When protesters marching Tuesday in honor of the late Yale assistant professor Samuel See reached Linsly-Chittenden Hall on High Street, they paused to look up at the windows of the English department building.
“That’s the window of Sam’s office,” Hannah Zeavin ’12 said, pointing to the third floor. “This is where Sam taught.”
Amid chants of “Justice for Sam See!” and “Police Accountability,” roughly 40 protesters wound their way from New Haven City Hall to the headquarters of the New Haven Police Department, blocking oncoming traffic as they cut through the heart of the Yale campus. Protesters called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of See’s arrest and incarceration and an end to the alleged police brutality that they said contributed to his death.
See was detained on Nov. 23 at police headquarters — in the lock-up center administered by state judicial marshals — following a domestic dispute that afternoon with his husband, Sunder Ganglani. Though the men had protective orders against each other, Ganglani had returned to See’s Wooster Square home to retrieve some belongings.
See’s sister, Kelly Flanagan, called in the police after learning of the encounter from out of state. See, who allegedly struggled with the arresting officers, sustained a cut above his left eye and was treated for the injury at Yale-New Haven Hospital before being detained at 1 Union Avenue. State marshals found him dead in his cell the next morning, at roughly 6 a.m. on Nov. 24.
“I called the police for help for my brother that day, and he’s dead,” See’s sister, Kelly Flanagan, told protesters gathered in front of police headquarters. “I do not want this to ever happen to another person again.”
Flanagan was joined by her brother’s friends, colleagues and students from both coasts of the country, in addition to a number of city activists who situated See’s death within what they described as pattern of police brutality. The protest was organized by Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English at the University of California, Davis. Brown and See were Ph.D students together at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It seems [See] was treated in a very inhumane fashion,” said Yale English Professor Jill Campbell, one of a handful of Yale faculty members who participated in the demonstration, along with a number of graduate students and undergraduates. “I don’t know the cause of his death, but the circumstances surrounding his death suggest that in his struggles, he was treated with inhumanity.”
Though See was on leave this semester from the English department, Campbell said she had stayed in touch with her colleague over email and that she knew him to be having health issues. He had been hospitalized several times over the course of the fall, she added.
Campbell said she hoped the protest would put pressure on the city and on the police department to conduct a “truly independent investigation” into the circumstances of See’s death.
Questioning the truthfulness of NHPD reports that See “fell” while being arrested, Brown said the cut above See’s left eye indicates that he was treated violently by police in his own home. He said the specific tragedy of See’s death is inseparable from its social meaning, calling for the development of better means of dealing with people struggling with mental health issues. Having threatened to kill arresting officers, See was charged with threatening in the second degree, interfering with police and violating a protective order, according to the initial police report.
“We can’t believe a word the police say,” Brown said, adding, “Sam was in a fragile state, and he was thrown in jail and left to die. We need to insist that that’s not acceptable.”
Brown likened the case to reports of negligence in the same state-administered lock-up center in 2012, when a 44-year-old woman died after her pleas for help were ignored by state marshals, according to a witness in the jail.
Campbell said See held deep political convictions, and that he would have wanted a political response to the terms of his death.
“He wouldn’t want anyone to think his death was significant only because he was a Yale professor,” she said. “He would want it to be seen as a part of the inhumanity with which other suffering people are treated.”
John Treat, professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures, said any death in police custody raises questions of accountability. He added that he wished University administrators had reckoned more seriously with See’s death — perhaps by expressing deeper grief and condolences. Christopher Miller ’83, professor of French and African-American studies, leveled a similar criticism in a Sunday email to the News, calling the University’s silence “deafening.”
Yale Spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on the protest, as did NHPD Spokesman David Hartman, both reached Tuesday. Conroy said the University was “deeply saddened by Sam See’s tragic and untimely death” and hopes the investigations — both into his cause of death and the circumstances of his incarceration — are concluded shortly.
The state Judicial Branch is still reviewing its internal policies and procedures to make sure there was no wrongdoing on the part of its marshals, Judicial Branch Spokesperson Rhonda Stearley-Hebert said Tuesday. She declined to comment on the protesters’ call for an independent investigation until the state’s internal probe is complete.
The chief state medical examiner’s office has ruled out trauma from the cut to See’s head as his cause of death. A full autopsy report will not be released until the results of a toxicology examination are received.