Assuming the verity of Priya Raman’s recent report on David Atlas (“Atlas ’08 alleges abuse by NHPD,” 1/24), it is not difficult to imagine the events surrounding Atlas’s abortive prosecution and exoneration. NHPD officers arrested Atlas because they didn’t like his attitude, charged him with an offense they knew he did not commit, then tried to falsify the evidentiary record. Had Atlas not been able to produce exculpatory testimony, he would presumably still be in legal jeopardy — not because he was unlucky, as I’ve heard it euphemistically put, but because he himself was the victim of a crime.
On advice from his attorney, Atlas has decided to abjure civil proceedings against the NHPD in exchange for the cessation of criminal action against him. Atlas is blameless for his prudence, but the deal he struck represents the confusion of justice with what Plato calls “the advantage of the stronger.” If A wrongs B and then provides a weasely non-apology instead of compensation, justice is not satisfied, but inverted, violated a second time.
The officer at the center of this is none other than Marco Francia, NHPD Badge 506, who has seen his share of this type of ignominy in the past. Yale Daily News readers may recall the incident last fall in which Francia and colleague Jillian Knox are said to have beaten Ilan Zechory ’06 on the steps of his apartment building and then arrested him on questionable charges.
In an official declaration, Zechory avers that Francia placed him in a series of immobilizing stress positions enabling Knox to club him repeatedly with her flashlight. Providing a sterling example of the courage of bullies, Francia accused Zechory of drunkenness only to deny his request to be Breathalyzed. When Zechory asked to have his lacerated face photographed before EMTs cleaned his wound, either Francia or another officer responded by threatening him with “more trouble than you’re already in.”
Notwithstanding the NHPD’s fatuous claim that Zechory took a swing at an officer who held him in a professional grip, supplementary written statements and a surfeit of verbal testimony suggest that Francia and Knox brutalized him without provocation. And though the NHPD disavows knowledge of Zechory’s refused requests, it would take a spectacular feat of imagination to suppose that every non-police witness hallucinated the blood covering Zechory’s face, or that he could have escaped alcohol testing had there been one picayune datum indicating that he was intoxicated.
Let us dispel any lingering illusion that Francia and Zechory should be presumed equally trustworthy. Francia is the target of four accusations of misconduct in four separate incidents since September 2004. Barring a conspiracy on the accusers’ part — refer here to Occam’s razor — it seems clear as day that Francia’s account should raise doubts. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Francia’s abuses extend to residents who lack a Yale student’s resources, can produce no witnesses, and therefore have no prospect of legal relief.
Francia’s badge does not magically imbue him with immunity. Yet New Haven’s government, perhaps under a magical sleep, has largely ignored allegations of Francia’s criminal violence, and seems to have turned a blind eye to his own efforts to whitewash his record. Officials who do not so much as play at being interested in Francia’s predatory behavior toward their own constituents are not only soft on crime, but inexcusably casual with the safety of both town and gown.
I suspect many Yalies will be surprised to learn that the charges against Zechory remain quite active, but the logic behind closing one case and keeping the other open is transparent. The NHPD could drop its charges against Atlas precisely because the abuse he suffered was comparatively minor. Francia’s assault on Zechory, conversely, is unambiguously subject to criminal sanction. And since Zechory imprudently but rightfully refuses to sign a false confession, the NHPD cannot let the matter drop: Its “CYA” operation necessarily requires some minimal censure of Zechory to pre-empt any inconvenient questions from a prosecutor.
Note the wrong way to respond to Francia’s abuses. Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith “is confident that the [NHPD’s] internal review [of the Atlas case] … will sufficiently address the students’ concerns.” This is not good enough. In fact, it is an abject disgrace. As a theoretical matter, a perpetrator may never determine his own punishment, and as a practical matter, Highsmith knows full well that the NHPD, like any entrenched urban bureaucracy, is incapable of admitting error or self-correction. Yale, moreover, has an absolute duty to protect students from violence, and Highsmith declines to defend Atlas and Zechory on pain of abdicating her most essential responsibility. So it goes with all Yale administrators: They have an inescapable choice to make between confronting the NHPD and resigning their offices.
Honor and sympathy require me, finally, to spare a word for Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05, whom I endorsed last fall hoping his election would jolt New Haven’s government out of the torpor of one-party rule. Having barely warmed his aldermanic seat, Shalek faces a test that will provide either decisive proof or disproof that voters were right to elect him. His promise to act as a neutral liaison does not augur well — he is obligated to represent civilians and no one else.
In the world of self-generating substantive justice Shalek seems to think we inhabit, Officer Francia might already be behind bars. Such an outcome is utopian in the best sense, and we may have to settle for Francia’s permanent dismissal from the police force. But neither Shalek nor the Yale administration is at liberty to settle for anything less.
Daniel Koffler is a senior in Calhoun College. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.