“Police Riot” Sparks “Multiple” Reviews

Eino Sierpe PhotoState police are investigating how one of their dogs ended up attacking three cops at a New Haven political protest Saturday.

Paul Bass PhotoCity police are investigating how the state police remained in control of a protest on city streets — and how a non-violent protest ended up in tear gas, arrests, and charges of a “police riot.”

Meanwhile, Buddhist barista Nate Blair was back serving coffee to cops and other regular customers Monday, recovering from a concussion after officers wrestled him to the ground at the protest two days earlier.

Those were the latest developments in what one attorney present called a “police riot.”

The episode has sparked a series of internal reviews and meetings both at the Connecticut State Police and at the New Haven Police Department, which for decades has coordinated peaceful protests with demonstrators and prided itself on avoiding the kind of chaos and allegations of police misconduct that emerged Saturday.

The episode occurred at the end of a protest that at one point saw demonstrators allegedly blocking the path of emergency vehicles headed for Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The protest began uneventfully outside City Hall Saturday afternoon, where about 200 demonstrators rallied against President Donald Trump’s orders to ban travel to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim nations and to withhold federal dollars from immigrant-embracing “sanctuary cities” like New Haven. Chief Anthony Campbell said police had not been aware of the protest; he called that an error on the part of both protest organizers, who should have coordinated with police, and on police intelligence. Posters announcing the protest has been visible on downtown utility poles for days in advance; the protest was also publicized on social media.

Around 5 p.m., the protesters marched to Route 34, a state road leading to Yale-New Haven Hospital. State police arrived on the scene. In an official statement, police said the protesters blocked the path of emergency vehicles, including one in which a crew had to perform an emergency procedure because it couldn’t get the patient to the hospital. (Asked for more information on that incident, state police said to ask the hospital, which had no details. The protest organizers released a statement Monday night saying they never blocked any vehicles and had informed everyone to move out of the way if a vehicle needed to pass through.)

A lawyer for the protesters, Patricia Kane, told the Independent that in fact she introduced herself to three troopers and identified herself. She said the protesters would move out of the way of any emergency vehicles. She said the troopers told her to move out of the way; one of the troopers was accompanied by a dog that lunged at her.

The protesters agreed to leave the state road after about a half hour. They marched up Church Street. And that’s when the trouble started.

New Haven police arrived on the scene. State police continued following the protesters. It was unclear who was in charge.

Food, Not Bombs

Eino Sierpe PhotoNate Blair, a 26-year-old city native, was on Church Street at the periphery of the action. Blair grew up two doors from the New Haven Zen Center on Mansfield Street, where his father, Bruce Blair, served as the abbot. His grandfather, William Blair, was an activist minister. Nate Blair said the family trained him in non-violent protest, in which he was engaged this Saturday.

He had joined the demonstration earlier in the day as a member of a group called Food Not Bombs. The group served free vegan soup, salad, and cooked broccoli to the demonstrators. Then Blair joined the march to Route 34, then back up Church.

He said he participated in a group chanting, “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!” A New Haven cop at the scene grew enraged at the chant, Blair said. Next thing he knew, the officer charged at him, Blair said. “He grabbed my arm. He went to put it behind my back. I didn’t resist, because I did not do anything wrong.” The officer and several others wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him.

The police later claimed that the dreadlocked Blair had rushed at the cop, and that’s why he was taken down and arrested.

Blair denied it. “I did not touch him,” Blair insisted. He noted that he was charged with disorderly conduct — not with, say, resisting or interfering with or assaulting an officer.

Other demonstrators were upset with Blair’s arrest, and told the cops so. Shouting ensued as the crowd moved up to Chapel Street.

There, state police were looking for one of the protest leaders, 66-year-old Norman Clement, in connection with the earlier blocking of Route 34. They spotted him. In the midst of a throng of protesters on Chapel, they went after him.

What happened next is in dispute. State police said Clement ran, so they pursued. They said Clement knocked people over. They subdued him and hit him with pepper spray. They charged him with inciting a riot, among other offenses.

Witnesses — including Kane, Clement’s lawyer; and fellow protest organizer John Lugo — said the cops set a police dog on Clement, and Clement was running from that. They said it was the cops knocking people over.

Either way, a chaotic scene ensued, with people complaining about the dogs menacing people and about the pepper spray. At least one of the state police dogs was upset, too. That dog bit two cops and tore the clothing of a third.

“The only violence I saw,” Kane said Monday, “was police violence.”

“It was a police riot,” she said.

“We Should Have Taken Lead”

Eino Sierpe PhotoLocal police officials began holding meetings Monday to get to the bottom of what happened, and how to prevent a recurrence.

Chief Campbell said in an interview that the police never knew the rally was taking place to begin with. He said he will look at how intelligence can improve so the cops aren’t caught unaware next time.

But he also said police will reach out to the protest’s organizers. For decades now, protest organizers have generally met with police in advance of demonstrations to arrange for streets to be blocked off in an orderly fashion and ensure that emergency vehicles can pass through. That didn’t happen this time.

Campbell also said he will look at why his officers didn’t take command of the scene once the protest moved off a state road. “Once they got them off the highway, we should have taken the lead” and directed the police response to the evolving protest, he said.

Campbell refrained from criticizing the state police for using dogs and pepper spray on a non-violent protester in a crowd. He noted that they train their officers differently from the way New Haven does.

He did say that New Haven cops are not supposed to rush after non-violent targets in a crowd situation and use canines or pepper spray. Rather, they should radio ahead to other officers to apprehend the person. Or, since they generally know the local protesters — including Clement — they could always catch up with him later rather than inflame a tense situation, Campbell said.

“To run into a crowd that is riled up is not something we would have done,” Campbell said. He said he is “disappointed” in what happened.

Mayor Toni Harp said the same on her weekly “Mayor Monday” program on WNHH FM radio. She said that New Haven has a proud tradition of working well with protesters and doesn’t as a rule set dogs on them or pepper-spray them in crowds when no violent offenses are occurring.

“One of the things our officers learn is deescalation,” Harp said.

Departments like New Haven’s are being put to the test in the new Trump era, with daily protests around the nation, some of them turning violent, others, like Saturday’s in New Haven, taking spontaneous turns that catch cops off guard. “Our police department is ready for that test,” Harp said.

She and Campbell said the police are determined to protect the right of citizens to protest, but also expect protest organizers to work with police to keep everyone safe.

“We’ve got to sit down with ... the leaders of these groups and explain to them how not to get arrested, and what they need to do in order to let the police department know where they’re going to be, and to let them know where we have jurisdiction and where we don’t,” Harp said.

Asked if organizers will give cops a heads-up in the future, organizer Lugo issued a statement on behalf of the coalition behind Saturday’s rally. It said that in the past some members of the coalition have worked with police in planning protests, while others have not. “Getting police permission and permits is a tactic decision on a case-by-case basis. There are times that the movement cannot be constrained to work with the same system it is in struggle with.”

“During this two-hour long period of civil disobedience, no NHPD officer deployed pepper spray or any other chemical agent against anyone,” police spokesman Officer David Hartman stated in a release Tuesday. “We will not fall for baiting tactics from the press or from council for anyone arrested. There have been a dozen, or so, protests, marches and public space events in which citizens, en mass, have expressed their opinions over the recent political situation. The New Haven Police Department has a long and distinguished history of protecting everyone in our city and that includes protesters and demonstrators.”

States Takes This “Seriously”

Eino Sierpe PhotoMeanwhile, a spokesperson for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the police dog should not have attacked the three officers. The state police are reviewing the incident with an eye to answering two questions: “Is it that the canine did not have the right temperament? Or is it due to the handler?” said the spokesperson, Kelly Donnelly.

“The Connecticut State Police have expressed that they take this matter very seriously. It is our understanding that they are conducting multiple reviews of incidents surrounding weekend protest in New Haven. We trust that they will proceed with their examinations in a deliberate and thorough manner,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly also said that city officers, not just state officers, were involved in chasing and subduing Clement on Chapel Street.

The reason the state cops had a police dog at the scene in the first place? When the call came in about Route 34 being blocked, the closest officer to the scene happened to be a canine officer, Donnelly said. (Click here to view a copy of the state police’s policy on canine teams.)

State police officials refused requests for an interview about what happened Saturday and why. Instead, Commissioner Dora B. Schriro issued a written statement to the Independent. The statement did not respond to submitted questions, such as why state police felt the need to use a police dog or pepper spray on peaceful protesters in a crowd to arrest someone on a charge relating to non-violent actions in another location.

The statement noted that the police dog bit two troopers, one of whom was “treated and released” while the other declined treatment; and bit a police officer’s clothing.

“We take all uses of force very seriously, and this incident will undergo several layers of review. The K-9 bites are documented and will be investigated, including a full after action report. CSP will also review all of the circumstances surrounding the bites and take additional steps as warranted,” the statement reads. It affirms citizens’ right to protest while “respectfully remind[ing] any group that wishes to gather in a reasonable time, place, and manner, that they are welcome to do so, but that under no circumstances may a group assemble on limited access/major thoroughfares or block emergency vehicles.”

Worth “Putting Body In Harm’s Way”

Markeshia Ricks PhotoA few blocks from that scene, after all had quieted down Monday, Nate Blair had returned to work as a barista. He said he was treated at the hospital and diagnosed with a minor concussion from his experience.

Ordering a coffee from Blair, a city police officer expressed his condolences and his concern.

Blair told him he’s not mad at the cop who arrested him. He blames the state police for having created a dangerous, chaotic situation.

“I believe there was undue stress on the New Haven police to act in an aggressive way,” he said.

“The guy who arrested me — I just think he needed better training.”

Assistant Police Chief Tony Reyes, without commenting specifically on Blair’s arrest, said he has been reviewing the day’s incidents in depth.

“There were clearly things that could have been handled better,” he said. “We will be addressing those issues.”

Blair argued that sometimes it’s “worth putting your body in harm’s way” for an important cause. President Trump’s “inhumane and fundamentally un-American” immigration policies, he said, fit that bill.


Click on or download the above audio file to hear the full “Mayor Monday” episode with Mayor Toni Harp. Besides Saturday’s police incident, the episode covers New Haven’s emerging Chinese sister-city relationship, its actions to embrace refugees, the state budget outlook, and the growth of New Haven’s grand list.

The episode was made possible with the support of Gateway Community College and Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 6, 2017  10:00pm

Chief Campbell said in an interview that the police never knew the rally was taking place to begin with. He said he will look at how intelligence can improve so the cops aren’t caught unaware next time.

Intelligence.People wake up.This sounds like the begaing of the Red squad.


posted by: alphabravocharlie on February 6, 2017  10:41pm

Lugo’s statement about working with the police is very telling. He couldn’t care less for the law or the police and is only interested in advancing his cause.

News flash Ms. Mayor, “deescalation” doesn’t work when mobs are involved. Ask the average police officer when he or she last received crowd management training and they are likely to say when they were in the academy.

Bottom line, blocking limited access highways endangers lives and should never be tolerated.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 6, 2017  11:06pm

While all this navel gazing is going on - let’s just start with the protesters acting irresponsibly and without regard to public safety; without regard to the inconvenience to others and in the infringement on the rights of others - and let’s just start with the lawlessness of the entire event. It starts and stops there. These ridiculous protests are pointless. They accomplish nothing. They mean absolutely nothing and are just part of the this whole effort to whip up the irrational among the crowd of people who obviously have too much time on their hands. Congrats to the professional protesters and lawless - and those who support them.

Note to the PD and State Police: Quit wasting your time. There is nothing to review.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 6, 2017  11:09pm

One other point: Patricia Kane calling this a “police riot” is a crock, a gross misstatement rooted in her clients participation in a lawless event. Was Kane blocking 34 too? Then she should have been arrested.

posted by: Emma Goldman on February 6, 2017  11:46pm

We are deeply disappointed by the way the media has reported on the events of the peaceful No Ban No Wall rally on Saturday. We depend on the press to ensure that the entire story is made known, to hold accountable all authorities involved, to fact check statements, and to be unbiased in their reporting. This has not happened.

Our account of the events is as follows:
After a gathering of around 300 people at City Hall, a peaceful march began walking through downtown New Haven. Prior to arrival to Route 34, protesters were reminded that ambulances and other emergency vehicles must be allowed through.

Nonviolent protestors held the highway for approximately 30 minutes during which time state police arrived with several canine units. At one point, at least one citizen was observed leaving their car and joining the protest. A legal observer was reminding at least three different state police officers that protestors would move off the roadway for any emergency, at which point she was jumped on by a police canine.

At no point were any lights or sirens observed from an ambulance. However, when protestors were informed of a potential medical situation in a civilian vehicle, protestors immediately cleared the lane of their own accord and did not reoccupy it. Simultaneously, state police pointed pepper spray and used canines to intimidate protestors who were already in the process of clearing the roadway.

Marchers left Route 34 after being given one verbal warning about leaving the state highway. Shortly thereafter, marchers were kettled on North Frontage Road between Orange and State Streets, an illegal tactic in which police attempt to surround protestors with the intent of limiting their mobility in order to arrest them en masse. The march was able to take an alternate route through a parking lot towards City Hall, its intended end.

The march was cut short on Church Street approaching Chapel Street. Local police, at the direction of state police and without (pt 1/2)

posted by: Emma Goldman on February 6, 2017  11:48pm

(part 2/2)...without verbal warning, started using force to push marchers towards the sidewalk. As marchers complied by making their way to the sidewalk, police aggression escalated rapidly. At this point the crowd had significantly diminished to around 50.  

Marchers were hurried to get on an already packed sidewalk by the threat of pepper spray, batons, and three aggressive canines. As marchers were trying to make room on the sidewalk, one person got a concussion from being thrown on the pavement by police, an elderly woman was knocked down by police, and pepperspray was deployed into the crowded sidewalk without warning.

The police mishandled the situation from start to finish. Sate police recklessly escalated the situation. As a sanctuary city, local police should be protecting their residents rather than violating their rights. The coalition of organizations involved in this event invites local police to work with us on training in nonviolent deescalation tactics.

Our message must be highlighted: at a time when individuals’ and families’ very existence is being threatened by the Muslim Ban and the threat of a wall along our border, we are standing together to oppose state sanctioned violence and xenophobia. Together we are working towards a world without oppression.
- Unidad Latina en Acción, ANSWER Coalition, PSL, New Haven Space of Encounter

posted by: nib1 on February 6, 2017  11:53pm

Well this is total bs!! Campbell didnt know about the protest? Well according to WFSB, the New Haven Police called for State Police for help from Bridgeport, Westbrook and Bethany.

http://www.wfsb.com/story/34427228/posted 2/4/2017.

How is it possible for troopers from these three places just to show up with dogs and riot gear from Bethany and Westbrook, which is about 30 miles away, as well as Bridgeport, without being aware of a protest? I guess a bunch of troopers just happened to be driving around and came upon a protest. Also, to blame the intelligence unit when there were also flyers posted days in advance is also bush league!! You dont throw your unit under the bus and refrain from critizing the State Police for using “dogs and pepper spray on a nonviolent crowd”.
Again, you have another administrator calling himself a Chief who spent the majority of his career behind a desk, now being faced with real police issues. He has learned well from his predecessor Esserman to place blame on others!!

posted by: new havener on February 6, 2017  11:54pm

There’s peaceful protests, but when you infringe on the rights of others by, for example, blocking a highway, that is unlawful gathering, breach of peace, and when they really throw the book at you, improper pedestrian crossing, and unlawful detention charges as well. I’m sure there’s more…

So, the protesters are upset with with cops for getting violent, but what is their reaction to motorists getting upset with them? to yell, curse, and pound on vehicles trying to advance…for the ‘protest organizers’ to say they did not block any vehicles and would let them pass ‘if asked’ is both self-serving and laughable. The leaders should have arrested and the participants given citations, minimum.

posted by: MarkS on February 7, 2017  12:06am

LOL “professional protesters”

posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 7, 2017  12:21am

Video of protestors “wilding” down Church Street, and then solidly blocking North Frontage Road:

Look I’m a hardcore lefty, and am solidly against deportations or the US turning its back on refugees. But I cannot be in favor of the behavior shown on the video, and while I’m for amnesty and immigration reform, I don’t agree that people should insist they have the right to break our immigration laws.

Finally this type of behavior only helps Trump. What the hell were the organizers thinking!

posted by: MarkS on February 7, 2017  1:02am

Funny that you can read these same comments about protests in any 50 year old civil rights era newspaper. Hope none of you have any illusion as to which side of history you would have been on.

posted by: EmilyG on February 7, 2017  1:32am

Before you dismiss these protests and the activists behind them, read this:


To summarize, the article has two main points, and I’ll add a third.

First - some issues are so important, they’re worth putting your body on the line for. If these activists were willing to take such a stand on behalf of our immigrant and muslim neighbors, I commend them! Who knows, the way things are headed they may need to do the same for you some day soon…

Second - Highways are the arteries of commerce. Blocking them slows commerce temporarily, and may be one of the only effective ways to raise this discourse to the national level in an era where the media is highly compromised and we now have to contend with “alternative facts”. This is a strategy that is more confrontational, true, but the violence this administration is enacting against our democracy, our people warrants a stronger response that says we’re here to resist, there will be no more business as usual.

Finally - protests exist to connect people to their power, and do not necessarily require or want sanctioning or approval from existing power structures. John said it well - sometimes it’s against our interests to involve a system that we’re in struggle against. Acts of civil disobedience are rarely safe or convenient - otherwise, what would be the point?

I wasn’t there on Saturday, but would have joined in the blockade if I was. I support these protests, and thank the organizers for the work they’re doing.

posted by: narcan on February 7, 2017  3:17am

@Emma Goldman: Your stirring account of the day illustrates perfectly your myopic view of the situation. With my own eyes and ears, I saw that there was, in fact, an American Medical Response ambulance with their lights and siren activated stuck in the traffic your mob caused. It was unable to get onto the inbound connector until you were cleared off the highway, so you can honestly plead ignorance. As if that is an excuse.

posted by: 1644 on February 7, 2017  6:46am

1. For those wanting to know what a “police riot” is, google “Democratic Convention 1968”.  This interaction was not a police riot.
2.  If these demonstrators intended only non-violent action, why were some masked, a la Black Bloc anarchists?
3.  While Connecticut has, in recent times, been spared the riots that other cities have suffered,  the presence of masked protestors here shows a real danger.  We need an anti-mask law (and DC should have used its to arrest the Inauguration Day rioters before they rioted). 
4. I really don’t understand people being upset about tear gas and pepper spray.  The effects pass quickly, unlike those of a baton or a dog bite.
5.  If the protestors want to drive Trump’s 41% CT support to over 50%, they should continue with these tactics.
6. nlb1: police did not have riot gear.  In general, US police are not well trained for riots or crowd control.  Compare the Ferguson SWAT team training rifles on the crowd to South Korean riot police. 
7.  Good work police in clearing the roads and preventing escalation into another Black Bloc riot.

posted by: southwest on February 7, 2017  7:29am

Haven’t you noticed that most law enforcement are Trump voters…waike up America they are doing his dirtiest work all in the names of laws that they can twist into justifying and arrest..that’s exactly why body cams should be worn by every officer so the truth can be told and shown..every demonstration need to be audio and video by both the police and protesters….I’m sure this response was condoned by some of the NHPD supervisors that was working that day.. how else did the state police receive authority to come to New Haven when they patrol the state highways..they were bored and looking for action and to experience what damages their dogs could do…so instead of disasclating they escalated to prove their point…nothing new it happens all the time…remember law enforcement got the me against them mentality to drum up support for their supporters when they knowingly do wrong against some citizens….let it be known I do not support violence protesters nor violence behavior from law enforcement all in the name of policing…it’s amazing how police think that the law should only benefit them when it comes to protecting…not the taxpayers who pay their salaries….when you signed up for the job called policing you no what is required of you so learn how to suck it up and do your job like everyone else…maturities should be number #1 requirements and biases when applying for the job ..meaning how you relate to
Others that don’t look like you are not on your social economic level…just saying because some think they are and experts when it comes to interpreting the law…then they should become lawyers not cops…with the me against them attitude..

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 7, 2017  8:58am

One side note - you have to wonder about the training of the state police dogs if they bite their own.

posted by: NewHaven18 on February 7, 2017  9:29am

It’s a shame, really. These type of police tactics are eerily similar to what transpired during the Bowling Green Massacre.

posted by: Jonathan14 on February 7, 2017  12:30pm

Where were any high-ranking police brass at this protest?  Looks like the highest ranking supervisors from both agencies were sergeants.  Real leaders are present during high stakes situations, and take ownership of decisions made on the scene.  Even on the weekend.  Cowards avoid them and leave room to blame others. 

Having said that, I agree with the comments critical of these protesters for blocking the street, and for constantly causing chaos in New Haven.  Make your point on the Green, and people might respect you more.  Stop playing in traffic and start acting like adults, or go protest in the suburbs.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 7, 2017  1:09pm

Further Notes:

1. Nothing justifies taking over a highway. Nothing.

2. Emma Goldman - Your limited and biased view may provide salve for your conscience, but your situational ethics is hardly justification for intentionally breaking the law and harming and diminishing the lives of others. There was a real emergency. Maybe somebody in that logjam was late to work and got reprimanded. Maybe somebody in jam, punched in late and you cost their families money. In this economy and this job market in CT - that’s a big time problem.

Your morals in this mess are abysmal. Your bias in your story telling are just as bad. Go to DC - your problem in there not in CT’s Sanctuary Capitol.

3. EmilyG - Ditto on the Goldman comment for you. Confrontational protesting? Somehow that’s going to elevate the conversation nationally? No. You and all your fellow protesters need to get on a bus and go try these tactics in DC and see what kind of response you get - instead of this small city. The White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Can’t miss it and I can’t wait to see you on the national news.

Stop harassing Connecticut residents just trying to make a living in a very high cost state with very limited economic opportunities. Quit being so damn self-centered.

posted by: robn on February 7, 2017  3:21pm

The dogs did what dogs do in tense situations; they sensed the human tension and got tense. Thats why dogs shouldn’t be used for crowd control or any other sort of intimidation.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 7, 2017  6:08pm

“Bottom line, blocking limited access highways endangers lives and should never be tolerated.”

Really? In light of all the other stuff that we, as a society, seem to have no problem tolerating, this is your idea of the ultimate offense?

posted by: 1644 on February 7, 2017  6:45pm

William K: What does it matter what else we might tolerate.  Why should we tolerate blocking limited access highways?

posted by: Katargyna on February 7, 2017  10:26pm

They frequently block ambulances at protests and they are proud of it. Stop pretending we don’t know that. They think its fair game. They don’t even admit it is wrong when they get arrested and have to show up in court. This is the most biased op ed disguised as news I have ever read.

posted by: Nathan on February 7, 2017  11:00pm

Anyone claiming to be trying to “help” anything in anyway by blocking roads is lost in a world of self delusion about both the negative impact of that action and the perceived positive impact.  Whether the police actions were justified will be known after investigation - a reasonable approach to such matters, but I’m glad they cleared the road and arrested the leaders of this folly.