The cops got it all wrong, Horace Rawlings insisted: He’s a lover. Not a fighter. And he can’t wait for the public to see the video.
Of course, he added, if he really had punched a cop after the bars let out, they would have known it. He boxes, after all.
“If I hit you,” Rawlings said, “you are gonna swell up. You are gonna have lumps.”
But two nights in a row the cops set him up, he said. The first night they kicked him bloody while he was handcuffed, he said. He insisted he never attacked them. He vowed that a bystander’s video will bear him out.
The police tell a different story. They accuse Rawlings of causing havoc two nights in a row at club-closing hour, defying orders, fighting officers and raining profanity on them. The officer accused of stomping Rawlings’ bloody head has said the video will bear out his side.
Now the FBI is trying to get to the bottom of what happened. After seeing the above photo in the Independent of Sgt. Chris Rubino’s foot on his neck and reading eyewitness accounts of cops allegedly beating him while handcuffed, the agency opened a civil-rights investigation. (Read about that here.) Three agents came to Rawlings’ Bridgeport home to interview him.
And the video in question is at the center of a New Haven police internal investigation and a high-profile test case of the department’s seriousness about enforcing an order against limiting citizens’ rights to record officers’ actions and against locking them up in the process. (Read about that here.)
“Everything Was Blurry”
Rawlings, who’s 24 and from Bridgeport, came to Pulse nightclub on New Haven’s Chapel Street the night of Friday, June 1, to celebrate with friends, he said. One friend recently graduated from the University of Bridgeport. That ceremony took place at Harbor Yards, where Rawlings gets event-related work, he said.
The group left Pulse as it was letting out around 1:45 a.m. Saturday. People poured out the bar’s back door onto the Temple Street courtyard, one of several trouble crowd spots on weekends in the nightclub district.
As usual, it was a confusing, jam-packed scene. Police received a report that a member of Rawlings’ party had inappropriately touched a woman inside Pulse. The man was trying to get back in. Police said they had to repeatedly tell him to stay out of the club. They claim he refused, swore at them, tried to get back in. They cuffed him and arrested him.
Meanwhile, people told Rawlings what happened. He and others approached to police to ask what happened to their friend.
At this point, the two stories—the police story and the Rawlings story, backed up in part by three eyewitnesses—diverge.
The police version, according to cops present at the scene:
People crowded around the man being arrested as bar patrons flooded onto the plaza. Officer Matthew Silvestrini told the arrested man’s friends they can meet him at the police station. They told the friends to leave the plaza. Rawlings refused. He yelled at them. He refused repeated commands to leave.
Sgt. Rubino, the police supervisor of the downtown bar district, stepped forward. He warned Rawlings one last time. Then he informed he was being arrested. Grabbing his arm, Rubino began to put on handcuffs; Rawlings kept fighting. Officer Josh Kyle came to help. Kyle punched Rawlings, then the two cops tackled him. A fight continued; a crowd closed in to watch. Back-up officers arrived. The cops got the handcuffs on Rawlings.
Still he kicked and fought. Kyle held his fight; Rubino claimed he put his foot on Rawlings’ “back.” All the while he swore at the cops at the top of his voice. The cops finally got him under control. They brought him to the station and charged him with interfering with a police.
Rawlings’ version, offered during an interview Monday. Wearing a camouflage cap, short-sleeved shirt and jeans, he spoke in calm tones of contained outrage:
He wanted to bail out his friend quickly. Because he’s not from New Haven and hasn’t spent much time here (except for occasional runs to Popeye’s on Whalley before a Milford outpost opened), he didn’t know where he’d be able to find his friend. So he asked a cop. “I didn’t speak nasty to the officer,” he claimed. “I already knew how they do people.”
The cop got “super-hostile.” A second came and punched him. He got dizzy as they cuffed him, twisting his arms and his wrists behind his back.
“There was no way I could resist,” he said. “They way they had my arms, it hurt my wrists.”
Then “the stomp fest began.” The officers took turns kicking his head and neck and striking him. His cheek and mouth were bleeding. He was spitting blood.
Yes, he said, he was swearing at them by this point.
“I was so pissed off. They’re really doing this to me? All I could do was look up. I see flashing lights. Everything was blurry. I see people yelling, ‘Stop! Stop!’”
And he saw cameras.
People were whipping out cellphone cameras to record the action. One of them, Devon Youmans, said he started recording a video (at left) after seeing Rawlings get punched and then, while handcuffed, struck by officers. He stopped recording when the cops ordered people to put away their cameras and leave the scene. He left, he said, before the alleged subsequent beating began. (Read his comments in this story.)
One woman leaving Pulse, Tamara Harris, stuck around. She shot the photo of Rubino (at the top of this story) appearing to show Rubino’s foot on Rawlings’ neck. Harris told the Independent she saw Rubino and company “step on his head,” knee his back, and generally “roughhouse” him while he was handcuffed.
Harris’s friend, Jennifer Gondola of Ansonia, kept video-recording the scene. She said she recorded Rubino beating Rawlings bloody while he remained handcuffed. Then Rubino took a pause, approached her, looked at the video, and demanded the camera. She put it in her bra. Rubino ordered a female officer to snatch the camera out of the bra. He pocketed the camera and ordered Gondola arrested for “interfering.” “I would never have let her leave with that phone,” Rubino later told the Independent. “Do you think anybody ever turns anything in in favor of the police? She would have never brought that in. I took that because it was in my favor.”(Click here and here for stories with their differing versions of the incident.)
After spending the night in the 1 Union Ave. lock-up, Rawlings was released Saturday on a promise to appear in court. He went the house in Bridgeport where he lives with his dad and siblings. (He grew up in the projects, he said.)
As the FBI now examines Gondola’s camera to review the video (if it still exists), people on all sides wait to see for themselves who was right.
Horace Rawlings, perhaps most of all, as he awaits a court date next week on what ended up being just misdemeanor charges stemming from his encounter with the cops that night: disorderly conduct; and interfering with an officer/resisting arrest.
Rawlings will also answer the same two charges a second time on that court date, stemming from a similar incident in the bar district the very next night.
It happened outside the Center Street Lounge as it let out around 2 a.m. Sunday.
Here’s what police described as happening:
Shots rang out near the club. Cops responded.
At the scene two men uninvolved in the shooting were shouting at some women. The two men were Horace Rawlings and one of his younger brothers. The cops told them to pipe down and stay away from the crime scene. The brothers refused. Rawlings’ brother yelled obscenities at the cops, calling one of them a “rookie-ass nigger.” They entered the actual crime scene.
Rawlings allegedly punched Officer Carlos Conceicao as he moved to arrest the brother. The cops arrested both of them. The brothers continued yelling obscenities and taunts (such as: “You guys are mad because I got a big dick and I fuck your girls”).
Here’s Rawlings’ version, as told in Monday’s interview:
He went to Center Street to have fun with his brother Stilen. Despite all the problems he had had the night before. Despite the bruises and welts on his face and arms.
“Females that see me, they didn’t have a problem,” he said. “I go out to get ladies and have a good time. ... I’m a ladies’ man.”
He and Stilen were walking away from the crime scene, not toward it, Rawlings insisted. “I’m not trying to get beat up two nights in a row.” A cop came running by and knocked into him. Then the cop accused him of bumping him.
Rawlings asked a second cop at the scene if he’d seen that.
“I didn’t see shit,” he claimed the second officer responded. “You’re the guy that got arrested last night.” The cops arrested both brothers.
Rawlings was told in the interview that police accused him of throwing a punch.
“Oh my God! I need a lie-detector test!” he responded. “I punched an officer? I punched an officer?
“If I had punched an officer, I would have tried to put him on the moon,” continued Rawlings, who said he boxes regularly.
“He punched me,” Conceicao repeated Tuesday. He described it as a “hammer punch” to stop the officer from approaching the brother, who “was the bigger mouth.”
Conceicao said at the time his ears were ringing from the gunshots, which occurred “closer than 20 yards away from us. It was out of control. Your level of awareness and adrenaline is so high. Then these two kids are backpedaling toward us. [I said,] ‘Guys, you guys can’t go this way. Go that way.’” Then the brother flipped out, Conceicao said.
Conceicao said he had not recognized Rawlings from the night before. Conceicao had been on Hamilton Street working outside the Van Dome nightclub, not in the Temple courtyard, when the video-recorded events occurred.
A Hug Looms
At first, Rawlings said, he didn’t expect the people video-recording his first encounter with the police in the Temple courtyard to be much help.
Bystanders had also video-recorded an encounter he had with Bridgeport police back in 2007. He and his brother were walking on the street when a cop grabbed his brother and arrested him. They told Rawlings to leave. Instead Rawlings insisted on waiting and watching. Police charged that he fought them. They arrested him along with his brother. He claimed they threw him to the ground and had a police dog attack him. (He displayed what he said are permanent scars on his arm, pictured, from the event.)
None of the people recording the incident would share their videos or pictures, Rawlings said. They were too scared of retribution, he said.
So he pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and interfering with cops, and received a one-year suspended sentence. (He also pleaded guilty to a 2008 misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, and a subsequent probation violation.) The alternative to fighting the 2007 interfering arrest was to fight the charges with no independent back-up and risk five years in jail, he said.
So Rawlings was thrilled to learn that Jennifer Gondola came forward publicly to defend her video-recording of the Temple courtyard, he said. He said he believes that gives him a shot at justice.
“I thought they were going to get away with this” based on his prior experience, he said.
“Everyone’s scared of stuff like this. She’s a hero,” he said of Gondola. “I want to meet her. I want to give her a hug.”
Previous stories on this case: