Following allegations that NHPD Chief Dean Esserman verbally harassed an usher at the Yale Bowl during the Yale-Army football game, several New Haven alders are seeking to address Esserman’s apparent misbehavior at a Board of Police Commission meeting planned for Tuesday.
On Dec. 11, Dan Weinberger, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, wrote a letter to the Board of Alders claiming that Esserman verbally harassed an usher after the usher asked to see his tickets during the Yale-Army game. In his letter, a copy of which was published in the New Haven Independent, Weinberger said Esserman refused to show the usher his ticket, claiming he had an “all-access pass” as police chief. Esserman then began to yell at the usher after the usher mentioned privately to Weinberger and his wife that Esserman was a “‘jerk (or something to that effect),” the letter states.
In response, seven alders signed a letter on Dec. 22 addressed to Mayor Toni Harp and Police Commission Chair Tony Dawson that expressed concern about the chief’s conduct. Esserman has since apologized for the incident, but the Board of Alders plans to follow up on the issue at the Board of Police Commission meeting on Tuesday.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate said. “I think the chief made a mistake, and he needs to be held accountable like everybody else.”
Wingate was one of the seven people who signed onto the letter of criticism, written by Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth. The letter stressed that Esserman’s behavior was concerning because it was “an example of unnecessarily escalating conflict” and “harm[ed] the trust people have in the police.” Roth also wrote that Esserman, as a role model for the NHPD, should be especially aware of his conduct.
The letter said that, in addition to the seven signers, several other alders expressed concern regarding the chief’s behavior, citing personal encounters or complaints they heard from constituents during his term. The alders seek to address “a broader pattern of arrogant behavior” at the Jan. 13 police commission meeting, Roth wrote.
The alders’ letter referenced a similar incident during Esserman’s position as police chief in Providence in which he was accused of verbally harassing a subordinate officer. In that case, Esserman was suspended. The letter stated that Esserman also apologized in that case but does not seem to have changed his behavior.
Wingate said that although the alders believe the chief’s behavior should be watched for the remainder of his term, their goal is not to have Esserman fired.
“I don’t think the man should lose his job,” Wingate said. “I think he needs to learn from this mistake.”
City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the mayor and the chief have already addressed the incident. Harp wrote a letter of reprimand to the chief in response to Weinberger’s complaint. Grotheer added that because the Board of Alders operates independently of the mayor, their views do not reflect those of the mayor.
Esserman has served as New Haven Police Chief since 2011. Prior to that, he served as chief of the Metro North police force.