article.

    Classism in New Haven is not a new phenomenon: Yale students were forbidden to date New Haven girls when my mother was young, circa 1930.

    I have continued to rail against those elitist divisions in *The Anti-Yale* just as I did in my time at Yale (1976-85) in other forums.

    You can read my letter of protest, for example, to President Giamatti on my graduation night, 1980, after I witnessed Yale Police abuse a young black male near the steps of another New Haven church. Is it any wonder that New haven youth would want to “stick-up a cracker?” That was eleven years BEFORE Mr. Prince was abandoned on St. Mary’s steps.
    [http://yalenewhavenclasswarfare.blogspot.com][1]

    I recall Mr. Prince’s murder as if it were yesterday. The image of his being left to die on St. Mary’s steps three houses from the President’s House on Hillhouse Avenue, haunted me. I had often walked that very route when a student at Yale.

    Alone.

    My then aging parents continued to walk it into their 70′s when they attended the New Haven Symphony and parked a block or so away.

    Yale’s having *”established a Homebuyer program, which emerged out of discussions following the Prince murder, that provides a financial incentive to its employees to live in New Haven”* is a noble gesture indeed.

    It might more centrally address the town/gown resentment if it provided financial incentives to ORDINARY NEW HAVEN FOLK ***OUTSIDE*** THE UNIVERSITY.

    But , then, it wouldn’t be for YALE ***INSIDERS***, would it?

    Paul D. Keane

    M.Div. ’80

    M. A., M.Ed.

    [1]: http://yalenewhavenclasswarfare.blogspot.com

  • fritzfranklin

    Of course, by “town-gown” relations you mean Levin & DeStefano becoming the dictators of New Haven. Do you know what unemployment is in this city? Do you know what the poverty rate is? Have you looked at DeStefano’s comments in the State of the City & Levin’s plans for Yale’s budget, both announced on the same day (2/7)? Yes, Yale is working in tandem with the city more than ever…to attack working people through layoffs, attrition, and cuts to benefits, physically re-shape the city without listening to the voices of community members and organizations, break unions, and increasingly stratify the city along class and race lines.

    If you would like to gain a better understanding of “town-gown relations,” I highly suggest you read your classmate James Cersonsky’s very recent article in Dissent Magazine “Whose New Haven? Reversing the Slant of the Knowledge Economy.”

  • dm

    I’m sorry, but Cersonsky’s article is the same diatribe that every pro-union activist in the city repeats. It is nothing new. The problem in New Haven will be, is, and has been, the fact that there are too few jobs for its poor. These jobs started to dry up after the end of World War II, and have continued to fall has New Haven’s industries apart from Yale vanish.

    The problem is that no one really knows what the new realm of jobs for low-income, college-degree-lacking individuals is. Can we return to manufacturing? It would have to be heavily subsidized and incentivized. Who will pay? And if it’s not manufacturing, it likely requires a level of education that most poor people unfortunately do not have.

  • fritzfranklin

    dm, You might not agree, but to call the article a “diatribe” is more than a bit ungenerous, no? The fact of the matter is that there are deep systemic problems in the city that require serious dialogue between various different groups. Levin & DeStefano do not want to have those difficult discussions, and would rather force through their vision of the city unilaterally. This is not something unique to New Haven, as many of the front page articles about the protests in Madison and Milwaukee show us so clearly.

    You’re absolutely right that much of this is nothing new. Anytime there is a “budget crisis” it is the lower-income strata of society, the unemployed, the elderly that are asked to “step up” and sacrifice. For 30 years, working people have been under attack by entities that have zero investment in civic responsibility, community engagement, or working together to create a sustainable city. You call it industrial “vanishing,” as if we do not know where these companies are moving their operations, and as if they should have no responsibility for what they leave behind. The questions you pose are real and urgent, but I worry that the way you phrase them and your tentative conclusions are rooted in a form of thinking that must be overcome if we are going to achieve a truly “revitalized” city. I’ll certainly ‘fess up and recognize that I don’t have the answers and I have a lot to learn, but I believe that I can only do that by engaging with the community around me, listening to various voices, and not simply allow DeStefano and Levin to unilaterally determine the future of New Haven.

  • The Anti-Yale

    As Editor Webb says in “Our Town”, we’re all looking for a way to solve the problem of social justice (for the sensible and hardworking to rise to the top and the lazy to fall to the bottom) but “”t’aint easy.”

  • dalet5770

    Why don’t we start carbon dating at YALE

  • dm

    @fritzfranklin, I don’t disagree with you that we need to listen to more voices than DeStefano and Levin on this and many other issues in the community. I agree with Cersonsky’s initial point, that DeStefano and Levin pursue development, but only a particular type of development. That is definitely true of Yale Properties, and is true of their larger plans as well. There is, in my view, nothing wrong with turning Winchester into Higher One. I have significant reservations about the way Yale Properties does business.

    Yes, we have to listen to the community. We have to get the community engaged in a palpable way. Trust me, while perhaps my first comment suggests otherwise to you, I am a big believer in getting the people on the ground involved. I like school reform but I can’t stand Michelle Rhee, if that makes sense.

    But, the New Haven community, of which I am a member, has often been given two unsatisfactory choices. The first is Levin and DeStefano. The second is the unions. Here is where I break from Cersonsky. The unions in this town definitely fight for their workers, and want more individuals included, like GESO, in the union discussion in town. But, nothing that UNITE HERE has done in this city in the past few years has helped to attract new business.

    Of course we know where these businesses go and what they leave behind. But, there is very little in the law of the land or in economic theory that says that business have to care. Our country would be in better shape if more companies were good stewards of their community. But they aren’t. And we still need jobs for the very reason so that the poor aren’t constantly “on the hook” when there is an economic crisis. I don’t dispute that we need the community involved, but we can’t pretend that even if the community were fully involved, all the systems are in place to have a truly revitalized city.

  • dalet5770

    Why Doesn’t Yale Look to UNESCO for answers

  • The Anti-Yale

    Neither my New haven grandmother, father nor mother was an angry slave, thank you.

  • dalet5770

    That may be true but what I have said is the focal point

  • The Anti-Yale

    It is also racist.

  • dalet5770

    You may silence the truth but you will not silence the opposition

  • dalet5770

    Next time Yale puts a basketball in someones hands I hope they think of hunger and anything more than a mouthful is a waste

  • Jaymin

    @fritzfranklin
    Let’s get real here. It’s great to speak in ivory tower platitude likes “the fact of the matter is that there are deep systemic problems in the city that require serious dialogue between various different groups”. Have you ever tried to get different groups together in any round table sort of setting? It’s a mindf***! All you get is people throwing blame here and there and ultimately, no resolution but plenty of resentment.

    And dm, I’m sort of upset that you’ve joined in agreeing that, “we have to get the community engaged in a palpable way.” I’m sorry, but communities hardly ever get engaged in anything with focus for a long enough time to actually achieve anything. And when they do, it inevitably creates fractures between those demanding stuff and those with stuff.

    Progressive groups can try and try to “engage” with this and that, hold rallies, and yell at politicians, but no poor man is ever made less poor by that method.

    In the end, what it takes is for Merck to decide to build a new facility down by Dixwell, bringing in a couple hundred scientists, who need restaurants to eat at, homes to live in, car dealers to purchase from, etc.

    Sure, in a general sense, the local government can create a friendly environment to attract such large businesses, but any amount of “engaging” isn’t going to micromanage an economy to get that done. Yes, corporations are heartless, disconnected from community, and large and scary and whatnot, but when push comes to shove, these corporations have done more to eradicate poverty in this country than any grassroots or governmental activity.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I have very little patience with comments which discriminate against African Americans and I do not wish to dignify the sniping of the previous poster who hides behind the cowardly anonymity of a posting name, by commenting on his/her remarks directly.

    For two hundred years this country used its economic power and its legal system ( Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857) to DEHUMANIZE an entire race of people; to forbid them from attending school; from being legally married; from being paid for their labor.

    Until Harriet Beecher Stowe challenged American Christianity’s hypocrisy in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (which outsold the previous record-holding bestseller, the Bible) the Christian churches in America also used their pulpits to JUSTIFY the enslavement of human beings (“souls” was Stowe’s heart-rending term).

    And if that was not cruelty enough, the utter genealogical OBLITERATION caused by slavery’s sundering of children from their parents, brothers from their sisters, husbands from their wives, raised the Oedipal specter of daughter unknowingly marrying father; brother unknowingly marrying sister, etc.

    In addition (as Mrs. Stowe made perfectly clear from the characters of Cassy and Emmaline in her famous novel), plantation owners used their positions of power to sexually harass (aka rape) their slaves.

    Let’s call a spade a spade: Thomas Jefferson’s “affection” for his slave and half-sister-in-law (?), Ms. Hemmings, makes his behavior no less reprehensible (although we white folk would like to pretty it up with all sorts of presidential pomposities).

    Do not Yale reader sweep aside these cultural SINS (and if anything in the world was ever a SIN, human slavery justified by a Supreme Court and Christian religion is certainly that unmitigated SIN) with a “not my problem.” Yale operates from a campus, the architecture of which was constructed by the sweat of slaves.

    It is YOUR problem Yale, just as “Let’s go stick-up a cracker.” is (and was , sadly, 20 years ago) your problem.

    Paul D. Keane
    M.Div. ’80

  • Hounie13

    @Jaymin: With real leadership, you can avoid all the issues you outline with bringing people together.

  • dalet5770

    HAs poor Yale Lost its way and can’t find the damn Frisbee

  • dalet5770

    WE have an 18 BASKET FRISBEE COURSE HERE IN FFC CT WHAT DO THE STREETS OF NEW HAVEN HAVE BUT A GUILT RIDDEN DEMOCRACY

  • Jaymin

    dalet5770, I gotta say, you’re an awful internet troll. Trolling is a well developed art, not simply a slewing of incoherent racial slurs. You need to weave the hate into the conversation at large, with clever phrasing, and comedic aim.

  • dalet5770

    There is an old Internet song about Traffic and how we are nothing more than traffic – Lets take all the used sporting equipment in the United States bring it all together in this crematorium to heat that pool which we so richly deserve.

  • dalet5770

    When You put a Basketball in someones hands we must say to hunger that more than a mouthful is a waste if people don’t understand that concept then the fact that the Frisbee was a Yale creation a pie plate in response to Harvard’s Basketball would seem meaningless. What I have put in your hand are symbols symbols of hunger for the Black community on earth to understand and not understand that is to you sorely miss the point of two great spectacles.. I would encourage since my statements have been edited for the editor to comment on the merit of this post.

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