Ten minutes before the Morse-Ezra Stiles college screw was set to end early Saturday morning, more than a dozen New Haven police officers and liquor agents raided the downtown nightclub where the event took place.
Five students were arrested, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said in an e-mail to the Yale College community Saturday morning. According to interviews with about a dozen eye witnesses, one student was Tasered. Gentry said one student was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital but has since been released.
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Armed with what witnesses said were assault rifles and wearing what appeared to be SWAT gear, the officers stormed into the Crown Street club Elevate at 12:50 a.m., yelling at students to hit the ground, shut up and get out their IDs. By the end of the night, dozens of Morse and Stiles students turned to their residential college deans and masters for answers, asking whether police brutality had occurred.
“This is a serious situation and we do not yet know all the facts,” Gentry said. “I have asked Assistant Chief Ronnell Higgins of the Yale Police to assist us in gathering information.”
Interviewed at the scene early Saturday morning, New Haven Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez said the police conducting the raid in no way acted inappropriately and that the operation had been announced ahead of time as part of “Operation Nightlife” — the New Haven Police Department’s recent initiative to curb violence in the downtown entertainment district. Melendez said an “enhanced” police detail of about a dozen officers conducted the raid, and the NHPD arrested about a dozen people across the city Friday night and early Saturday morning as part of the operation.
“We announced we were coming out last weekend, and this weekend,” he said.
The raid comes nearly two weeks after gun violence erupted on Crown Street, leaving two men injured and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. pledging to crack down on downtown clubs and nightlife venues.
Melendez said the NHPD decided to raid Elevate on Friday evening at about the same time the Crown Street command post received an anonymous tip that a Yale College party was going to be held at the establishment and that were would likely be underage drinking.
Although the tip came in sometime between 9:30 and 10 p.m., the New Haven Police did not raid the club until nearly three hours later, Melendez said, because it first wanted to investigate two other establishments outside the center city.
“We just decided to go there and come back to [Elevate],” he said.
When the NHPD arrived at the club, Melendez said officers could see that students were getting in without showing proper identification. Gentry said that of the five students that were arrested, one was for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor; two for interfering with police officers; one for assault on police officers and related charges; and one for disorderly conduct.
As police swarmed around the dance floor early Saturday, students stumbled to get down, the lights flickered on and the music dimmed.
Students who tried to text or photograph the scene were told they would be handcuffed and arrested if they did not desist, witnesses said.
By 2 a.m., as the officers were handcuffing uncooperative students and putting others in what witnesses said police called “time out.”
Within the hour, eyewitnesses said, a sophomore was Tasered, jumped on and beaten in the middle of the dance floor by at least four New Haven police officers — as more than a hundred students looked on — because the student was “uncooperative during the raid.”
The raid took approximately an hour to complete, he said, adding that the Liquor Control Commission will handle any liquor-related offenses. It was not until nearly 3 a.m. when police cars, lights flashing, departed Crown Street and the area outside Elevate darkened.
In the hours following the raid, students made their way back to campus in fits and starts. Some were detained because they could not locate their IDs; others, because they had left their personal belongings inside the club and were not allowed to retrieve them until the raid had ended.
About two hours after the raid, Morse College Dean Joel Silverman sent an e-mail to address the onslaught of concern he had been receiving from students.
“We have received many upsetting reports about a police raid which took place downtown, early this morning, at the nightclub in which the Morse/Stiles dance was being held,” Silverman said.
He requested that students come forward if they saw “anything improper or inappropriate occur” during the raid, and he said he will be discussing the evening’s events with Higgins and Gentry.
Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti sent a similar e-mail at about 3 a.m. Saturday, asking students to contact him and Dean Camille Lizarribar with information about the raid.
Friday night marked the second weekend the “Operation Nightlife” unit had been deployed, Melendez said, explaining that the unit includes not just officers, but bicycles, motorcycles, an emergency response team, a mobile command unit and police dogs. He added that this weekend is the last time it will be. Going forward, the city will instead have a “sustainable” unit, he said, which is an enhanced unit the department will deploy less frequently and without prior notice.
As the Elevate raid went on Saturday, less than a block away, a fight broke out between two women at the intersection of College and Crown streets. Though students reported hearing shots fired in the vicinity, Melendez said no shots were fired and that those responsible for the scuffle were arrested.
Last weekend, when “Operation Nightlife” officially started, police arrested two men in connection with the Sept. 19 Crown Street shooting. Police also arrested five for disorderly conduct, broke up two fights and confiscated two fake IDs downtown, they said.
Egidio DiBenedetto and Colin Ross contributed reporting.