An investigation by the Yale Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit into a complaint that a YPD officer inappropriately used a firearm in detaining Tahj Blow ’16 has found that the officer’s actions complied with department policy.
Blow was stopped on Jan. 24 after the YPD received reports that an intruder had entered Trumbull College. The report was amongst a series of thefts in the college. The intruder was described as a tall African-American male who was wearing a red and white hat and a black coat.
According to the report, the release of which was announced in a campus-wide email early Tuesday afternoon, the officer did not point his firearm at Blow, but instead held the weapon at the “low-ready position.” The position, the report noted, is “a technique that involves a firearm pointed in the direction of, but not directly at, a potential suspect.” The report further stated that video surveillance showed that officer’s finger was “indexed along the receiver or frame of the gun,” a technique which keeps the finger away from the trigger.
The report’s conclusion stated that the officer — whose name, along with Blow’s, was redacted — “was working well within the established and accepted procedures for a law enforcement officer.” In particular, the report states the officer did not violate department policy on patrol operations, the use of force policy and the post use of force policy.
The report added that the internal unit found “no fault with the actions of [the officer], in their entirety, as they relate to this event.”
The 24-page document includes statements from Tahj Blow and the officer, as well as reports from the YPD’s emergency dispatch center, other witnesses and an analysis of video surveillance.
Although the report conceals the names of individuals cited, the content of the report matches details of the investigation previously made public by Blow’s father in a column published in The New York Times.
The campus-wide email, sent by University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, noted that “the student who was detained endured a deeply troubling experience.”
The Jan. 24 incident quickly garnered national attention. Tweets authored by Charles Blow, the New York Times columnist and Tahj Blow’s father, thrust the investigation into the national spotlight. Charles Blow said he was left “fuming” by the stop and that he had “no patience for [people] who try to convince me that the fear of these young [black] men feel isn’t real.” He attached the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe which have been associated with the movements responding to the recent events of Ferguson and Staten Island, in which African-American males have been killed by police officers on duty.
“We also must continue to recognize that this incident intersected — in ways that were both public and very painful —with current national conversations on race, prejudice, policing, and the use of force,” the campus-wide email read. “As we said in our earlier message, these are important and difficult issues, and there are real challenges here that we, as members of the Yale community and as citizens, must face. We will be creating opportunities in the near future to discuss these challenges as a community and hope that you will participate.”
On Tuesday afternoon, in response to the internal investigation, he tweeted “So, according to Yale, this was “in compliance with department policy”? No apology? #sigh,” linking to a YaleNews article discussing the report.
Neither Charles nor Tahj Blow responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
In conflicting statements in the report, Blow said the officer did raise his gun at him, but the officer said it remained in the low-ready position throughout the encounter — which the officer said lasted no longer than 20 seconds. He also told investigators that he believed any officer in his position would have done the same thing.
In a statement to the News, the Yale Police Benevolent Association, a union representing roughly 65 patrol officers and detectives in the YPD, said they were pleased with the results of the investigation.
“We have maintained throughout the investigation that our officer did nothing wrong,” the statement read.
The statement added that, while the benevolent association empathized with the student who was stopped, police officers have to exercise the utmost caution in conducting a felony stop as one hesitation could cost an officer his or her life.
The officer, in his statement, added that he contacted Blow the following evening in order to explain the reason for their interaction and to assure the complainant that “he was just doing his job.” He added that he immediately changed his tone when he realized that Blow was not a threat, but the situation — including the poor lighting, the fact he was alone, the fact that Blow matched the description he had been provided with and a lack of knowledge as to whether the suspect was armed — required him to be initially cautious.
Blow’s complaint was received on Jan. 24 in a phone conversation with a YPD lieutenant. When contacted regarding the investigation, Blow declined to be interviewed, opting instead to send an emailed statement. According to the report, the complaint intake form indicated that Blow understood being stopped, but he said he was concerned with the use of a handgun. It was treated as the initial complaint and began the internal investigation. YPD policy states that “all officers and employees who receive misconduct complaints against other department employees, shall immediately inform a supervisor … so that the supervisor ensures proper intake of the complaint.” While not all complaints require internal review, an investigation was ordered by the chief.
The report added that Charles Blow also filed a complaint, implying in a conversation with a lieutenant that the stop was based on the complainant’s race as opposed to any wrongdoing.
The original incident attracted national attention and discussion, University spokesman Tom Conroy said the University took the correct action in ensuring a full review of the case took place, and then sharing the findings of the investigation.
“Different people can have their own opinions about it, but the important thing is that everyone has the fullest possible information,” Conroy said. “If they’re going to make some judgments, they can certainly make them based on all of the facts that are available.”
In addition to releasing the results of the investigation, the email said the University has convened an independent review panel that will consult administrators on addressing an array of issues that have emerged since the events of Jan. 24. For instance, the panel will review the YPD’s investigation process to ensure that it meets the highest standards and has been invited to offer recommendations to the YPD regarding policy, procedure and training.
Berkeley College Master and professor of psychology Marvin Chun will chair the review panel, which includes former federal judge Stephen Robinson and former president of the New England Association of Chiefs of Police Charles Reynolds. Chun declined to comment during the panel’s review, but confirmed that the panel is made up of just Robinson, Reynolds and himself.
Conroy said the panel is comparable to the campus climate committee that was created under former University President Richard Levin in response to an investigation that claimed Yale had violated Title IX. Levin recruited senior fellow of the Yale Corporation Margaret Marshall LAW ’76 and University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, who was vice president for campus life and dean of students at the University of Chicago at the time, to offer recommendations and insight on the University’s sexual misconduct policies.
“A small group with impeccable credentials was asked to take a look at an issue from a very informed and fresh perspective,” Conroy said in reference to the Title IX group.
Martha Highsmith, a senior advisor to the president and provost, said the panel was selected for its expertise in law, policing and knowledge of the Yale community. She added that senior leaders, including the president, identified and invited individuals who could give excellent advice.
The investigation already identified three areas of deficiency in YPD policy. According to the report, there needs to be clarification in regard to the definitions of “low ready,” “pointing a firearm” and “body camera activation.” The report noted that appropriate training for police officers should follow.
In the campus-wide email, University administrators said they recognized that the investigation publicly intersected with current national conversations on race, prejudice, policing and the use of force. As a result, administrators will be creating opportunities for students to further discuss these challenges, according to the email.
“These are important and difficult issues, and there are real challenges here that we, as members of the Yale community and as citizens, must face,” the email said.
No details of these opportunities were given at the time, but Highsmith said students can expect to hear further details after spring break.
This article has been updated to reflect the version published in print on March 4, 2015.