Friends, family and Black Lives Matter activists gathered outside the New Haven Police Department Sunday morning to protest the alleged beating of New Haven resident Jeff Agnew on Saturday night.
Agnew told reporters on Sunday that police handcuffed him, sprayed his eyes with pepper spray and then beat him unconscious outside a liquor store on Whalley Avenue on Saturday night. Security guards told Agnew to leave the store after he attempted to help his friend Tyesha Hellams purchase alcohol, Hellams said. Police arrived on the scene and charged Agnew with breach of the peace. Hellams, who was not beaten but filmed Agnew’s encounter with the officers on her phone, was also arrested for disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer, she said.
“I felt a hand on my head, banging on my head,” Agnew said, recounting his experience with the police. “I’m being poked with a bully club,” he added, touching his right arm. “It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever been through. It happened so fast.”
But the account Agnew gave to reporters Sunday does not align with an account detailed in an NHPD statement released later Sunday afternoon.
According to the police report, the liquor store clerk called the police after Agnew began threatening everyone inside the store and screaming at the security guard. According to the store’s security guard Arpit Dave, after the store clerk refused to sell Hellams and Agnew alcohol, Agnew became irate and screamed “Who the f— are you talking to me… you’re nobody.” Police were dispatched to the scene at 9:25 p.m.
The police report said Agnew refused to place his hands behind his back after being arrested, and then “lunged at an officer.”
“He fought with them and violently resisted arrest…Agnew was warned he’d be pepper-sprayed if he didn’t comply. He didn’t and was pepper sprayed. The pepper-spray wasn’t effective. The officer struck Agnew on his bicep with his baton,” the report read.
Agnew had been arrested eight times since 2009, and was released on bond at noon, the report said.
Agnew fell unconscious while in police custody after the alleged beating, and was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital before being brought to NHPD headquarters on Union Avenue. Agnew said he hopes some kind of negotiation with the police can move forward after an investigation of the incident is complete. Black Lives Matter activists were circulating video footage of the incident on Sunday morning.
Hellams said the police did not ask either Agnew or Hellams about what had transpired in the liquor store before apprehending them.
“Nobody should be treated how Jeff got treated,” Hellams said.
Agnew’s experience caught the attention of New Haven’s Black Lives Matter group, which held the demonstration outside police headquarters calling on the city to reform its police department and reduce police misconduct. Black Lives Matter activist and New Haven native Shelton Tucker spoke out against what he described as a “police misconduct problem” in the city.
“Police brutality and misconduct run deep in this city,” Tucker said, adding that his first beating at the hands of the NHPD was at the age of 15 when he was living in The Hill neighborhood. Tucker also drew a distinction between “good cops” and “dirty cops … tarnishing the badge” and called on police officers who obey the law to join forces with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Several local and state leaders attended the demonstration to show their support for Agnew and concern for police misconduct. Gary Winfield, the assistant state Senate majority leader who represents New Haven and West Haven, told the News that any instances of police misconduct represent a problem. A small number of isolated incidents like the one described by Agnew can erode trust between the community and the police.
Winfield added that once a police officer subdues a person, the use of physical force is no longer necessary.
“You don’t get an extra hit,” Winfield said.
Co-founder of the grassroots labor organization New Haven Rising and Reverend Scott Marks said black people experience the police department differently from white people.
“If you’re white and you end up in the hands of the police, it’s more possible for you to be released than put in jail,” he said. Marks called for the Civilian Review Board, New Haven’s panel for citizens who believe they have been mistreated by police, to review Agnew’s case.