By Ralph Marnham
A GROUP of Yale undergraduates stood before reporters on Tuesday 5 October at Phelps Gate on the university campus to give their versions of what had happened when police interrupted a private party in downtown New Haven the previous Saturday morning. They recounted an incident in which they say police, some in SWAT gear, barged into Elevate club, barked orders and profanities and provocatively threatened arrest for anyone who questioned their presence or asked the most basic questions.
Some students were said to be crying even before an officer used a stun gun on one sophomore. The police said the student had assaulted three officers. Another student said an officer had punched him.
Raids on bars are not unusual these days in New Haven, where huge crowds in a cluster of downtown nightspots have lately turned rowdy. Yale deans have urged students to write up accounts of the police action, and have sent counsellors to the two residences, Ezra Stiles College and Morse College, which organised the event. The following Thursday, a group of students walked to police headquarters with their formal complaints.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in an interview that the presence of two officers in riot gear, who were members of the police SWAT team, was “excessive and inappropriate” and “should not have been part” of the inspection. “We undertook 16 inspections over the past two weeks, and most went fine and accomplished our mission of enforcing under-age drinking,” DeStefano said. “Clearly, there were some things that could have been better handled Friday night, and this department needs to look at that.”
“I’ve never felt any danger in New Haven before this event,” recalled Jaya Wen, an undergraduate who was present during the raid. “It was the police action that caused our feeling of being unsafe – of terror.” Students also say police threatened them with arrest for taking video and pictures of the raid. Chief Frank Limon has said that there would be an internal affairs investigation of Saturday morning’s raid.