It has been over five months since I was among a group of four other college students who were arrested following a New Haven Police raid of the Elevate Lounge. While my charge of interfering with police was dismissed on March 11, three students still have charges pending against them. So far removed from the incidents that occurred at Elevate, it’s easy to wonder why it is still worth talking about. Faced with a police force currently struggling to maintain its legitimacy in New Haven, Yale students should view Elevate as an introduction to the widespread accounts of police misconduct in the Dixwell, Newhallville and Fair Haven communities.
Early on Oct. 2, 2010, I was seated on a curb in a parking garage outside of Elevate Lounge on Crown Street, handcuffed beside a 225-pound ex-college football player named Jordan Jefferson ’13. Unable to support his body weight and with his handcuffs digging into his wrists, Jordan leaned on my back, a gaping wound beneath his right eye staining my jacket. Not knowing why I was handcuffed, but confident that I was not going to jail, I only showed concern for Jordan. Officer Matthew Abbate stood across from us, bragging to a crowd of young cops about assaulting Jordan with fists and Tasers, before piecing together a story about a fight that never happened. He said that Jordan had swung at him, so he “stun-drived” the student with a taser. To add to the fiction, he claimed that Jordan struck Lt. Thaddeus Reddish, who was in full SWAT gear.
I looked over my shoulder and Jordan was struggling to keep his eyes open, unable to listen to Abbate.
I said to him: “I saw everything they did to you. They are not going to get away with this. I promise you that.”
With sirens blaring, a male and female EMT descended from an ambulance and began to examine Jordan’s swollen face. I mentioned that he’d been Tased several times. Upon hearing my comment, the female EMT asked Officer Abbate why the police at the scene hadn’t mentioned anything about the tasing, since that would require hospital treatment before Jordan was taken to jail.
A moment later, another officer arrived with a Taser cartridge in hand, asking to whom it belonged. No one could give an answer, as Jordan had been Tased many times by different officers.
As the cops drifted away from the EMTs, Jordan was lifted onto a stretcher and strapped in with his hands still cuffed behind his back. The police officers refused the EMT’s request to cuff him to the metal posts of the bed, deciding to leave him in pain, unable to lean against the plastic mattress. After about 10 minutes, the police gave in and cuffed Jordan to the stretcher.
Just then, a police wagon turned into the parking garage. I looked over at the three other students in handcuffs seated on two different curbs. I called to an officer in front of me.
“I’m sorry, do you know why I’m handcuffed?”
He said he didn’t, and neither did the woman beside him. Another tall, skinny officer stepped over.
“I’m sorry, do you know why I’m handcuffed?” I asked again.
“You don’t know why you’re handcuffed?” He replied.
“No,” I answered.
“Did an officer tell you not to use your cellphone?” He quipped.
“Did you use it?”
“I don’t think so. I may have touched the screen.”
“Exactly,” he said.
Within minutes, I was being escorted to an overcrowded police wagon, after another Yale student had been seated inside.
A heavyset officer told me to get in and go all the way down.
“There’s no space,” I replied.
I turned around and saw his hand pointing to the metal floor. I kneeled in between two of the five males seated in one side of the wagon and saw the officer nod.
I was in disbelief, leaving the wagon nearly an hour later with my hands completely numbed from the tightness of the handcuffs and my position on the floor. My jeans were wet with the urine of an arrested male who couldn’t hold it in any longer. I still had no idea why I had been arrested.
At 3:39 a.m. I was booked at the Union Avenue Detention Center. I handed my jacket to an officer.
“Look at this, a fuckin’ Yale kid.”
I asked him, “Do you know what I’ve been arrested for?”
An officer replied, “You don’t know?”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, what did you do?”
“Nothing. They said I had my cellphone out during a raid?”
“Are you sure you didn’t say ‘Go fuck yourself’ to a cop?”
“You’ll be fine.”
I entered my cell, where I lay sleepless for 10 hours on a metal bed. A moment’s rest would be interrupted by banging on cell walls and yelling from panicky men nearby. Frozen and exhausted, I tucked my hands and arms into my shirt and began rocking, trying to calm my breathing.
I flashed back to the frenzied events that I could not believe had just happened. I remembered the swollen welt beneath Jordan’s eye. I remembered Officer Abbate applying the Taser to the top of Jordan’s back and Lt. Reddish jumping on top of him with several other officers, firing Tasers and clenching fists.
I reminded myself of what I’d said to Jordan. “I saw everything they did to you.”
Zachary Fuhrer is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and a former arts & living editor for the News.