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Yale officer cleared of wrongdoing in student encounter

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Jonathan Edwards courtyard at Yale University.  Image Credit: Nick Allen
Jonathan Edwards courtyard at Yale University. Image Credit: Nick Allen


A Yale police officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a student encounter that led the officer to draw his gun and order the student to the ground.

The New York Times reported that an internal investigation by the Yale University police department found that their officer did nothing wrong in the incident occurring on January 24.

The incident was sparked by numerous calls to police that day about an intruder at Trumbull College, one of the numerous on-campus residential colleges. There had been a rash of recent burglaries, putting the campus community and the police on alert.

According to police dispatch records, the suspect was described as a tall black male wearing a black coat, a red and white hat, and shoes with orange detailing.

Just as the calls were coming in, third-year student Tahj Blow was leaving the library. An officer, who was also black, saw the 21-year-old and felt he closely met the description of the suspect. Blow was 6-foot-1 and was wearing a burgundy, gray and red hat as well as a navy blue pea coat.

Blow, who is the son of The New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, was ordered to the ground by the gun-wielding officer. He immediately complied and identified himself.

This is what the police reported. Blow remembers the incident a little different.

According to The New York Times, the student wrote in a statement to police that “the officer raised his gun at me and told me to get on the ground.” The officer acknowledged that he drew his weapon but said he kept it at a “low ready” position, with his fingers off the trigger.

Only 12 seconds passed between the time the officer approached Blow and the time he told the dispatcher to “disregard.” A suspect matching the description was found a short time later a mere 200 yards away. The suspect was arrested and later charged.

Campus surveillance cameras were able to capture some of the incident on video. The footage supported the officer’s account that his gun was pointed at the ground, at least for a portion of the occurrence.

Charles Blow’s columns on the encounter brought it national attention. “The stop is not the problem,” he wrote. “The method of the stop is the problem.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Blow said that his son stood by his account and found the university’s response insufficient. Specifically, Mr. Blow said in an email, he had wanted the police to assure his son and other students “that draw-weapon, ask-questions-later was not standard operating procedure on his campus.”

“Unfortunately, that was not the case,” Mr. Blow added. “Now he has to live with the reality that this event could repeat itself.”

Retired NYPD Officer Edward Mamet, who spent 40 years on the force, said departments afford officers very wide latitude in when to draw a weapon. “It is a judgment call,” he said.

While the Yale police found that the officer did nothing wrong, the university recognized how disturbing the case was for the student involved, as well as the community. The institution has pledged to work closely with a panel they have assembled “to consult with us and assist in addressing an array of issues that have emerged during this process.”

University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins released a letter on Tuesday to the school community. “We also must continue to recognize that this incident intersected, in ways that were both public and very painful, with current national conversations on race, prejudice, policing, and the use of force,” they wrote.

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