Months after Samuel See, the late assistant professor of English, was found dead in a local jail cell, his family continues its quest for clarity of the events that led to his death.
Kelly Flanagan, See’s sister, has led the family’s push for a lawsuit against the New Haven Police Department and the Connecticut State Judicial Branch — the agencies that arrested and detained See on Nov. 23, respectively — saying that details from medical reports and conversations with her brother before his death leave many questions unanswered.
Though both agencies have launched internal investigations to ensure that protocol was followed, Flanagan maintains that only an additional lawsuit, and subsequent independent investigation, will reveal what the family believes to be the truth, that brutality and negligence played a significant part in See’s death. The family maintains this claim despite Chief State Medical Examiner James Gill’s finding that a methamphetamine-induced heart attack was to blame for See’s untimely death.
“We’re going to pursue a lawsuit no matter what,” Flanagan said. “Just because someone died of an overdose doesn’t mean that the police and State Judicial Marshals are not at fault. People need to be held accountable … there’s enough here to where I think this is dirty.”
Flanagan confirmed that the family has ordered a second autopsy from a private clinic in Rhode Island. Additionally, the family has requested access to videotape of the State Judicial Marshal lock-up on Union Avenue, where See was kept through the morning of Nov. 24, when he was found unresponsive in his cell. The family has received no results from either, but Flanagan said they expect the branch to cooperate and that the information will be critical to their case against the NHPD and State Judicial Branch.
In order to deal with claims of misconduct, both the NHPD and State Judicial Branch have internal affairs departments to investigate complaints submitted by either civilians or employees.
“It is the policy of the New Haven Department of Police Service to investigate all complaints of misconduct against its employees,” a statement on the department’s website reads. “All investigations are conducted in a fair and expeditious manner in accordance with department, city, state and federal laws and regulations. The Internal Affairs Division operates as a neutral investigative body to serve the needs of the community and the Police Department.”
Lieutenant Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 who heads the department’s Internal Affairs Division could not be reached for comment.
The family, which has hired Law School professor David Rosen LAW ’69 as representation, bases its case on a number of claims. Flanagan added, among several complaints, that police failed to resolve a similar domestic dispute at See’s home the night before his arrest and that marshals failed to properly check on him in his cell. Additionally, the family would like to explain a “scant subscalpular hemorrhage” suffered by See the night of his arrest that is noted in existing medical reports. Flanagan believes that injury and a trail of blood down See’s shirt, neck and leg were sustained after police reportedly slammed See’s head into a wall and dragged him down a set of stairs — information that she said she received from her brother in a phone call from jail that night.
“My problem is that you can’t turn to the police for help,” Flanagan said. “I don’t like the idea of the police investigating itself. I don’t trust it.”
In an email to the News, Rosen said he is still reviewing information from the family before he decides how to proceed. Flanagan said she would consider approaching the Federal Bureau of Investigation for assistance.
Though See’s family has, up to this point, operated autonomously, many cases similar go through the city’s Civilian Review Board, a group that sifts through the NHPD’s internal investigation reports to ensure thoroughness and objectivity. The Board also enables an appeal process should citizens find an internal investigation’s findings and consequences unsatisfactory.
“When we see something that indicates that an investigation hasn’t been complete or is in some way unfair, we make a note and it goes up the chain of command,” said Frank Cochran, a member of the Board.
Still, there has been movement to increase the reach of the board, which could result in its ability to conduct its own investigations and issue subpoenas, said Cochran and New Haven Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Pugh.
On the state level, the Judicial Branch conducts internal investigations in response to complaints of policy violations, the majority of which are submitted by employees, branch Manager of Communications Rhonda Stearley-Hebert said.
“Generally, an internal review determines whether policies and procedures were followed,” she added. “The [See case] review is ongoing.”
Stearley-Hebert also said that the manner in which investigations are conducted depends on the case at hand — that “different situations would impact how the internal review proceeds.”
Experts interviewed said that, despite claims made by See’s family, it will be hard for their case to fight the reality that several independent organizations — the involved law enforcement agencies, the State Chief Medical Examiner’s Office and Yale-New Haven Hospital — appear to agree on a set of facts.
“It’s certainly possible that investigations turn up evidence that wasn’t known before,” said state Under Secretary Mike Lawlor. “But here, you have [many] agencies directly involved, and they all seem to be on the same page with the sequence of events. People are more than welcome to challenge that, but there’s nothing here that jumps off the page.”
Lawlor added that internal investigations have been called for in the past, particularly in cases where civil rights pertaining to race were said to be violated. He said that usually people are satisfied with the outcome of an internal investigation.
Cochran said those who call for an internal investigation have the option of appealing the report’s findings, but that in his experience serving on the Civilian Review Board, this has never happened.
When asked about any differences in access granted to internal affairs compared to those representing civilians, Lawlor said residents should be able to obtain any records or documents open to officials.
“I would expect [the departments] to want to learn as much as they can and ensure that this doesn’t happen again.” Lawlor said. “It’s obviously a bad outcome, and we can acknowledge that, but the cause of death seems pretty clear.”
Candace McCoy, a professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, agreed with Lawlor that, despite the tragedy of the situation, there does not appear to be much room for a private investigation to uncover anything groundbreaking. She explained that, for example, a brain hemorrhage can be caused by a number of factors and that under those circumstances, it will be difficult to find the police liable.
The Civilian Review Board was founded in 2001 through a Mayor’s Executive Order from former Mayor John DeStefano Jr.