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Chief: Head Trauma Didn’t Kill Yale Prof

by Paul Bass | Dec 4, 2013 1:10 pm

(5) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Legal Writes

Thomas MacMillan Photo Samuel See suffered a cut to his head after wrangling with cops who arrested him, but that injury appears not to have caused his subsequent death in the police lock-up, Chief Dean Esserman stated Wednesday.

The state’s chief medical examiner is waiting on results of toxicology tests before declaring the cause of death for See, a 34-year-old assistant English professor at Yale whom marshals found dead in his cell at 6:15 a.m. on Nov. 24. It may take weeks for that official declaration.

In the meantime, preliminary information reveals that a head injury See sustained the night before he died did not appear to have caused his death, Esserman said in a statement released mid-day Wednesday. Police had arrested See at his home the night before his death during a domestic dispute with his husband. The state Judicial Department, whose marshals oversees the police lock-up at 1 Union Ave., is conducting its own internal review into the incident, as well.

“Both the New Haven Police Department and the New Haven State’s Attorney’s office contacted the Medical Examiner for preliminary results of the autopsy.  The Medical Examiner advised that trauma had been ruled out as a cause of death for Mr. See,” Esserman stated.

In a subsequent conversation, Esserman confirmed that marshals reported “no sign of suicide or an attempt of suicide.” Numerous people familiar with the case have told the Independent the same since See died.

Esserman released Wednesday’s statement after his department came under criticism (in this editorial) for its delay in originally confirming See’s arrest or death.

The Independent sought for days after the death to obtain official confirmation and information about his arrest from city police, to no avail. The department then issued a press release three days after the incident, following the publication of a story in the Independent confirming the death from other sources.

Esserman took personal responsibility for the delay.  His assistant chief, Archie Generoso, had a day earlier told the New Haven Register that the delay in reporting occurred because of an “oversight” due to distraction caused by an unrelated lockdown at Yale University. But the lockdown occurred more than a day after See’s death. And the department failed to release information about See’s death for another two days after the lockdown ended, despite repeated requests by the Independent.

“I also apologize for the Police Department’s late reporting of the incident,” Esserman stated. “This is not the standard that the New Haven Police Department holds itself to, and we will work to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Esserman “offer[ed] my sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mr. See’s family and the Yale community, as they deal with the passing of their beloved son, husband and Professor.”

See is the only person to have died this year in the custody of marshals who run the overnight lock-up at 1 Union Ave., according to Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, spokeswoman for the state Judicial Branch, for whom the marshals work.

One woman died there in custody in 2012. A friend in lock-up at the same time told the Independent that marshals taunted the woman about her “ass crack” and other body parts as she yelled for help. (Read about that here.)

A Slide

Samuel See (pictured) came to Yale from L.A. in 2009 to teach in the English department.

See’s death has shocked his broader community of students, friends and teaching colleagues at Yale, who described him as dedicated, “brilliant and generous.” A formal memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. in Yale’s Battell Chapel.

He came to Yale from L.A. in 2009 to teach in the English department and conduct research “on British and American modernist literature and sexuality studies,” according to a description he posted online. “My first book project explores how British and American modernist writers co-opt the evolutionary precepts of degeneration theory to depict queer feeling as natural: material but nonetheless subject to change. My next book project will examine how British and American writers throughout the twentieth century use aesthetics like the mythical method and magic realism to create queer mythologies that depict the construction of transhistorical and transnational queer communities.” (Click here to read his resume.)

See appeared to have been dealing with some hard times as he took an unplanned leave of absence earlier this year. He and his husband took out protective orders against each other. Police arrested both of them on Sept. 18, charging See with second-degree breach of peace and third-degree assault, both misdemeanors.

Those charges were pending when police responded to a call from See’s sister for help at See’s home at 5:15 p.m. on Nov. 23. See’s husband had shown up at the home; a dispute ensued. Police arrested both of them for violating their protective orders. Police said See then “struggled” with the cops who handcuffed him. He and the cops fell; See cut his left eye. He was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital for treatment and released later that night to the cops, who brought him to the lock-up.

Marshals discovered his apparently lifeless body in his cell at around 6 a.m. See was declared dead at 6:15 a.m.

Esserman issued his statement Wednesday to update the community on the case so far. The text of his update follows:

“On November 23, 2013 at approximately 5:15 pm New Haven Police officers responded to a domestic dispute at the residence of Samuel See, reported by a 3rd party, who was out of state.  The caller told police that her brother, Mr. See, was having a domestic dispute with his husband, Saunder Ganglani, and that a protective order was in place. 

“Upon arrival police found both parties present and determined that each had protective orders issued by the court, prohibiting contact with each other.  Police informed both See and Ganglani they were being placed under arrest for violating a protective order.  When they attempted to place Mr. See in handcuffs, he resisted arrest and struggled with the officers.

“During the arrest Mr. See and the officers fell and Mr. See sustained a cut above his left eye.  EMS was called to the scene to evaluate Mr. See’s injury.  He was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital where he was treated for his injury and released back into the custody of police. At approximately 9:10 pm, Mr. See was transported to the detention facility at 1 Union Avenue and turned over to the custody of State Marshals.  He was charged with Violation of a Protective order, Interfering with police and Threatening in the second degree.

“State Marshals reported that they routinely checked Mr. See, who was alone in his cell, throughout the night. They reported speaking with Mr. See and making eye contact with him during these routine checks.  At 6:00 am, on Sunday, November 24th, while making a routine check and delivering breakfast to the detainees, they found Mr. See to be unresponsive.  They immediately began CPR and called for Medical Assistance.  EMS personnel arrived and pronounced Mr. See deceased at approximately 6:15 am.

“New Haven Police were called by State Marshals that morning to investigate the death and the scene was held until detectives and crime scene technicians arrived.  The scene was photographed and processed and detectives interviewed all State Marshals on scene.  Mr. See’s body was ordered removed by the State Medical Examiner and transported to their facility for an autopsy.

“In addition to an Investigative Services Unit investigation, Chief Esserman has ordered an Internal Investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr. See’s death.

“Both the New Haven Police Department and the New Haven State’s Attorney’s office contacted the Medical Examiner for preliminary results of the autopsy.  The Medical Examiner advised that trauma had been ruled out as a cause of death for Mr. See.  However, the Medical Examiner will not release a full, written, autopsy report until results from a toxicology report are received. 

“Both the Internal and Investigative Services Unit investigations are ongoing and will include a full review of video from the State Marshal Detention Center and interviews and statements from all officers and Marshals involved in the incident, as well as medical personnel and any other potential witnesses.

“The New Haven Police Department is committed to conducting a full investigation of this tragedy.”

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posted by: AverageTaxpayer on December 4, 2013  1:45pm

Who is this un-named “Chief Medical Examiner” and do we trust him or her not to cover for the police? Is there any independent third-party oversight in a case like this?

Also, is the New Haven lock-up still making a mockery of a detainee’s right to a phone call? My understanding is they offer you to call someone collect, which, in this age of cell phones, amounts to a complete joke.

Finally where is the outrage about the police arresting a man in his own home?

posted by: David Backeberg on December 4, 2013  3:52pm

As for the ‘outrage’ about the police arresting a man in his own home,  earlier coverage stated the two men had restraining orders against each other, and were both in violation of those orders. Both men were arrested.

People are arrested in their own home commonly for domestic disputes, as seems to have been the case here.

Sometimes people die unexpectedly, including at an early age. A person I went to school with seemed very healthy, played college basketball, and then dropped dead in his twenties from an undiagnosed heart condition.

Wait for the full report.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on December 4, 2013  6:13pm

Truly sad. A young man. A talented young man. Set aside all the factors. His passing is so sadly premature, that all those who knew him have to be in shock. The time for playing the blame game can wait. Let those closest to him carry forward, and when they are prepared to know what caused his passing, they should have control over any calls for examination of public services, and those employed there, in their participation in the events of Mr. See’s life and death. Not editors, not reporter’s who live by the motto “if it bleeds, it leads.”

The press should take a deep breath, have some respect for those closest to See, and wait. He is gone. Your grandstanding is beyond crass, beyond morbid to those that loved the guy, and are in shock and mourning.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on December 5, 2013  12:42pm

One of the things I like about Chief Esserman is that he is willing to apologize for errors made by the Police Department. I mostly like him because is professional, shows up at community protests and exhibits a personal touch in reach out to families who have experienced loss and trauma.

More public officials should show some “emotional intelligence” and show some sensitivity to the public, whether it is owning mistakes when they are made or exhibiting some empathy at the right time.

The militarization of the civilian police force since 9/11 remains a nationwide concern, but let’s just focus on acknowledging one police professional who get it right most of the time.

posted by: Threefifths on December 5, 2013  6:31pm

Bill Bratton named next NYPD Police Commissioner by Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.

Will Chief Esserman leave for New York?

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