Protest to question circumstances of professor’s death

While his cause of death remains unknown, colleagues and friends of the late Yale assistant professor Samuel See are mobilizing in his honor.

A public demonstration scheduled for this Tuesday will protest actions taken by New Haven Police officers surrounding — and allegedly involved in precipitating — See’s death in a New Haven jail roughly two weeks ago. A Saturday email forwarded to members of the Yale faculty by Christopher Miller ’83, professor of French and African-American studies, asked concerned members of the University community to attend a march beginning at 12 p.m. in front of New Haven City Hall.

“A death in jail is a political death,” wrote the organizer of the march, Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English at the University of California, Davis. “This is especially the case when it is the death of a gay man, given the structural and historical homophobia of policing, incarceration, and the legal system in the United States.”

The march will proceed through campus and the downtown neighborhood before ending at NHPD headquarters at 1 Union Avenue, where See was found dead on Nov. 24. See, who was on leave this semester from the English department, had been detained following a domestic dispute the previous afternoon with his husband, Sunder Ganglani.

“We need to demand answers,” Miller told the News in a Sunday email. “And the silence of Yale University in this is deafening.”

Yale Spokesman Tom Conroy could not be reached for immediate comment Sunday evening. The University issued a press statement on Nov. 27  following news of See’s death, expressing condolences to See’s family, colleagues and friends. Conroy said in an email to the News last week that Yale was in touch with police as well as state judicial officials — and focusing its efforts on providing support to those in grief.

Brown said the protest will raise questions not only about the handling of See’s arrest and incarceration but also about the validity of the information the NHPD has released on the subject. Though See’s cause of death is unknown — and will likely remain so at least until the chief state medical examiner’s office concludes its toxicology report — Brown said the “carelessness and … violence of the police response certainly exacerbated those causes and contributed to his death.”

Though See and Ganglani had mutual protective orders against one another, Ganglani had returned to See’s Wooster Square home on Nov. 23 to retrieve some belongings. When police — called in by See’s sister, who was out of state — verified the protective orders, they moved to arrest and charge both men. See allegedly resisted arrest, according to press statements from the NHPD, and fell and cut his eye in the process. He was treated for the injury at Yale-New Haven Hospital that evening and then placed in police lock-up, charged with violating a protective order, interfering with police and threatening in the second degree — having allegedly yelled at arresting officers “I will kill you.” See was found dead in his cell at about 6 a.m. the next morning, Nov. 24.

Brown, who knew See as a fellow Ph.D student at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he last spoke to See over the phone in 2012 and knew him to be “struggling with depression.” He said the arrest was unwarranted and excessive, particularly in See’s own home and given his apparent mental health issues.

Yale Law School professor Stephen Wizner said in a Sunday email to the News that the range of legitimate actions taken by law enforcement in response to a breach of a protective order may vary depending on the specific type of order in question.

“It is conceivable that the order that was issued in favor of See’s husband against See prohibited See from allowing his husband into the family home,” Wizner said, adding that he could not comment more specifically without seeing the actual order. “It does seem odd that See would have been arrested in his own home.”

Brown said any death in police custody merits scrutiny, particularly due to the cut above his left eye See sustained while police were arresting him. Though the medical examiner has ruled out trauma from the injury as the cause of death, Brown said the cut is evidence of the violent circumstances of the professor’s incarceration. He called the police statement that See had cut his eye when he fell down a “dubious claim.”

In a press release last week, NHPD Chief Dean Esserman said he had ordered an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding See’s death in addition to the probe being conducted by the department’s Investigative Services Unit. Both investigations will include a full review of video from the detention center, which is administered by the state Judicial Branch, and interviews with all officers and state Marshals involved.

Given initial police “negligence,” Brown said, considerable doubt remains about the effectiveness of these investigations. He further queried the intentions of the NHPD by noting that news of See’s death was not released until three days after he was found unresponsive in his jail cell. Esserman apologized for the “late reporting” in his statement, calling it a deviation from standard procedure.

Brown said a few of See’s friends from the west coast will be attending Tuesday’s march. He said his message has also been circulating within the Yale community and through academic networks across the east coast since he first announced plans for the protest last week.

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