Two Yale students arrested in an anti-war protest in Hartford Thursday said over the weekend that police had no reason to detain them.
Jonathan Scolnik ’03 and Abhimanyu Sud ’03, who were charged with felonies after protesters and police clashed during the march in the capital, were released Friday night on $8,000 and $50,000 bail, respectively. Both are awaiting court dates in late November.
Over 300 Connecticut college students protesting the U.S. bombings in Afghanistan attempted to march from Bushnell Park to the office of Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 at nearby Constitution Plaza Thursday. About two blocks away from the plaza, police blocked the sidewalks, forcing protesters to spill into the street in order to circumvent the barricade.
Then the violence started — but police and protesters disagreed about who started it.
Although the protesters did not have the necessary permit for an organized march, Lt. Neil Dryfe of the Hartford Police Department said officers covering the march asked the group for its destination and offered to escort it there.
A response would have eliminated the possibility of an altercation, Dryfe said. But the students did not volunteer their destination even as they continued to march.
“We’ve seen lots of protests in the past, and many protesters are much more cooperative than these people,” Dryfe said.
Dryfe said the protesters’ presence in the street represented a danger to motorists, pedestrians and even to themselves, forcing police to intervene.
“Practically everyone there broke the law,” Dryfe said.
Police also said several of the protesters attempted to strike officers, forcing them to respond with pepper spray.
But the demonstrators tell a different story.
Scolnik said he never heard police ask the demonstrators where they were going nor did he hear officers volunteer to escort the protesting students.
Instead, officers led the group away from Lieberman’s office and — once the protestors were mostly in the street — bumped into students with their cruisers and started the incident themselves, Scolnik said.
“They were trying to provoke and harass us, not the other way around,” Scolnik said.
Scolnik was charged with interfering with police, inciting to riot, and inciting to assault an officer, though the latter charge was dismissed at a bail hearing Friday. Police charged Sud with disorderly conduct and inciting to riot.
Scolnik said police had no basis for the charges against him.
He said he saw 60-year-old Vittorio Lancia, a prominent Connecticut Green Party activist, being held down and beaten by officers. Scolnik said he crossed the street to see what was going on, not to interfere with police.
Scolnik made a comment to an officer close to Lancia, who then approached him and pushed him into the street, said Tom Deere ’03, another protester.
“[The officer] said, ‘You’re going to jail,’ and then shoved me,” Scolnik said.
Deere said none of the demonstrators broke the law.
“We didn’t destroy any property or do anything else illegal,” Deere said. “We only started to get upset after we were beaten and sprayed.”
Meanwhile, Sud said he was treated unfairly during the bail hearing.
In an arraignment in the Connecticut court system, the prosecuting attorney decides the charges against the accused based upon the police report compiled by the arresting officer. The bail commissioner then meets with the defendant and recommends an amount to the arraignment judge.
To the best of his knowledge, Sud said, his police report was not written by his arresting officer and the bail commissioner never met personally with him.
When Sud was arrested, bail was initially set at $10,000. At the arraignment, the bail commissioner approved the prosecutor’s request for $50,000 because Sud — who is a Canadian citizen — represented a flight risk, Sud said.
Court officials in Hartford were unavailable for comment over the weekend.