As rumors and allegations surrounding Saturday’s early morning raid of the Morse-Stiles screw at Elevate Lounge continue to surface, the University, New Haven Police Department and city officials are struggling to separate fact from fiction.
The NHPD is opening a formal investigation into the controversial raid, and its internal values and ethics unitwill begin interviewing students on Wednesday as part of the investigation.Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the University will facilitate the process by providing assistance in setting up interviews. Meanwhile, Alchemy Nightclub, the umbrellacompany that operates Elevate, plans to notify the city this week ofa possible lawsuit against the NHPD for what Alchemy’s lawyer saidwas police brutality.
“All the parties are trying to do the same thing,” Morse College Master Frank Keil said Sunday. “Get our information cleaned up so there is no misinformation in going forward.”
Witnesses to the scene say that police shoved, punched and manhandled students, in addition to using excessive profanity.Five students were arrested;three were taken to jail, one of whom 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 were released by Saturday evening.
NHPD spokesman Joe Avery said the bust was one of three “compliance inspections” conducted that night. The raid occurred less than two weeks after NHPD kicked off “Operation Nightlife,”an initiative to cut violence in the downtown entertainment district.
Several students interviewed saidone student was taseredmultiple times. Five students said several police officers then proceeded to surround and repeatedly punch and kick him. The student who was Tasered declined to comment because ofa pending court case.
“It sounds like a very clear Fourth Amendment violation,” New Haven lawyer and Yale Law School faculty member David Rosen said of the incident after hearing the News’s description of events. “It’s as ifthere was a blinking marquee sign saying ‘Fourth Amendment [issues].’”
As the weekend unfolded, University officials tried to contain the explosion of student responses while they gathered testimonials about the night.
In an e-mail to students Sunday evening, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she and University President Richard Levin convened with college masters, deans, administrators and members of the General Counsel to “decide on next steps.”
“I think it’s important for students to know that this is being taken seriously by the University,” she said in a phone interview Sunday night.
Administrators are working to address several issues, including questions of why cell phones were forbidden during the raid, Millersaid in her e-mail.
She added that Yale is trying to plan a response that will not interfere with the legal defenses of those students with pending criminal charges. Yale will assist students who ask for help finding legal counsel or representation, Conroy said.
In the initial backlash of the raid, masters and deans of Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges both held college meetings with students on Saturday to discuss the event.Developing a coherent account of the night’s events is one of the University’s top priorities, Keil said.
Morse freshman counselor Tully McLoughlin ’11 is spearheading one effort to compile accounts from the raid. McLoughlin plans to forward the testimonies he collects to the Council of Masters, deans of all residential colleges and Miller.
“All the student responses are gathering perspective about the night from various eyewitnesses so we have as full a picture as possible,” McLoughlin said. “When Yale addresses the issue with the police, we want our knowledge to be as complete and factual and accurate as we can.”
McLoughlin said Keil and Morse College Dean Joel Silverman fully support the initiative, and are encouraging students to file official complaints using their full names. Students filing complaints are fully protected by the University, McLoughlin said.
Both Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges have sent e-mails to their students explaining how to file civilian complaints against the police.
“PROMOTING PUBLIC SAFETY”
Interviewed at the scene early Saturday morning, New Haven Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez said the raid was not an impromptu event. The NHPD decided to raid Elevate on Friday evening, he said, after an anonymous tip revealed that a Yale College party — with likely underage drinking — was going to be held at the venue. He added that the NHPD hade made the operation known ahead of time as part of “Operation Nightlife.”
“We announced we were coming out last weekend, and this weekend,” he said.
But another city official gave different reasons for the bust. In a press release late Saturday evening, Avery said the raid was necessary because overcrowding in the club created a potentially dangerous situation. 256 patrons were in the establishment at the time of the raid, he said, despite the fact the Elevate room has a capacity of 150 people.
Jaya Wen ’12, an Ezra Stiles student activities coordinator, said she had been informed by the club owner that the Alchemy/Elevate complex would comfortably fit 350 people and that the official capacity is higher than 350.
“The owner told us [midway through the party] that we were nearing capacity, and in order to prevent us from going over capacity he would open up the back doors of Elevate that lead to Alchemy,” Wen said. “Both the club and the student organizers took necessary precautions to prevent overcrowding.”
Accounts about the Tasered student also vary. Avery said the student had to be struck and “be brought under control” after attacking a police officer, but four eye-witnesses said the student had only asked why he could not speak with his friends and never showed any signs of resistance. Wen said four out of the five arrests that night were directly caused by the NHPD’s “poor tactics.”
Four studentsquestioned why the NHPD felt a need to crackdown on students when none of the recent incidents of violence involved Yalies.
“The aim of promoting public safety at night in New Haven is a really great idea,” said Rosen. “But a lot of really dumb things have been done in the name of good ideas. This sounds as though this may have been one of them.”
Melendez said that the team of about a dozen officers who conducted the raid did not act inappropriately.
“AN ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE”
Alchemy’s owners are alleging police officers used excessive force, and are now gearing up to take legal action. Alchemy’s attorney John Carta said he thought the police officers raiding the club acted“drunk with their power.”
“It was just an absolute nightmare,” Carta said. “It was an absolutely unprovoked and uncalled-for nightmare.”
Though Carta himself was not present during the raid, he said that multiple interviews with the club’s owner have indicated that the police used immoderate force throughout the crackdown. In his 15 years representing Alchemy, Carta said, he has never heard of police exercising such force in what should be routineand what he called“civilized”checks. And Carta said the raid is especially surprising considering it was a Yale event; in the past, he said, Yale students have been nothing but well-behaved.
Carta said the brother of one of the club’s former owners, a man in his 40s who was present during the raid, was shoved and thrown to the floor by police officers without rationale. Police came bearing assault rifles, Carta said, some of which were pointed at patrons’ faces. He said the club plans to notify the city this week about a possiblelawsuit related to the raid.
“The club will not be just standing still and doing nothing,” Carta said.
Though Alchemy has yet to determine on what grounds it mightsue, the decisioncould come down to financial reasons, Carta said. The club is worried that, after the brutality owners and students said they witnessed during the raid, former patrons will be loath to return out of fear; if that’s the case, Carta said, the city will have to make up for lost profits.
“There’s been a movement to make [downtown] safer, but if you’re doing that at the expense of people’s civil liberties, not only is it outrageous, it’s illegal,” Carta said.
On the first weekend of “Operation Nightlife,”the NHPD stopped 15 people for underage drinking and seized eight fake IDs.