A confrontation between a Yale student and members of the New Haven Police Department last Monday is the most recent of a number of incidents in which officer Marco Francia has been accused of using excessive force.
Ilan Zechory ’06 was arrested Monday evening outside his apartment building on High Street as officers Francia and Jillian Knox tried to break up parties at Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Nu that had spilled out of the fraternities to block the street. Student eyewitnesses said Zechory was slammed against a wall without provocation and was bleeding profusely from the head as he was escorted to the squad car.
In September 2004, Francia was accused of using excessive force by Samuel Espinosa ’06, who was arrested for interfering with a police officer. The same year, Francia and two other officers were named in a lawsuit alleging police beat Seymour resident Garrett Vorio after the officers said Vorio attempted to spit on them, according to the New Haven Register. A federal jury rejected Vorio’s claims.
Francia was not available for comment, and NHPD spokesperson Bonnie Winchester refused to comment on Zechory’s record Thursday. Winchester has previous said that Zechory refused to follow police orders several times and that he swung his hand at Francia and tried to flee while being escorted to a police car.
In the Espinosa arrest, Winchester said in a September 2004 e-mail that Espinosa was uncooperative and threatening when police were attempting to break up fights in the area of College and Crown streets.
Both Zechory and Espinosa said they were cooperating fully with officers. Espinosa said he was walking away from the fights when he was pushed from behind.
“It was Francia,” Espinosa said. “He pushed me in the chest with his billy club … He pushed me over on my face, got on my back … He put the mace right next to my eyeball and was like, ‘Don’t you f—ing move!'”
Zechory disputes police claims that he swung at Francia.
“I was startled by how hard he was grabbing me, and I pulled back,” he said. “Immediately, there was a flash, and he’s got me in this lock where I’ve got my hands up behind my head, and my weight is on him.”
No student witnesses interviewed by the News reported seeing Zechory attempt to flee or to resist arrest, but many saw him being grabbed.
“All of a sudden I hear all this commotion, and [the officer] has Ilan on the wall,” William Borden ’06 said. “This short African American female police officer came up, and she goes up there and starts attacking him too … and you see Ilan’s face was all bloody.”
Almost all the students interviewed by the News with a direct view of the incident reported they saw Knox hit Zechory over the head with her flashlight. All those interviewed agreed that when the officers escorted Zechory to the police car, he was bleeding from the head.
“Everybody saw blood,” said Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06.
Winchester has said the officers’ report did not mention either the flashlight or the involvement of the second officer.
Francia’s run-ins with students may be a result partially of his area of patrol, Winchester said.
“The same officers are assigned to the same beats, so they often encounter the same situations,” she said.
Espinosa said he feels the problem is with the officer, not with the assignment.
“This isn’t the first time this guy has done [this],” Espinosa said. “The most frustrating thing about it was that I had a feeling it was going to happen again, when he did it to me. It was so blatant that this guy was just … riding a high horse. He just did not show any restraint.”
A number of students who witnessed Zechory’s arrest said the event left them shaken by the police officers’ use of force.
“How could that happen?” Kennedy-Shaffer said. “Usually we think of a warm relationship between Yale students and the police in this area, and for something like this to happen, on the stoop of the apartment where the student lives, is unthinkable.”
City officials said that while they could not comment on Zechory’s arrest at this time, they felt isolated conflicts between Yale students and New Haven police were not indicative of a larger divide between town and gown.
“I don’t think it’s part of a larger rift,” mayoral spokesman Derek Slap said. “The city and Yale have worked together, greatly reducing crime in the past decade. The mayor has full confidence in the police department to be able to look at it and process it and find out what exactly happened.”