Adrian Kulesza, Staff Photographer
Content warning: The first embedded link in this story is a video containing graphic depictions of police violence.
On Jan. 29, a security guard at Connecticut Financial Center on Church Street recorded a video of a New Haven Police officer repeatedly punching a man in the head. After the video became public, New Haven Police Department Chief Otoniel Reyes launched an internal use-of-force investigation into the incident.
Officers Ashley McKernan and Justin Cole arrived at the office scene at around 4:20 p.m., where the building management had terminated their contract with 52-year-old Shawn Marshall’s company. According to the official police report and video footage of the incident, Marshall refused to leave the building — leading to an hour-long standoff between himself and police officers. The officers ultimately resorted to force to evict Marshall. The video’s circulation on social media prompted debates on how police should respond to signs of mental distress, such as those as apparently exhibited by Marshall.
“It seems to me that the gentleman was experiencing some serious mental health issues,” University of New Haven professor and Board of Police Commissioners member Michael Lawlor said. “A lot of focus has happened in recent years on what’s the best way for police to deal with persons who are experiencing mental health issues and bringing in some mental health professionals.”
Marshall had been running his business, Leadstar Consulting, on the 19th floor of the Connecticut Financial Center. According to his website, the company helps businesses with brand building, marketing and content creation.
Marshall did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a police report from the date of the incident, Marshall’s lease was terminated on Jan. 27 because of his “disruptive” behavior, such as visiting other office spaces without permission. When NHPD arrived at the scene, Marshall denied receiving any termination letter and engaged in a debate over whether the eviction issue was a civil or criminal matter.
About 45 minutes into bodycam footage released by NHPD, the three officers — Cole, McKernan, and officer in training David DeRubeis — can be seen helping Marshall move his belongings out of the office and to the lobby. Approximately another 45 minutes later, officers pushed Marshall against a wall in an attempt to handcuff him. The officers then tackle Marshall to the ground, where he kicks back at them — leading to Cole punching Marshall three times in the head. McKernan intervened during the scuffle, putting her bodyweight on Marshall’s legs.
Marshall was ultimately arrested on counts of assault of a police officer, interfering with a police officer, trespass first degree, disorderly conduct and failure to allow fingerprinting.
Officers reported that prior to the arrest, Marshall behaved erratically and continually discussed topics unrelated to his office eviction.
“He went on to tell me how he believes he should run for mayor and that Chief Reyes should be his running mate,” McKernan wrote in her report. “Mr. Marshall’s moods would change quickly and without warning.”
The officers’ use of force in arresting Marshall could be brought before the city’s Civilian Review Board — a civilian body meant to supervise the city’s law enforcement agencies and investigate instances of misconduct. The CRB’s actual implementation has been long delayed after the city struggled to decide which individuals to appoint to the board. In December 2020, the board had its first official meeting — but it remains unclear whether they will discuss Marshall’s case.
“[W]e’ve decided it’s best if we don’t comment on this incident at this time,” Civilian Review Board member Rick Crouse told the News. “ّWe are still formalizing our procedures as a board.”
Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth told the News that a case such as Marshall’s may be better dealt with in the future by the city’s community crisis response team.
In August, city officials announced plans to create a community crisis response team — whereby mental health professionals or other social service providers can respond to non-emergency 911 calls. Elicker listed the response team pilot as a plan for the new year in his State of the City address earlier this month.
According to Roth, the arrest is an example of why the response team could be effective.
“This incident is an example of why it is important that the city is developing a Community Crisis Response Team pilot,” Roth said. “There are some categories of cases that police currently respond to that it likely would be more effective if others such as social workers, mental health workers and medical professionals responded.”
In an NHPD press release from Feb. 3, Reyes said that the NHPD planned to conduct an internal investigation into the incident to determine if the officers’ actions were appropriate.
“We take use of force seriously and the Internal Affairs review will determine if the use of force was within the guidelines of department policy,” Reyes said.
The Board of Police Commissioners did not mention the incident during their Tuesday night meeting.
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