A state trooper with a history of alleged brutality did nothing wrong when he twice pepper-sprayed a protest leader and set loose a police canine that ended up attacking three cops in a crowd — but the state police can still learn from the incident — an internal review concludes.
The state police conducted the “after-action review” of their handling of a Feb. 4 anti-Donald Trump protest in downtown New Haven. The police Thursday released a redacted version of the 18-page report to the Independent in response to a Connecticut Freedom of Information Act request.
The report clears troopers involved of any wrongdoing, despite an admitted “accidental” discharge of spray and the dog attacks. It takes a fleeting shot at New Haven police, and concludes with recommendations for training in light of lessons learned from the incident.
The report also explains for the first time how a state police dog ended up attacking cops in the midst of a scene that got out of hand. The report’s recommendations include planned upcoming in-service training for police dog handlers in how to “minimize inadvertent bites” and a debriefing with New Haven cops about how to work together at future protests.
Patricia Kane, attorney for two men arrested at the Feb. 4 protest, criticized the notion of clearing the officers. She described the event as a “police riot.”
“Clearly, when people are pepper-sprayed, when people are injured and have to be taken to the hospital, when a dog bites other officers, and their conclusion was it was properly done — it’s just illogical and ridiculous,” Kane said Friday.
During the Feb. 4 protest, some 100 marchers went from City Hall during the protest down to the Route 34 Connector, where they blocked traffic.
City and state police hadn’t known about the protest or the subsequent march. According to the new state review, State Trooper Michael R. Beauton, his police canine Nero, and Trooper Shawn Mansfield discovered the Route 34 Connector street blockage when they drove into the area at 4:22 p.m. after removing debris from the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.
How they exactly came upon the scene is redacted in the released version of the report.
Beauton and Mansfield radioed in about the scene, then approached the scene. Beauton and Nero, the report notes, “have extensive training, which includes … crowd control. TFC [Trooper First Class] Beauton is also a tenured member of the CSP [Connecticut State Police] Emergency Services Unit.” (He is also being sued in federal court for, with the help of Nero, allegedly brutalizing a Milford man. Other officers in the case have settled with the plaintiff.)
Beauton and Nero arrived at the Route 34 Connector to find “three to four” “Downtown Ambassadors” (non-law enforcement guards hired by the Town Green Special Services District) observing the action, but no city cops in sight, according to the state review. The troopers saw protesters hoisting and striking a papier-mâché likeness of Trump. The troopers ordered protesters to stop blocking the westbound lanes. The protesters attempted to block the eastbound lanes, too, but didn’t pull that off, according to the report. The blocked traffic included an ambulance in which a crew had to perform an emergency life-saving procedure and a car in which a woman was about to give birth. (Cops guided that car past the protest toward the hospital.)
Eventually the demonstrators left the scene and marched through downtown streets, up Church Street toward the Green. By that time other state cops were on scene. City cops, too, had arrived. Citing trooper accounts as well as the above YouTube video, the report makes a point of stating that “6 to 8 clearly marked NHPD cruisers form behind the group and activate their sirens and overhead emergency lights, contrary to representations made later by the City.” (That dig at the city cops appears to refer to remarks that the city’s Interim Police Chief Anthony Campbell made in this article.)
En route, New Haven cops arrested a protester named Nathan Blair, which prompted complaints from other protesters, whose version of events differs markedly from that of the police. (Blair has pleaded not guilty and is seeking a trial.)
The crowd of protesters and city and state cops ended up at Church and Chapel streets. The scene grew chaotic. The report describes Beauton “protect[ing] the group of NHPD officers by positioning his K-9 in front of them and disperses a 20-second burst of OC spray toward the advancing crowd. The crowd backs up. As NHPD officers lift the arrestee [Blair] and veer toward the Trooper, TFC Beauton’s K-9 bites at the pant leg of a NHPD officer immediately in front of him. The K-9 did not bite the officer and the officer was not injured.”
Citing the YouTube video (above), the report quotes organizer Norm Clement — whom Beauton had identified as the protest leader and intended to arrest — calling out through a microphone as cops tried to “direct” protesters from the street to the sidewalk: “We’re peaceful. You motherfuckers wanna bring it; we’ll bring it next time.”
Beauton and another state cop then “position themselves in the Church and Chapel Streets intersection in an effort to prevent protestors from moving from the sidewalk onto the street, and direct the protesters to stay back.” Beauton then spotted Clement, pointed, and told the cops: “Him, right there. He’s a 37 [CSP code for arrestee], the one with the microphone.”
The report then states that Beauton “turns to Mr. Clement and tells him, ‘You’re under arrest.’” State police Sgt. Mark Wiener wrapped his arms around Clement’s torso. Clement “struggles to free himself to evade arrest,” according to the report.
Beauton then “disperses an accidental one-second burst of OC spray toward him, which he appeared to be unaware of until later when he viewed the YouTube video,” according to the report. “As TFC Beauton is dispersing the OC spray, he and his K-9 [Nero] make contact with” the sergeant. The dog “nips” at Sgt. Wiener’s buttocks; Wiener “sought medical attention shortly afterward.”
Clement broke free from Wiener and, according to the report, “pushes down at least one nearby protester as he begins to run away,” the report continues. “Two NHPD officers intercept Mr. Clement approximately 50 feet away and another struggle ensues. Tpr. Mansfield positions his body in the path of K-9 ‘Nero’ and the struggle between the NHPD officers and Mr. Clement, at which time he receives a bite to the lower leg and the pant area. Tpr. Mansfield is not injured and declines treatment. TFC Beauton directs Mr. Clement to stop resisting. When Mr. Clement fails to comply, TFC Beauton disperses a one-second spray of OC to Mr. Clement’s face, at which point he complies and several NHPD officers place his arms behind his back and handcuff him.”
Clement has pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless use of the highway by a pedestrian, interfering with an officer, inciting to riot, breach of peace, and disorderly conduct. Both he and Nathan Blair went to the hospital after police released them from custody on Feb. 4.
Clement’s attorney, Patricia Kane, called the state report’s account of Clement’s actions “totally false.” She said Clement never resisted arrest.
“He ran because the dog was pointed in his direction. He was more afraid of the dog than the pepper spray,” Kane said. “He’s an experienced nonviolent protester. He has never run from anything. But that dog scared the bejesus out of everyone. The officers didn’t catch him. He stopped and let the officers arrest him. He didn’t want to be the fourth person attacked by the dog.”
In a “Findings of Fact” section, the report concludes that the two troopers originally on the scene “accurately assess the clear and present danger that the protesters had created for themselves and others. They did not wait for back up. Instead, for these 7-11 minutes, they and subsequently, other responding Troopers, assisted by several ambassadors, attempted to reopen the limited access road to the motoring public, an effort that also protected the protesters from on-coming traffic. They did so without any use of force.
“When NHPD officers arrived on-scene, they remained at the rear and did not join in the management and movement of the protesters. About 8 minutes later when the median garage ramp was re-opening, they actively assisted with crowd control. The CSP reviewed the uses of force in which Troopers were involved; 3 accidental K-9 bites, and 3 uses of OC chemical spray one of which was also accidental.”
The section states that the troopers “complied” with department policy on use of OC aerosol spray, spelled out in CSP Administrative and Operational Manual (A&O) 13.4.14. It also concludes that the troopers complied with the manual’s section (Chapter 22.3.3. b (3)) for how to use police canines for crowd control.
The report praises “all of the responding Troopers” for “demonstrat[ing] a clear understanding of state statutes and current law concerning both traffic and use of force. Their assessment of the time, manner and place of the protest was accurate and their response to the risk that the protesters presented, whether intentional or otherwise, to themselves and others was lawful and appropriate.
All that said, the report makes six recommendations in light of the incident:
• The state cops and city cops should have a “command level joint debrief” of the incident aimed at “an improved understanding of the mutual aid obligations” between their agencies.
• The state cops should do a better job of monitoring social media. It turns out this protest had been listed on protesters’ social media accounts. Neither state nor city cops noticed.
• The state police should do more training on “de-escalation techniques…. Canine personnel and their commanders must be cognizant of the positive, and negative, responses to the introduction of canine assets in crowd control events.”
• In some way address (the report doesn’t specify how) the “unified command/roles and responsibilities of the incident commanders” at “active” scenes like this one, including keeping superiors informed and making use of megaphones or video cameras when needed.
• The state’s K-9 unit will conduct in-service training for police dogs’ handlers in how to “minimize inadvertent bites” at “civil disorders,” and comparable training for recruits at the police academy.
• The state police’s public information and legal affairs offices need to “strengthen” their “responses to critical incidents,” offering “timely and accurate information” to management and other “requestors,” such as the press. “A streamlined, unified department response is essential to effective communication and positive community relations,” the report states.
Assistant New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes said Friday that he agrees that “it would be beneficial to have debriefing and training between both agencies when dealing with mutual aid situations.”
Reyes, who oversees patrol, said New Haven police have been reviewing their own officers’ actions at the Feb. 4 protest. More broadly, the department has been working on “beefing up” officer training on managing crowds “because we’re getting more demonstrations. We want to be able to effectively manage these situations and allow people to lawfully assemble and demonstrate, while still protecting the public.”