The Yale Police Department is investigating the conduct of an officer who drew his weapon on a student over the weekend while searching for a burglary suspect in an incident that drew backlash from members of the community, according to university officials.
School officials said it happened Saturday evening after students at Trumbull College, one of the university’s 12 on-campus residential colleges, called police to report a suspicious person in the building.
Trumbull College had been burglarized in the days leading up to the incident, and students said it wasn’t the first time they had noticed the suspect, who “entered their rooms under false pretenses,” according to a university spokesperson.
Students provided a description of the suspect. When police went looking for him, one officer confroted a student who seemed to match that description and held him at gunpoint, university officials said.
Police released him upon realizing he wasn’t the person they were looking for. The real suspect was arrested at Berkeley College nearby and will face charges of felony burglary, according to school officials.
The incident quickly became a subject of controversy and Yale President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Police Chief Ronnell Higgins released a joint statement to address the uproar.
“Many in our community felt personal pain upon reading accounts of this incident on social media and in the press as they saw national debates about race, policing, and the use of force become a very local and personal story,” they wrote. “We share these feelings and recognize that the interest in and reaction to this incident underscore that the work of making our campus and our society more inclusive, just, and safe remains an imperative for all of us.”
The message goes on to emphasize the professionalism of the Yale Police Department and the officers’ ability to keep students safe.
“What happened on Cross Campus on Saturday is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States. The officer, who himself is African American, was responding to a specific description relayed by individuals who had reported a crime in progress,” Salovey, Holloway and Higgins wrote.
Although the officer’s actions in detaining the student may have been justified, “the fact that he drew his weapon during the stop requires a careful review,” they said.
The police department’s internal affairs division is investigating the incident, and university officials said they plan to share the department’s findings with members of the school community.
“For now, we should seize this moment as an opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow,” the message continues. “There are real challenges here where the lines of race, inequality, and policing intersect, and we as teachers, students and citizens must face them. They are not just someone else’s issues, located somewhere else; they are America’s issues, and they are our issues.”