COURNOYER: For more campus-wide emails

At approximately 2:10 a.m. Sunday, March 18, Michael Farrington, 24, of Cheshire, C.T. was brutally beaten by five assailants across the street from Phelps Gate. The assailants were intoxicated and did not know the victim. I learned of the attack from a friend of the victim later that day. According to the victim and to witnesses, police never arrived at the scene despite multiple 911 calls.

The story seemed unreal to me, even after I saw the gruesome pictures of Farrington’s injuries and the blood stains on the fence and sidewalk a few steps from Phelps Gate. Farrington was walking to his car after leaving a nightclub when he was thrown to the ground. One assailant restrained his arms while two others repeatedly kicked his face, head, back and other parts of his body.

Farrington’s entire head was badly bruised and was bleeding profusely. The attack also chipped his teeth and ruptured blood vessels in his right eye.

The beating would have continued if Occupy New Haven participants hadn’t heard the commotion and rushed to the scene. One Occupier chased away the attackers and recorded the license plate number of the escape vehicle. Another Occupier helped Farrington call 911. These good Samaritans were prepared to provide details to police had they ever arrived.

An ambulance reported to the scene soon thereafter. The attending paramedics brought Farrington to Yale-New Haven Hospital and took down information about the getaway vehicle. Although he requested an officer upon admission, Farrington did not see one until he was ready for release a few hours later.

It appears the New Haven Police Department has not sought any evidence, including the car’s license plate number. Farrington said he has made many attempts to reach police and provide an official account of the incident and evidence. They have treated his case like a hot potato, promising day after day that someone else will call him back.

Farrington’s story left me dumbfounded. How could police ignore 911 calls reporting a random beating in downtown New Haven? Why would police ignore important evidence and cooperative witnesses? Why would a random attack in front of Phelps Gate go unmentioned in Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins’ campus-wide emails?

I contacted the Yale Police Department on Monday for answers. In an email Wednesday, Higgins explained that the incident was not deemed “a serious or ongoing threat to the University community,” and therefore no notice would be sent.

Higgins’ campus-wide emails are the most important way I maintain a sense of the crime risk I face in New Haven. Crimes of much lesser gravity are routinely communicated, and it cannot be argued that the attack is not relevant to Yale. I left the same nightclub less than an hour before Farrington and walked home in the same direction. Dorm rooms near Phelps Gate were within earshot of the attack. I would not be surprised if no campus-wide email was sent because the crime was mishandled.

On Tuesday I visited the site of the attack and was able to find the Occupy participants who helped Farrington. I found myself with evidence and witnesses that the police apparently never bothered to seek.

This incident highlights obvious problems with policing in New Haven. A dismally low proportion of violent crimes in New Haven are solved. I sympathize with the challenges the department faces, but mishandling is clearly the problem in Farrington’s case.

When I share the story of Farrington’s assault, people respond with similar anecdotes. A friend of mine who teaches at a New Haven public high school routinely hears accounts from students of shootings and violence that police ignore. He also tells me that while some students are willing to provide tips on crimes, they consider it futile.

I was the victim of a broad daylight assault in 2009. I called the NHPD for help and waited with bystanders. Three cruisers passed near us and didn’t seem to notice our attempts to flag them down. Before an officer arrived approximately twenty minutes later, the attackers targeted another graduate student, threw her to the ground, stole her bike and got away. A quicker response was clearly possible and would have prevented a second assault and caught the perpetrators.

After dealing with two car thefts, I learned to expect little from the NHPD. I presumed that the police have bigger problems than car thefts. What shocked me about Farrington’s case was that the police treat even more serious crimes lightly. Those of us who live, work and play in New Haven accept a certain risk of mugging or assault. What I never considered, however, was that the worst could happen and law enforcement would ignore calls for help.

Patrick Cournoyer is a sixth-year student in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. Contact him at


  • penny_lane

    Ever seen The Wire? If a crime didn’t happen, the city doesn’t have to report it in its crime statistics. Police in crime-ridden cities learn how to make sure crimes don’t happen whatever way they can.

  • piersonpiersoncollege

    Stunningly frightening. I appreciate you sharing this.

  • ColinRoss

    Great column.

    Yale Police continues to send out its emails based on overly legalistic and technical definitions of what it thinks the Yale community needs to know. Sharing extra information with us, even if police think it’s not an imminent threat to the Yale community, would make community members more aware of crime in general and reassure us that the Higgins emails are not just the tip of an iceberg that’s mostly being concealed.

    As for the NHPD, I am actually very surprised about its lack of response. The NYPD is having huge problems at the moment with deliberate under-reporting of crime–this sign that it might be happening here too is deeply troubling.

  • janegallagher

    Thanks for sharing–this is really alarming and horrifying. I have been similarly frustrated with Higgins’/YPD’s failure to alert the Yale community to numerous crimes in Yale’s back door, some of them crimes of staggering violence. A man was stabbed repeatedly at the corner of State St. and Pearl St., right in the heart of East Rock, at 8 pm on a Friday night a few months ago, and Higgins never sent an email about it, even though many Yale students, faculty, and staff live in that neighborhood. The man nearly died from his wounds. And yet Higgins frequently emails us about muggings that occur miles away from central Yale—though generally only those muggings in which the perpetrators are apprehended or the victim manages to thwart them. I emailed Higgins in January to ask for more information about the stabbing in East Rock, but I never got a reply. Truly disheartening.