Fifteen months ago, New Haven Police Department officers, some dressed in SWAT gear, raided a nightclub hosting a Yale party. They Tasered one student. They swore at and threatened many others. By the end of the night, they had arrested five students.
It was not until two months ago that all the charges against the last of those students, Jordan Jefferson ’14, were dismissed. He was the student stunned with a Taser — as many as five times, witnesses at the scene said, adding that several police officers then repeatedly punched and kicked him. A video — filmed by a student on a cellphone despite the police’s illegal order not to use them — shows one officer turning to the student crowd and yelling “Who’s next?”
Police charged Jefferson with three counts of assaulting an officer and four other students with disorderly conduct. All five had to make court appearances and wait months to see their charges dismissed.
The officers involved in the incident acted out of order. But the only penalty they faced was a quick Internal Affairs investigation that concluded that the force used in the raid was justified.
Former police chief Frank Limon dodged any real admission of guilt for his department’s failings by pinning all blame on former Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez. Melendez had led the raid — but also conveniently retired two months before the report’s release.
Outrage followed the raid and the report, as it should have. Students had been arrested for reasons so dubious that every charge against them was dismissed. Police officers were treated with kid gloves.
That outrage has dimmed, and perhaps for good reason. New Haven has a new police chief. There has been no serious confrontation between Yale students and police since the raid. We have been to Elevate parties since then without incident.
No students have been Tasered recently, but we shouldn’t forget the double standard the fallout from the raid exposed. While the officers faced only a weak internal review, five students went through a court ordeal that lasted up to a quarter of their Yale careers.
We’re glad the scandal is over. We’re glad Jefferson and the other charged students can move on. But we worry about the extent to which the New Haven Police Department is still allowed to police itself. This is the worst treatment Yalies have faced in recent memory, but we know other New Haveners have seen much worse — and their plight has received far less attention.
New Police Chief Dean Esserman was hired for his commitment to community policing. But to earn the trust of the community, his department must not only embrace new strategies but also be ready to hold its officers accountable. It can do so through structural changes in civilian oversight, but it can do even more by rejecting the kind of evasion that Limon demonstrated after the raid. That kind of change is the only thing that can make the legacy of the Elevate fiasco a relic of the past.