Last week, a Yale police officer faced backlash from students and New Haven residents after declining to release the details of a civilian complaint filed against him. However, on Sunday night Yale University spokesperson Karan Peart told the News that the officer has decided to release the details of the complaint — but declined to say to whom.
The complaint was filed against Officer Sergei Orshansky, who towed cars belonging to the person filing the complaint and her co-worker, according to a Monday story in the New Haven Register, who had requested access to the complaint. The Register reported that the person who filed the complaint argued that she was not parked illegally, and that the vehicle she was allegedly blocking had room to back out.
The Orshansky was previously able to block the release of the complaint under the Yale Police Benevolent Association’s bargaining agreement. Article XL Section 7 of the agreement, which is listed under the labor agreements on the University’s website, explains that when someone requests access to an officer’s personnel file –– including civilian complaints –– the officer is allowed to file an objection. If this occurs, the agreement states that the Department “shall not disclose the requested records unless ordered to do so by the Freedom of Information Commission.” However, the incident has prompted widespread criticism about the transparency of the YPD –– especially amongst groups pushing for the defunding and dismantling of the Police Department.
“The YPD does make claims that it’s transparent,” Teigist Taye ’22, an organizer with Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, told the News. “They have all these qualities on their website, but when push comes to shove, their actions don’t measure up to these qualities.”
Taye said that she and the rest of BSDY understands that Orshansky’s blockage of the complaint was not illegal, but said that it raises questions about the Department’s values.
After BSDY found out about the incident — which was made public when a reporter from the New Haven Register was denied access to the complaint after filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act — BSDY released a public statement condemning the blockage on social media. In the statement, BSDY said that the Department had “sidestepped integrity and transparency.”
“We understand that, sadly, our open records statute permits public employees to block the release of their employment records until the FOI rules on it,” BSDY’s Wednesday statement on Instagram read. “But we are left to wonder, if the YPD is truly conducting itself in a principled manner, wouldn’t the officers be more forthcoming to inspection? Especially at a time when public confidence in policing is waning.”
Taye said that the Yale administration responded to BSDY’s statement by attempting to set up a meeting with them, but has not provided otherwise any response to the incident. However, the meeting has not yet occured.
On Saturday, Taye said that efforts to communicate with the administration would be a broader conversation than just between BSDY and Yale, and that the conversation should likely extend beyond a single meeting.
“We’re not the gatekeepers of this movement,” Taye said. “Everything we do is in tandem with community organizing efforts. A request of ours was that community organizers that we’ve been partnering with be present at this meeting. Depending on how this meeting goes, if it goes in a way that we disagree with, we’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and see what the next steps are.”
In an emailed statement on Sunday, Peart — the Director of University Media Relations –– said that the officer in question had since decided to disclose the requested civilian complaint information. Peart did not state who the information was provided to, but reporters from the New Haven Register were the individuals who initially filed the request.
On Sunday, just hours before Peart said that the complaint had been released, Jade Villegas ’24, Joaquin Soto ’24 and Mia Toledo-Navarro ’24 led a Black Lives Matter demonstration on Yale’s campus and in downtown New Haven. Protestors criticized the Yale and New Haven police officers for systemic racism and violence against communities of color.
After the protest, Villegas and Soto both said, before they knew that YPD had released the complaint, that they thought the Yale Police Department was not open with students and city residents.
“It’s pretty simple, they aren’t transparent at all,” Villegas said. “Yale claims that they keep us safe, with our maximum security, but as a black person, I don’t feel safe here. Transparency doesn’t exist. They’re hiding everything from us.”
Soto also claimed that YPD does not have a firm understanding of who the students they are meant to protect are. According to Soto and Villegas, this lack of connection between YPD and students makes transparency impossible.
“Last night when I was walking [in sight of a YPD officer], I put my hoodie down and took my key card out,” Soto said. “You constantly have to prove to the police department that you’re a part of the community. That dynamic tells you just how transparent they are with students. They can’t connect with us, know who we are, and who’s a part of the Yale community — they can’t communicate.”
In their response statement to the YPD officer’s initial refusal to release the complaint, BSDY brought up several past instances of lack of police transparency.
The organization particularly highlighted an incident when YPD declined to release police body-cam footage after the Department was called in response to a black student sleeping in a common room.
“We’ve been interacting with the chief and the deputy chief since the beginning of this summer,” Taye said. “And something that they’ve claimed is integrity. Hearing them say that so many times and see something like this happen is disheartening.”
The Yale Police Department is located at 101 Ashmun St.
Owen Tucker-Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
Update, Oct. 12: This story has been updated with the nature of the complaint and the name of the officer involved.