NHPD actions under fire

Lawyer: ‘Those officers weren’t acting in any lawful capacity’

By on October 5, 2010

Recent New Haven police conduct is “indefensible,” one New Haven civil rights lawyer said. Another identified one instance of false arrest and a “chilling of the First Amendment.” The lawyer for the recently-raided Alchemy Nightclub likened certain officers to “storm troopers.”

“This is a stain on our police department, our constitution and our city,” William Palmieri, a New Haven civil rights lawyer, said. “It’s a disaster.”

Such was Palmieri’s response to several online videos that show New Haven police officers cursing, screaming and commanding citizens to stop recording police encounters.

The videos surfaced in the midst of “Operation: Nightlife,” a New Haven police campaign to “ensure safety downtown” through a greater police presence, according to city spokesperson Jessica Mayorga.

A Saturday press release from the New Haven Police Department acknowledged inquiries about officer conduct. The NHPD will “investigate fully any complaint or reasonable suspicion of that kind of behavior,” the press release reads.

During a raid of the Elevate Lounge at the Alchemy Nightclub early Saturday morning, witnesses say police officers threatened to handcuff and arrest any person who used cell phones to text or photograph the scene, according to the Yale Daily News.

A week earlier, Quinnipiac senior Kenneth Hartford was told by an officer outside of Toad’s Place to “put that in your fucking pocket,” referring to Hartford’s cell phone.

According to Palmieri, a New Haven lawyer for 17 years, both instances were unequivocally unconstitutional.

“Those officers weren’t acting in any lawful capacity,” Palmieri said of Hartford’s video. “They were acting like rogue cowboys – they were bully boys. And the one officer challenging the person’s filming of this unlawful conduct – he was acting absolutely unreasonably and unconstitutionally.”

Mayor John DeStefano feels strongly about the public’s right to record, Mayorga said, “absolutely.” But questions abounded when police officers threatened arrest upon anyone who recorded the raid at Alchemy. According to New Haven lawyer John Williams, the police threats were a violation of the First Amendment.

“The fact that they deterred them from recording what was going on–that’s a chilling of the First Amendment,” Williams said.

Webster’s Dictionary of Law identifies the chilling effect as the “inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of a constitutional right.” Williams recognized the police’s threat to arrest those who record or text message as a clear example.

As of Tuesday, New Haven Chief of Police Frank Limon had not responded to questions about police procedure with citizen recording.

“We need the cops there, but we need the cops to obey the law,” Williams, a practicing lawyer for 40 years in New Haven, said.

No United States or Connecticut laws explicitly deny the right to record audio or video in a public setting. Certain state governments, like Massachusetts, use wiretapping statutes to prosecute filmed police encounters. No such statutes have been upheld in Connecticut.

In a letter to Limon, Alchemy lawyer John Carta addressed additional points of alleged police misconduct:

“We are still gathering information, however, it appears that members of the New Haven Police Department overacted and became belligerent, threatening, and were brandishing weapons, marching through the premises like storm troopers, assaulting patrons, swearing at the patrons, and insulting patrons who showed foreign identifications.” (See full letter at bottom of page)

E-mails to Mayor DeStefano’s office and the NHPD with questions on police conduct remain unanswered.

Quinnipiac’s only official statement on the matter comes from Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell, who said student safety “is of paramount importance.”

“To that end, we implemented a shuttle service to New Haven several years ago and its popularity has increased over the years,” she said. “We are aware that the mayor has expressed concern about all students who frequent certain parts of the downtown area. If there are steps we can take to further ensure the safety of our students as they travel in and out of New Haven, we would surely discuss that with the appropriate parties.”

The Alchemy raid is currently under investigation from the NHPD and Yale officials, the Daily News reports.

Alchemy attorney writes to New Haven Chief of Police Frank Limon

Document via New Haven Independent

Comments

About Joe Pelletier

2 Comments

  1. Ben Stango

    October 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

    STUDENT RESPONSE COMMITTEE
    Responding to the Recent NHPD Raid on the Yale Student Party at Elevate Lounge

    MEDIA ADVISORY

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    CONTACT:

    Michael Jones, (203) 936-9434
    Ward 1 Alderman, City of New Haven

    Students To Hand Deliver Complaint Forms To Officials En Masse

    [NEW HAVEN, CT] — A group of students who witnessed questionable behavior during the
    recent Elevate raid will gather to march together and hand deliver their Civilian Complaint
    Forms to officials. This will be a strong display of solidarity among the community, and should
    serve as example that everyone should feel free to share their accounts of the raid.

    WHO: A group of students

    WHAT: Eye witnesses of questionable behavior deliver complaints to officials

    WHERE: Meet at Phelps Gate at Yale University (344 College Street)

    WHEN: Thursday, October 7 at 3:45 p.m.

    The New Haven Police Department’s Raid on Elevate Lounge occurred at approximately
    12:50 a.m. on the morning of October 2nd. Officers in the NHPD and CT Liquor Commission
    agents raided a party co-hosted by Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges (two of Yale’s twelve
    residential colleges) that was hosted at Club Elevate on Crown Street. The raid occurred as part
    of “Operation Nightlife” which is a recent initiative of the NHPD to increase police presence in
    the city’s Entertainment District – in which Elevate Lounge is located. During the raid, 5
    students were arrested.

    ###

    The Student Response Committee is a coalition of the Yale College Council, the Morse and Ezra
    Stiles College Councils and Student Activity Committees, and other interested campus leaders.
    The group remains committed to working with the City of New Haven and the New Haven
    Police Department to work towards an amicable resolution.

  2. Dot Khan

    October 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    A lawyer is an expert in suing others which influences his views on a situation. My expertise is over 20 years as a professional video cameraman and formerly worked almost as long at Toad’s. So I am familiar with both filming without getting in the way and college student attitudes.
    One can record a police arrest but Kenneth Hartford insisted on getting too close. At first, the officers seemed to welcome him until he lied when asked if he was recording.
    Most amateur videos fail to capture everything in a situation from the beginning and are therefore out of context of what happened before. That said, Ken was arrested not for videotaping but for interfering with an investigation.