Tim Tai, Photography Editor

A sweatshirt helped Yale Police detectives track down a group of young white teens who coated the walls of the Kline Biology Tower with racist and antisemitic graffiti in two incidents last fall

This week, YPD officials confirmed to the News that they arrested and charged five people — two juveniles and three adults — in connection to the vandalism last year. The YPD had not previously announced any arrests made in this case. 

YPD arrested the teens in November 2021, just one month after the second of two incidents during which the group snuck into the building and spray-painted graffiti inside. After collecting footage of the perpetrators committing the second vandalism attack, detectives publicly released photographs asking for assistance from the public to identify the vandals. 

The tower has been closed for renovations and reconstruction since a 2019 electrical fire scarred the building’s basement with smoke and water damage. Those renovations are expected to be done by the summer of 2023. With construction ongoing, the five individuals snuck into the site, spray painting the hate-based graffiti in two incidents in the fall of 2021: the first, sometime over the weekend of Sept. 17, and the second on Oct. 4. 

The first incident: Sept. 17-20, 2021 

When workers from the contracted construction company came into work Monday morning on Sept. 20, they noticed swastikas and the N-word spray-painted inside the building. The graffiti also covered one employee’s project materials. The next day, they notified the YPD, who opened an investigation. 

“The first incident was not captured on camera because there were no cameras,” Chief Campbell told the News. He said without camera footage it would have been difficult to find success with such an investigation.  

The YPD then began camera installation at the site. In an email released to the University community on Oct. 5, former YPD Chief and Associate Vice President of Yale Public Safety and Community Engagement Ronnell Higgins wrote that Yale Facilities and the construction company had installed security cameras and strengthened the perimeter fencing and access gates around the site. 

The construction and facilities teams worked to scrub off and paint over the graffiti by the end of the day on Sept. 21. But two weeks later, the perpetrators struck again, defacing the site with fresh hate-based graffiti. 

The second incident: Oct. 4, 2021

As soon as YPD caught word that the graffiti was back, officers documented and photographed the antisemitic and racist messages before once again scrubbing and repainting the area. 

“We had suggested to the construction company that we really [thought they] should put some cameras there,” explained Campbell. “They did. And the cameras captured the entirety of the incident.”

With the full incident on camera, Higgins alerted the University in a public safety advisory email and posted photos of the perpetrators on the YPD website one day after the incident on Oct. 5. Those photos have since been removed from the website. Higgins wrote in the email that he was posting the photos to get help from the public in identifying the individuals captured on video. 

According to Campbell, posting those photos worked. 

From the sweatshirt to the arrest

Someone who had seen the photos circulating through local news outlets was able to identify a local high school’s emblem on one of the perpetrator’s sweatshirts. Detectives then went to that high school, showing photos to school employees to help identify the teens. 

An employee was able to recognize one of the teens, according to Campbell, providing detectives with their identity.

 “Once we had that, we spoke to that individual and we were able to get all the other individuals,” Campbell said. 

Within two weeks, the YPD had identified all five suspects, who then came to police headquarters with their parents and their lawyers. Campbell said they all admitted to spray painting the graffiti. 

According to YPD Assistant Chief Von Narcisse, five individuals were arrested on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13, 2021. Narcisse noted that none of the arrestees were affiliated with Yale. 

The vandals were charged with different combinations of criminal mischief in the second degree, intimidation based on bigotry or bias, conspiracy to commit burglary in the third degree, conspiracy to commit criminal mischief in the second degree and conspiracy to commit intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the third degree. 

The aftermath

At the time, the incident prompted a swirl of media attention and responses from public officials including New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s third district Rosa DeLauro, who both condemned the incident. 

The Anti-Defamation League reported in April that the number of antisemitic incidents in the US reached an all-time high in 2021 climbing up by 34 percent rise from 2020. This rise has ripped across college campuses in particular, as a recent ADL and Hillel International report found that one in three Jewish college students had personally experienced antisemitic hate on campus in the last year. That report was released just weeks after the Kline Biology Tower vandalism. 

“It was certainly a highly unfortunate incident both for and beyond the Jewish community,” said Slifka Center Executive Director Uri Cohen. “I am optimistic about the communication and coordination between the authorities and Slifka Center in future such instances should they occur.”

Antisemitic graffiti was found outside the Yale Law School steps between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in early October 2019. Still-unidentified perpetrators sculpted swastikas in patches of snow on trees in 2008 and scrawled swastikas in chalk on Old Campus in 2014.

Sophie Sonnenfeld is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor and covered cops and courts as a beat reporter. She is a junior in Branford College double majoring in political science and anthropology.