As Tuesday’s court date for the five students arrested during the Oct. 2 SWAT raid on the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate approaches, the New Haven Police Department Internal Affairs review of the incident may soon be concluding.
Capt. Denise Blanchard, who is in charge of investigating claims of police brutality for the city’s police force, said that she has received most of the information her team was waiting on and has begun the process of examining the evidence. Despite the progress, Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 said he is “absolutely astonished” at how long the investigation has taken and that he encouraged the city to release a report as soon as possible. Another investigation into that evening, for the trials of the five students arrested during the raid, may also be concluding. Hugh Keefe, the lawyer for four of the students, said he hopes that the cases will be dismissed soon, and will not be postponed to a fifth date now that the prosecution has had three months to investigate.
Blanchard said she would not describe the investigation as “wrapping up,” but she added that Internal Affairs was no longer waiting on any evidence. When interviewed by the News in December, Blanchard said there still might be more testimonies of the raid coming in.
Blanchard said at that time that “time restraints are loose” for an investigation. But Jones, who represents students in the city, thinks the investigation should have been concluded long ago.
“I am absolutely astonished by the remarkably slow progress of this investigation,” Jones said. “Months after the event, we still have no clear explanations as to why this incident occurred, nor do we have policy solutions offered by the Mayor’s Office or police department to explain how the city will avoid similar mistakes in the future.”
Jones said he believes it is in the best interests of the city to resolve the Elevate case and “restore the public trust in the department,” before more officers who could have been implicated in the results of the investigation retire with full pensions and benefits. NHPD Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez, who was the ranking officer present at the raid, announced his retirement on Jan. 6 after 33 years on the police force.
As for the pending criminal charges against five students, Blanchard said that her investigation was independent from that of the state prosecution, and that Internal Affairs did not have any deadlines regarding legal investigations because its only directive is to check for policy and procedure infractions.
Still, one of the students arrested said that he thought the prosecution might be waiting on the results of the Internal Affairs investigation before deciding whether or not to drop charges.
“Hopefully at some point soon these cases will be dismissed,” Keefe said, maintaining his stance that his clients were unjustly accused.
The Tuesday court appearance marks the fourth time the students have been scheduled for the pretrial hearing. The original date was set for Oct. 18, but David Strollo, the state prosecutor in charge of the case, requested more time to collect evidence, Keefe said in November.
After the third postponement, Keefe said he was not surprised, and that it is “routine” for a case to go through several court dates. Although he said he has had multiple conversations with Strollo, he admitted that he does not know what will happen at the next court appearance.
Along with student and officer testimonies, evidence concerning the SWAT raid may also include video footage of the evening which could indisputably settle many questions about police actions. Elevate’s lawyer John Carta said that the club possesses the video, and that he had already begun the process of evaluating and assessing the evidence as of late October.
The raid on Elevate was part of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s “Operation Nightlife,” which sought to eliminate club-related violent crime in downtown New Haven.
Alon Harish contributed reporting.