Updated: Sunday, Oct. 3, 8:44 p.m.
Cries of police brutality swept across campus Saturday in the wake of an early morning raid at the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate Lounge on Crown Street.
Students who were at the scene say that police used excessive force and profanity as part of a crackdown on underage drinking. Five students were arrested at the raid; three were taken to jail, and one was first treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital for injuries sustained during arrest. Two other students were arrested outside of the club, but were not taken into custody. All students had been released by Saturday evening.
New Haven Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez said early Saturday morning the police conducting the raid did not act inappropriately, but students say they experienced violence from authorities. In a press release late Saturday evening, New Haven Police Department spokesman Joe Avery said the raid was one of three “compliance inspections” conducted that night.
Witnesses said one student was Tasered at least five times, and five students said several police officers proceeded to surround and repeatedly punch and kick him. An officer then turned to the student crowd and yelled, “Anybody else?” while another shouted, “Who’s next?,” according to accounts from students.
There have been conflicting accounts about the events leading up to this incident. While Avery said the student struck a police officer and had to be Tasered to “be brought under control,” four eye-witnesses said the student had only asked why he could not speak with his friends and never showed any signs of resistance.
In the midst of the ensuing outcry, Dean Mary Miller urged students to be patient.
“Our experience is that the leadership of the New Haven Police will take any complaints very seriously and will conduct, in response to them, an internal investigation,” Miller wrote in an e-mail that University spokesman Tom Conroy said captured the attitude of Yale administrators.
Ezra Stiles College Master Stephen Pitti said the Yale administration will be working with New Haven officials in coming weeks to address the situation.
In an e-mail to the Stiles community, Jaya Wen ’12, a Stiles student activities committee coordinator, said that only one arrest was for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor, and the other four were directly caused by the NHPD’s “poor tactics.”
“The government’s crime-fighting strategy was unnecessarily violent and confrontational,” she wrote.
City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga wrote in an e-mail to the News that the city will “thoroughly review and investigate” any complaints of police brutality.
“The New Haven Police Department does not tolerate or advocate for the use of excessive force,” Mayorga wrote.
Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11 said he was troubled by accounts he had heard of the raid, but that he had yet to receive any documented testimonies for what happened from either people at the event or the New Haven Police Department.
While underage drinking is a phenomenon occurring in all college campuses, Jones said, it is not the reason why violence happens in the streets.
“Going into establishments preventing underage drinking isn’t going to do much to lower the crime rate,” Jones said. “Given the financial situation, spending $15,000 a weekend to check IDs for ‘Operation Nightlife’ seems like a waste of resources.” Operation Nightlife is a recent NHPD initiative to cut violence in the downtown entertainment district.
Melendez said the NHPD chose to raid Elevate after receiving an anonymous tip between 9:30 and 10 pm. that a Yale College party there would likely involve underage drinking. Still, several students said Elevate was particularly strict about checking IDs at the event.
“It was actually the best control of underage drinking I’d seen in my years at Yale,” Lee Kennedy-Shaffer ’13 said.
Kennedy-Shaffer said Elevate had at least six security guards supervising the bar area and making sure only attendees with over-21 wristbands were allowed to have drinks.
Police said overcrowding in the club created a potentially dangerous situation. The Alchemy/Elevate complex has a capacity of 150 people, Avery said, but the compliance check — one of three the NHPD conducted that night — showed 256 were in the establishment at the time.
Once the police arrived, wearing bullet-proof vests and holding assault rifles, students were forced to sit on the ground and were told to neither speak nor touch their cellphones.
Several students reported being assaulted for not following these rules.
A senior Stilesian, who wished to remain anonymous, said a police officer grabbed him for having a cell phone out, cursed at him, confiscated his ID and put him in 90 minutes of “time out.” When the senior asked why he was detained, he said the officer gave no explanation and told him to “sit in the corner and shut the f— up.”
“I didn’t know my rights, so I asked him if I had to put my phone away and he told me ‘not to f—ing question him and to do what he said,’ ” the Stilesian said, adding that he has a bruise on his right arm from the interaction. “As I was standing up, he grabbed me, pulled me toward him, and ripped my shirt.”
Several other students reported being placed in similar “time outs,” and seven said they heard police officers yelling and cursing at the crowd and specific individuals.
As students filed out of the club, the police made some stay behind because they did not have IDs on them during the raid.
Elizabeth Freeburg ’13 was forced to remain on the first floor because she had not taken her ID with her that evening. After waiting for more than 15 minutes, and speaking to several police officers who were unsure of why the students were being held, she said they were released.
“Things were absolutely beyond what was necessary,” she said.
Students assembled in both Morse and Stiles colleges Saturday to discuss with masters and deans what had occurred at Elevate. Additionally, a Facebook group created by Ben Stango ’11 called “I Witnessed Police Brutality at the Morse-Stiles Screw” had 30 members as of 9 p.m.
“The whole idea right now is that there is a lot of anger, frustration, and a lot of people who want to riot,” he said. “We need to channel that anger in a productive rather than destructive way.”
Last weekend, the NHPD stopped 15 people for underage drinking and seized eight fake IDs.
Egidio DiBenedetto and Colin Ross contributed reporting.