June 16th, 2012 | City

FBI investigating alleged NHPD brutality

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Haven Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit are conducting two separate investigations into police conduct during an arrest in the Temple Plaza courtyard on June 2.

Both investigations center on the actions of NHPD Sgt. Chris Rubino, who allegedly beat a handcuffed 24-year-old man who had been fighting with officers, arrested a woman who had recorded the incident on her cell phone and ordered another officer to snatch the phone from the woman’s bra, the New Haven Independent reported.

The NHPD investigation will look at whether Rubino’s conduct violated General Order 311, which protects the rights of citizens to photograph or video-record police activity in public. That policy took effect last March following several controversial incidents, including the botched raid of the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate Lounge in October 2010.

Jennifer Gondola, an Ansonia, Conn., resident who filmed the incident on her cell phone, told the Independent she put her phone in her bra after Rubino demanded she hand it over. When she did not comply with his command, Rubino handcuffed her “really tight” and ordered another officer to pat her down and remove the phone, Gondola said, adding that Rubino pocketed the phone. 

Described as “dark and chaotic,” the phone’s video was posted online by the Independent Tuesday evening. The video captures Rubino’s arrest of the suspect and his demands to Gondola to turn over the phone. Gondola’s attorney, Diane Polan, said Wednesday that the video contradicts Rubino’s written police report of the incident in one key way: the sequence of events including when Gondola invoked her right to record. 

Gondola and her friend, Tamara Harris, who witnessed the incident, took their story to the Independent, which published an initial story on the NHPD probe the following Monday. The story included a photograph of Rubino with his foot on a handcuffed suspect’s head.  

That photograph prompted an FBI investigation into the arrest, the Independent reported. A source close to the investigation told the Independent that the FBI is more interested in whether “the arrest of the guy who is on the ground” in the photograph violated civil rights law, than in Rubino’s conduct toward Gondola.

“Although the investigations are independent of one another, the two agencies are cooperating,” according to a NHPD press release on Wednesday.

For his part, Rubino told the Independent he had “done nothing wrong” and that he confiscated Gondola’s phone because she captured evidence of the illegal actions of the man he was arresting.

Both investigations are still ongoing.