Connecticut College student says New London police beat him when he came to aid of domestic violence victim

Connecticut College student Lee Messier in a Facebook post claims he received this injury during an incident with New London police at the college early Sunday morning. (Lee Messier)
Connecticut College student Lee Messier in a Facebook post claims he received this injury during an incident with New London police at the college early Sunday morning. (Lee Messier)

Lee Messier
Lee Messier

New London — Police have launched an internal investigation into a domestic violence incident in a dormitory at Connecticut College early Sunday that resulted in the arrests of three people, including a bystander who claims officers pulled him to the ground, kneed him and kicked him when he tried to intervene on behalf of a woman.

Lee S. Messier, 21, of Narragansett, R.I., a college junior who was charged with interfering with police/resisting arrest, wrote a Facebook post about the incident that has been widely circulated. Messier attached to the post pictures of the injuries he said he suffered, including a bruised elbow and face and a gash on his head.

Messier is the son of Leo D. Messier, who is the chief of airport police at Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Airport and a retired Rhode Island state police captain. The father could not be reached to comment Tuesday.

Also arrested in the incident was Alicia Gorin, 22, of Centerville, Mass. Gorin, who graduated from the college earlier this year, was charged with disorderly conduct, third-degree assault and interfering with police. Éamon O’Leary, 20, of Boxford, Mass., a junior at the college, was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with an officer.

New London Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said one of the men involved in the incident had a head laceration prior to officer’s arrival, but it was not clear whether it was Messier or O’Leary. Reichard said he could not release reports of the incident due to the ongoing investigation.

“We had a meeting with the dean of students yesterday in my office, and at that point we decided we were going to have an internal investigation,” Reichard said Tuesday morning.

Though he declined to identify the officers, arrest log records indicate the three officers who responded initially were Joshua Bergeson, Sgt. Rob Pickett and John Michaud.

Bergeson, the arresting officer in Messier’s case, was fired by the city’s previous mayor, Daryl Justin Finizio, in 2013, after being involved in the alleged beating and pepper-spraying of a man outside the SCADD Detox facility on Coit Street. He later was rehired.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Messier said he had not yet filed a formal complaint but would be contacting a lawyer and continuing conversations with the college administration.

“I am traumatized by this experience,” he wrote in a message to The Day. “This entire situation could have been avoided. I am extremely frustrated, hurt, and angry with the way I have been treated.”

The incident took place in the Jane Addams House about 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

Reichard said three officers responded to a 911 report of a woman screaming for help and were escorted to the dormitory by campus police. He said the officers encountered a female and male who had a laceration on the back of his head prior to their arrival. He said another male who initially had intervened in the incident prior to the officers’ arrival interfered with the police investigation and then resisted arrest when the officers decided to take him into custody.

Messier, who lives in the Jane Addams House, wrote in his post that he was in the room of his friend Anna Lind early Sunday after attending the Tent Dance, a large outdoor semi-formal event at the college. He said they went to investigate after hearing loud thumps, screams and a woman, later identified as Gorin, crying, “Help!” in an adjacent room.

He said he opened the door to the room and the man (later identified as O’Leary), walked away hastily. Messier wrote that he and Lind comforted the woman, who explained she had recently broken up with O’Leary and that he had never acted this way before. Messier said that seven New London police officers and five Campus Safety officers arrived a short time later.

He said the officers “acted combatively” toward him, Lind and Gorin.

“After all, we were the ones who intervened in the first place and interrupted a potentially very serious assault situation in an attempt to protect the victim, nothing more,” Messier wrote.

He wrote that Gorin was crying hysterically and asked the police to leave, and that he and Lind attempted to get the officers’ attention “to provide them with some context to the situation.” The officers ordered Messier and Lind into their room “leaving the victim out there alone with 11 grown men,” according to the post.

“In a hopeless and drunk attempt to just escape the situation, the victim (Gorin) made an attempt to flee down the staircase,” the post read. One of the officers "bearhugged her," Messier wrote, and she kicked another officer in the groin.

As the officers were handcuffing Gorin, Messier said he and Lind tried to explain that Gorin should not be arrested. He said one of the officers ordered him back into the room “or I will get arrested.” He wrote that he was “just trying to help the officer figure out the situation.” He said the officer twisted his arm in an attempt to handcuff him, then yanked his arm behind his back aggressively when he instinctively pulled his arm back.

He said the officer pulled out a can of pepper spray, put it 2 inches from his eyes and threatened to spray him. He said three more officers grabbed him and threw him to the ground, where he received four to five blows to the head from the knee of one of the officers while the others kicked him repeatedly in the back and pressed his head into the ground.

“To this day I have not been questioned about what I saw leading up to their arrival,” Messier wrote in the post. “Police brutality is a very real thing ...”

Connecticut College Dean of Students Victor Arcelus issued a letter to students, staff and the college community Tuesday saying that he met with staff from the Student Life department on Sunday and Monday to learn more about the incident and that his office is interviewing the Campus Safety officers who were present during the incident. He said he met with “leaders within the New London Police Department.”

“I appreciated learning that the NLPD has already initiated a review of the officers’ actions,” the dean’s letter said. “I will continue to be in contact with the NLPD to follow up on this case and to discuss their response protocols on our campus.”

Arcelus wrote that student safety is a priority at Connecticut College and that “members of our community take steps every day to support and protect each other.”

“Bystander intervention is a hallmark of our campus culture, and the initial steps taken by students demonstrate this commitment,” the dean wrote.

Messier is due to appear in court on Oct. 28.

Gorin appeared in court on Monday. Her case was referred to the family relations division and continued. The status of O’Leary’s court case was not immediately available.

k.florin@theday.com

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