DeStefano: We Shouldn’t Have Sent SWAT Team

It was a mistake to send SWAT cops into a private Yale party, but police may have had a good reason for demanding that students stay off their cell phones.

Mayor John DeStefano offered that latest take on a now nationally-discussed raid of a downtown club as 30 students filed civilian complaints of police misconduct—and new details emerged about the police versions in two other “Operation Nightlife” incidents under internal investigation.

DeStefano referred to last weekend’s police raid of a private Yale dance at the Elevate nightclub on College Street. Police, including two heavily armed SWAT officers, stormed the club at 12:50 a.m. on Oct. 2 and made five arrests while commanding students to stay off cell phones. The incident sparked a storm of protest from undergraduates who say they were mistreated by overly aggressive police officers.

It was one of three cases in which police have come under fire for treatment of civilians since launching the “Operation Nightlife” crackdown in the downtown club district in the wake of a shoot-out between citizens and police. The police have launched internal investigations into two of those incidents.

Police reports obtained Thursday shed light on the police response in two of those cases: Officers wrote that a Quinnipiac student was interfering them after a friend’s arrest inside Toad’s Place, and that a motorcyclist looked like he was about to flee after being stopped on Crown Street with a noisy hog.

But the city has refused to provide many details of the Elevate raid routinely offered immediately after arrests, even arrests that involve further “investigation,” as most do. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said Thursday that the city’s corporation counsel needs to weigh in on whether the reports can be released while an investigation is underway.

The mayor did offer some new thoughts about the cops’ strategy in that incident.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea” to send in SWAT to begin with, DeStefano said. The specially trained officers, armed with assault rifles, are designed to intimidate and were not appropriate to the situation, he said.

The mayor also provided a tentative explanation for why police told people in the club to put their cell phones away. It was a measure to ensure the situation didn’t escalate, DeStefano said.

The interaction of police and cell phones is a currently fraught subject, in part because of another police action last weekend, in which a Quinnipiac University student was allegedly arrested while videotaping police arrest his friend outside Toad’s Place on York Street.

The Connecticut ACLU issued a statement Thursday condemning the police officers’ alleged prohibition of using cell phones to record events inside Elevate as a violation of students’ First Amendment rights to record and broadcast police conduct.

At least one student did manage to record video inside the club, capturing footage of a cops shouting “Who’s next?” and “Anybody else?” after detaining a student. Click the play arrow to watch.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoOfficials, meanwhile, addressed concerns about the raid during a standing-room-only question and answer session with Yale students on Thursday afternoon in the library of Dwight Hall on High Street.

After an introduction by Alderman Mike Jones (who’s a Yale student), Smuts and police internal affairs head Capt. Denise Blanchard spent over an hour answering questions in a room packed with dozens of Yalies. It was the second public event this week organized by Yale students calling for police to investigate the raid on Elevate.

Smuts and Blanchard assured the students that the police department takes all complaints seriously and is making a thorough investigation.

“We’re there to listen to you,” said Capt. Blanchard. “We need to know what happened.” As she spoke, Yale students were busy completing complaint forms about their experiences of the raid. Blanchard collected about 30 such forms at the end of the meeting.

One student asked a question about police policy on cell phone use. Smuts replied that using a cell phone to take pictures or videos of officers in a public space is legal and not a problem. It can be a different situation, however, “in a confined space where officers are trying to establish order.”

He described a hypothetical instance where police could be justified in ordering people not to use cell phones. Two weekends ago, police were doing an inspection of a club on East Street, he said. While officers were busy in one room, people were leaving the club through a fire door in another room, Smuts said. They weren’t leaving because people in the first room had texted them, but that’s the kind of situation where that kind of coordination could happen and police might need to control phone use, Smuts said.

“It’s about being able to coordinate behavior in a large group,” Smuts said. He said the police department needs to review its specific policies on cell phone use during police actions to clarify procedures during situations like the one he described.

Smuts stressed that his discussion of why police might restrict phone use was purely hypothetical and not an explanation of what happened at Elevate.

Mayor DeStefano, at unrelated event downtown Thursday (the opening of the new Devil’s Gear bike shop in Pitkin Plaza), gave a similar explanation for police restriction of cell phone use. It was “how not to escalate the situation,” he said. “So [people] won’t call other people to a situation to aggravate it.”

DeStefano said his explanation is not the final word, as an investigation into the raid is underway.

He did have a firm conclusion about the role of inject a SWAT team into a nonviolent gathering in a private club.

“I think SWAT, by design and by training, is meant to be intimidating. It creates a different impression of what is going on, and creates confusion,” DeStefano said. “It was an intimidating experience.”

After speaking with Yale students Thursday, Smuts said the police department has made some changes in response to three internal affairs investigations prompted by incidents within a period of 10 days after the start of Operation Nightlife. “We’ve redesigned the operation with that in mind.” Smuts declined to go into the details of changes beyond saying that the legal right to video and photograph cops has been clarified with officers. Click here for a story in which the police chief talks about those efforts.

Cops: Big Tone Was Ready To Bolt

Mark “Big Tone” Maloney, the biker who said he was assaulted by a cop who was giving him a ticket, was on hand for the Yale student discussion with Rob Smuts, wearing the seal of his motorcycle club, the Presidents. He said he thought it was a good event, but said he wants to hear more about police policies on use of force when conducting traffic stops.

Maloney said a police officer swore at him on Sept. 23 on Crown Street and grabbed his face, ripping off his wind mask and crushing his prescription glasses.

The police side of the story of Maloney’s arrest is spelled out in an incident report drafted by Officer Scott Durken on Sept. 29, six days after his interaction with Maloney.

Here’s what happened, according to Durken’s report:

At about 11:15 p.m., Durken was standing at the corner of Crown and Temple Streets when several motorcycles passed by headed west on Crown. Durken had seen them go around the block a few times, creating a lot of noise.

As the bikes passed by Durken, “one in particular looked right at these officers and began to throttle the motorcycle,” he wrote. It was so loud that he couldn’t hear his police radio. “It was determined that a motor vehicle stop should ensue,” he wrote.

Minutes later, other officers stopped the bikes near 216 Crown St., Hula Hank’s nightclub, where the bikers were parking. Durken approached and saw an officer talking to the biker who had looked at him and revved his engine. “It appeared that this operator was not complying with the officer,” Durken wrote. As Durken approached, the biker put his hand on the bars and his foot on the bike “as if he was going to flee.”

“The operator was clad in a full face mask and in fear that he may flee, I removed it so he could be identified,” Durken wrote. “This identification needed to be made, because a police pursuit would not be warranted at this time. It should be noted that motorcycle operators will flee from the police from stopped positions, knowing that motorcycles are more powerful than the police cruisers and will elude capture.”

The biker then put his hand inside his coat. “For officer safety, I ordered him off the bike and began to utilize pat down procedures in fear he may have a weapon.”

After a check of license and registration and a pistol permit, and securing a handgun in Maloney’s bike, Malone was released from handcuffs and issued a ticket for excessive noise. His gun was returned to him.

Durken’s report makes no mention of Maloney’s allegations that the officer crushed his glasses, swore at him, searched him illegally, or threatened to crack his skull.

Cops: Kenneth Was Interfering

The third club-related incident under investigation by Internal Affairs is the arrest of a Quinnipiac University student named Kenneth on Saturday Sept. 25.

The Quinnipiac Chronicle reported that Kenneth was arrested that night outside Toad’s Place on York Street for videotaping police who were arresting another Quinnipiac student. Click the play arrow to watch that video, which shows officers using expletives with Kenneth and telling him to put the phone away.

Cops said he was interfering with police work. Kenneth was charged with that offense and disorderly conduct.

Here’s what happened, according to incident reports written by Officers Craig Miller and David Totino:

Officer Miller was working an extra duty shift at Toad’s. At about 11:50 p.m., a bouncer called him over to the left entrance door and said he’d been smacked in the face, where he had a red mark. The bouncer pointed out the guy who did it. With slurred speech, the guy denied striking the bouncer. Miller arrested him.

While Miller and Totino had the guy in handcuffs, his friends came up and started yelling and complaining about a false arrest. Police ordered the friends not to interfere. They all obeyed, except Kenneth.

After ignoring several orders to stop interfering, Kenneth started videotaping police with his cellphone.

“Kenneth began yelling at these officers asking to know what his friend was being charged with,” Totino wrote. “Kenneth then took his cellphone [and] walked behind Officer Miller who was unaware what Kenneth was doing. I approached Kenneth asked him to place his hand behind his back, but he refused. I grabbed Kenneth by his shirt and forcefully put him face down onto the ground. Kenneth continued to struggle with us, and Officer Miller and I finally got him into handcuffs after several attempts.”

At the end of his report, Totino writes, “It should be known that during the altercation Kenneth was approaching these officers so closely that we could not properly monitor Officer Miller’s arrestee.”

Melissa Bailey contributed reporting.

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posted by: Ella Johnson on October 8, 2010  8:06am

I have no confidence in NHPD and would like to see the FBI here to investigate this. Its been a week since the SWAT team incident with no information coming out of City Hall. I fear a big cover up, and I think many other people do too.

posted by: RR on October 8, 2010  8:34am

“So [people] won’t call other people to a situation to aggravate it.”
Nice try. It’s so innocent citizen journalists don’t aggravate the cops. We have a right to monitor those whose paychecks we find with our tax dollars. We also have 1st Amendment rights.

posted by: john on October 8, 2010  8:46am

i’d just like to take the opportunity to say that, while there may have been excessive use of force in these incidents, i applaud the officer for making the noise-related traffic stop.

now, if this kind of thing were done more consistently, there might be less of a problem in the first place. but new haven has created a culture of lawlessness that permeates it, and that in itself is a problem that can only be corrected by consistent, uniform enforcement.

posted by: The bus on October 8, 2010  8:49am

Classic! Didn’t take long for the Mayor to officially throw the Chief under the bus. Nice way to distance yourself from actions taken under your instruction Mr. Mayor. Let’s see how long before Chief Limon takes the fall for the swat team, and has to leave New Haven.

posted by: Blake Hawkesworth on October 8, 2010  8:55am

Give me a break, the FBI cannot enforce state statutes.  ...The police force you have now is the best you are going to get unless you want to raise the salary and benefits to attract better candidates.  You also need better leadership. Chief Limon does not inspire confidence and know how like former Chief Lewis.  Additionally, the city needs a chief who can handle the press and public without ... Rob Smuts continually chiming in.

posted by: JB on October 8, 2010  9:24am

Looks like an effort to prevent lawsuits to me.

The bits about cell phone usage from Mr. Smuts is weak (let the lawyers argue about it in court).  Anyone with common sense knows why the cops don’t want to be filmed.  It’s an uncomfortable thing even if you’re not using excessive force.  In any public situation there’s a possibility of everything you say and do ending up on Utube and passed around from computer to computer and edited every which way.  I wouldn’t be thrilled either, but it’s a basic right and officers might as well get used to it.

Good luck with the damage control.  Sending in the swat team for overcrowding at college party is bad mistake.  Yale, Yale students and their parents have no reason not to pursue legal recourse.  We live in a college town- could it be a little more friendly and a lot less dysfunctional?

posted by: Gener on October 8, 2010  9:36am

This is going to be bad for the city.
The police are obviously responding to everything in a more aggressive manner since the downtown shootings, although I agree this raid seems a bit over the top.
Now that these Yale students are involved and it’s a big deal in the media, the police will be forced to take a cautious approach. All of the weekend club kids will know that they can walk all over the streets with no fear of consequences from actions.
As a tax payer, I don’t mind storm-troopers running around the “club district” for a while scaring all of these people.
If you don’t want trouble, simply don’t go to clubs with names like “Elevate.”

posted by: ZootSuitRiot on October 8, 2010  9:40am

I wish real News Teams would go to the bars at night with camera’s and film how disorderly the bar patrons are when they leave the bars.

I think the cops in these videos might have been a little mouthy, but look who they’re dealing with. Trust me, the crowds are out of control and have a mob mentality if not dealt with.

But dont take my word for it. Please, WTNH, WFSB, NHI, NHR, go there and see for yourself and show the unruly crowds and cops doing their job very well.

posted by: Bruce on October 8, 2010  9:42am

Love the headline on the (above-linked) Hawker article:

“Yalies Accidentally Treated Like Regular New Haven Residents”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  I agree that the cops over-reacted, but I have a hard time thinking that this would be national news if the raid was on a club in Fair Haven.

posted by: streever on October 8, 2010  9:53am

Right on, RR.

Ella: While I would disagree with Blake’s tone, he is factually correct that the FBI have no jurisdiction over the types of crimes/statutes that are involved.

This is a complex issue. In some of these cases, the police seem to have done the right thing. In others, they didn’t. It’s not a matter of all police being good or bad—like anything, there is some context and nuance to the issue. We really can’t look at all 3 together.

I will say this—the “Crackdown” on the Yale party was unnecessary and clearly stemmed from a top-down directive to put a little fear in the club owners. And it did.

Someone else characterized the administration’s message to bar owners as, “Real nice place you got here. Hate to see anything happen to it, yanno?” and I think that was right on. That is exactly what led to this.

Over-crowding? The answer is easy. Send in the staff supervisor straight to the manager/owner, with no weapon drawn. Produce your badge and say, “You have twice the legal occupancy on the second floor. Turn on the lights, kill the music, and make an announcement that due to fire code violation the bar is shutting down and everyone must leave. Stop serving drinks.”

Worried about under age drinking at the same event? Two officers at every exit, again, no guns drawn, who just check each and every ID.

That would be at least twice as intimidating to a club owner I imagine as sending in assault rifles, which is just an unnecessary scare that makes you look like you are out of control. In my example, there is restraint, there is strategy, and it is clear what the intention is. What actually happened was rightly terrifying for everyone involved.

posted by: streever on October 8, 2010  9:56am

The forbidding of cell phones? Totally out of line. Considering that no one was a suspect nor did the police have probable cause to detain the entire room, I can’t really imagine what possible argument they can pull to justify that.

posted by: eson on October 8, 2010  10:04am


posted by: Cedarhillresident on October 8, 2010  10:50am

I am waiting for this to all unfold, two sides to every story…but I can not help put say how unprofessional that cop was mocking the camera, I felt a bit ashamed for him

posted by: HewNaven?? on October 8, 2010  10:53am

This has to be the worst excuse for police misconduct I’ve ever heard:

“Two weekends ago, police were doing an inspection of a club on East Street, he said. While officers were busy in one room, people were leaving the club through a fire door in another room, Smuts said. They weren’t leaving because people in the first room had texted them, but that’s the kind of situation where that kind of coordination could happen and police might need to control phone use, Smuts said.”

Oh, right. Filming the cops wasn’t the problem, it was the “potential to text” that police are worried about. Got it. You don’t think, maybe, these cops were worried that they would look unprofessional on video (like the dancing cop outside Toad’s).

Way to go, Rob Smuts. You’ve cleaned up another sewer leak in New Haven. Everybody move along, nothing to see here.

BTW, here’s another video you may not have seen yet of NHPD telling someone not to film them:

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 8, 2010  10:56am

posted by: Blake Hawkesworth on October 8, 2010 8:55am
Give me a break, the FBI cannot enforce state statutes.  ...The police force you have now is the best you are going to get unless you want to raise the salary and benefits to attract better candidates.  You also need better leadership. Chief Limon does not inspire confidence and know how like former Chief Lewis.  Additionally, the city needs a chief who can handle the press and public without ... Rob Smuts continually chiming in.

Not true.If there are civil rights violations they can.

P.S. Are any of these yale’s memembers of skull and bones.

posted by: I knew it on October 8, 2010  11:10am

I knew it! How dare big tone and his posse look at the cops the wrong way. Boy, this is real mano y mano stuff.

posted by: Margaret on October 8, 2010  11:16am

Too bad the Civilian Review Board in New Haven has no real authority to investigate these types of incidents and no authority to do anything about it even if they did. Rob and the Mayor are suppose to work hand-in-hand with the department and be also be responsible for their misbehavior.  That’s a conflict that could be resolved by an independent body meaningful power to review alleged acts of police misconduct.

I’d love to see a follow up story with some stories from the New Haven neighborhoods who have more frequent interactions with the NHPD. Cops rudely threatening Yalies and violating their rights is front page news, but how often does the same or worse happen all over town on any given day?

posted by: Jay on October 8, 2010  11:42am

I may have missed it, but I want to know, did the students comply immediately with the officers orders?  If not, then all bets are off.  The police do not know what kind of situation they are getting into.  They have to ensure their safety and the safety of all.  They may have to physically apprehend, or intimidate.  Police are not going to politely ask.  People get hurt that way.  Just do what you are told immediately.  Once the situation is secure, you will have the opportunity to speak.  A police raid is not a debate.

posted by: Jeffery on October 8, 2010  11:56am

Something makes me suspect that Tone may be lying about what happened and not the Officer.

posted by: Edward_H on October 8, 2010  12:00pm

If this is the way the NHPD treats Yale students now I can’t imagine what they have in store for The Taurus if it reopens.

posted by: Mister Jones on October 8, 2010  12:53pm

Big Tone’s jacket says Lie Cheat Steal.  Nice touch.

posted by: Mister Jones on October 8, 2010  1:06pm

The public has a near-absolute right under the First Amendment to videotape public activity, including police activity, on public streets and sidewalks.  Journalism 101 teaches, however, that the First Amendment does not provide immunity from crimes committed while newsgathering.  The videotape from outside Toad’s is pretty incriminating.  Yeah, the cop puts on a show at first with his little dance and saying “watch this” while telling the other cop to cuff the kid alleged to have thrown a punch.  But the fact is that the cop welcomed the videotaping at that point.  But then the student taper got in his face questioning why his buddy was getting arrested, before the police had even cuffed the friend.  No no no no no!  If you want to record the scene, do so from a safe distance.  Don’t try to “interview” the cops mid-arrest! 

The cop did answer the taper’s question about why his friend was getting arrested, but then when the cops tried to clear the immediate vicinity he argued that he was on public property.  As far as I can tell it was the bouncer yelling at him to stop recording, not the cops.  But refusing a cop’s “lawful order” is going to get you arrested nine out of ten times.

posted by: MARK J MALONEY on October 8, 2010  2:39pm


posted by: Dot Khan on October 8, 2010  6:30pm

Why include the arrest at Toad’s? Filming should be done from a distance. Ken clearly was getting too close and interfering with the arrest of his buddy that had blood on his hand after an assault at the club. While recording, he lies that he is filming the incident. Using a phone’s camera to document any proceedings is fine, but to call others to warn them is not.

posted by: AJ on October 8, 2010  7:05pm

As soon as I read this article I renewed my ACLU membership.

posted by: S on October 9, 2010  2:01pm

On the Quinnipiac kid who was taping the cop at Toads:
“Cops said he was interfering with police work. Kenneth was charged with that offense and disorderly conduct.”
So taping a cop is legal, but the cops can spin it as “interfering with police work”?  Great, so much for that right.

posted by: cedarhillresident on October 9, 2010  8:58pm

@ S

I am the biggest fighter of injustice in this city…but I have to be honest…you should not touch any body period… and touching an officer can be interfering because you created a distraction.

I am so getting sick of all of this…people bitch about the cops not doing anything…well they are now..and yes they are risking their lives doing it and they have to but up that tough front so that they are in control of the situation! yes I think a few injustices happened .

Please I believe the tone case was justified and as far as the yale student…well to be honest I think that the cop was a bit of an idiot but I truly believe that was justified…and I wish people would stop crying over this and lets get this city cleaned up!

posted by: Bush/Cheney Police State on October 10, 2010  11:30am

Young people are only beginning to recognize the Police State that the GOP unleashed on America after September 11, 2001.

posted by: just saying on October 10, 2010  3:10pm

I see alot of feedback from the Mayor and Mr Smuts. Where is the chief? Who is running the police department? Should the chief not be commenting to all these incidents, not the city hall. I want to see a chief that takes charge,takes responsibility and makes huimself a public figure.It appears Limon is the chief that is never around. We need a chief that is familiar with a city like New Haven. There will never be a positive change until we have someone for the long haul and someone who knows how to change a city like this around. Someone from Chicago is not your man.It’s not the officers it’s the leadership.

posted by: patricia kane on October 11, 2010  12:22pm

It would be a huge step forward for the police to start enforcing the noise ordinances, starting with motorcycles with altered mufflers. Noise is a major stresser and destroys the peace and quiet so needed by downtown residents.
Start ticketing these law breakers and see how quickly the problem abates.
Ignore enforcement and look (or listen) at what we have.
PS Ambulances on side streets are also lawbreakers if their sirens are on. Ticket them too.

posted by: Gene Debs on October 11, 2010  1:40pm

“I didn’t think it was a good idea” to send in SWAT to begin with, DeStefano said. The specially trained officers, armed with assault rifles, are designed to intimidate and were not appropriate to the situation, he said.

So who sent the swat team in? Who overrode the mayor’s wise decision? This is so incredulous. It’s obvious city hall is running the police department, something Chief Lewis specifically warned against. And who deputized Rob Smuts?

posted by: Ex-NHPD on October 11, 2010  5:08pm

Though the title of this article is about whether it was proper to send in the SWAT Team on the compliance check, the article delves into other reported incidents. 

Let’s stick to the title of the article and that point.  The SWAT members were in the downtown area, on stand-by, to respond quickly and tactically to any major incident(s).  They were not there to accompany the NHPD, Liquor Commission, and others on compliance checks.  Yet, somehow, the SWAT Team went into Elevate that night. 

Did they do so on their own?  There was at least one Assistant Chief inside Elevate.  Did he know the SWAT Team was entering?  Did he authorize their entry?  If he did not, did he try to send them out as they came in, or did he allow them to remain?  Were other Assistant Chiefs and/or Chief in the club during all this?  Based upon my NHPD Experience, I do not believe the SWAT Team would have entered the club unless they were directed/ordered to by a significant person in charge.  Who was/were the person(s)who made the decision?

posted by: 487 on October 13, 2010  7:27am

Regarding MR.Smuts sorry explanation about what happened at the club where everyone was leaving out the back door. Your answer is incorrect. They were running out the back door because someone didn’t do their homework in the police dept. They allowed the people that were holding guns and drugs and what ever-else is illegal to escape undetected. Who was the supervisor in charge to answer the questions…

posted by: Alan Felder on October 13, 2010  9:56am

Welcome into the world of Black Americans these type of actions happens of a daily bases in the Black community, the police departments have a monoply on violence, we know what it is like when the gestapo comes in and take you to the American style concentration camp called prison. In the 80’s the City of New Haven Police had a dept. called on the streets “The Beat Down Crew” where they violated Black Americans Human Rights,Constitutional Rights, and Civil Liberties; where was the U.S. States Justice Department. I congratulate the students from Yale University and Quinnipiac University who are not going to take these types on action from the police lightly, stand up for your Rights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted by: Eapen Thampy on November 1, 2010  7:49pm

I am very interested in contacting people involved in protesting this SWAT raid. I work on issues of SWAT raids and paramilitary policing, and represent several groups from around the nation that are interested in challenging this system.

Eapen Thampy
Policy Analyst, Americans for Forfeiture Reform
Mail: 3630 Holmes St., Kansas City, MO, 64109
Phone: 573-673-5351
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: Officer Keystone on November 2, 2010  12:27pm

“Intimidation”? The SWAT team didn’t intimidate, they terrorized. They are terrorists who terrified innocent civilians.

posted by: paranoiastrksdp on November 2, 2010  7:21pm