Police: New London officers not out of line during college incident

New London — Two months after a Connecticut College student who intervened in a domestic violence incident alleged police beat him for repeatedly trying to tell his version of events, college and police officials have wrapped up their investigations.

While the city department found its officers did not violate use-of-force policies, the college is working to improve cooperation and understanding among students, Campus Safety officers and outside law enforcement agencies.

Early on the morning of Oct. 16, campus safety and city police officers responded to the Jane Addams House when a person on campus called 911 and said a woman in the dormitory was screaming for help.

Police said they first encountered Alicia Gorin, 22, of Centerville, Mass., and Éamon O’Leary, 20, of Boxford, Mass. The latter, they said, had a head laceration prior to their arrival. Police said both had been “active participants” in a domestic violence incident and both were hostile and aggressive toward officers.

According to police, Lee Messier, 21, of Narragansett, R.I., who had intervened in the incident between Gorin and O’Leary before officers arrived, interfered with them upon their arrival and then resisted arrest.

Messier’s account, which he detailed in a lengthy Facebook post published Oct. 17, is different.

According to him, several New London and campus officers “came crashing” into the hall and acted “combatively” toward Gorin, himself and a friend he was with.

He said he tried to get officers’ attention multiple times to tell them Gorin was a victim of, not a participant in, domestic violence. He alleged that a New London officer “bearhugged” Gorin before handcuffing her. He also alleged New London officers twisted his arm and kicked him when he didn't follow their order to stay in the dorm room where he was.

Ultimately, Messier was charged with interfering with police, Gorin with disorderly conduct, third-degree assault and interfering with police, and O’Leary with disorderly conduct and interfering with police.

Dean of Students Victor Arcelus, who oversees Campus Safety as part of his role, said there have been multiple open forum events on campus to discuss what happened.

Many of them, he said, focused on reiterating the importance of bystander intervention, a hallmark of the campus culture.

He said two external reviews related to Campus Safety have taken place since October. The first, conducted by the Northeast Colleges and Universities Security Association, was a routine review of the department that college officials began arranging for in the summer. The second, overseen by the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, focused on the Oct. 16 incident in Jane Addams House.

“What we’re focusing on is recommendations moving forward,” Arcelus said of the results of the reviews.

He said Campus Safety, working with New London and Waterford police departments, wants to more clearly define the role of Campus Safety officers during incidents that include outside emergency responders. Campus Safety officers are not sworn officers.

Arcelus said he also is working with Waterford and New London police to make sure they understand how important bystander intervention is to members of the college. Similarly, the college wants to find creative ways to help students understand the expectations of outside responders who end up on campus.

“We’re trying to think about how we continue to improve cooperation,” Arcelus said. “I think there’s always an opportunity for improvement.”

Arcelus said the review didn’t necessarily find that cooperation between college and city officers was an issue on Oct. 16. Rather, he said, it’s a good time to re-evaluate the department’s policies and procedures because longtime Campus Safety Director Stewart Smith, who has been with the college since 1989, is retiring at the end of the month.

The three law enforcement agencies have been meeting more frequently than usual so the interim director, Roy Murphy, has a smooth transition into his role.

New London Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said he has been in contact with Campus Safety weekly since the October incident and has learned a lot about the campus's emphasis on bystander intervention.

He said his department’s internal review found that New London officers didn’t violate any department rules regarding use of force or any state law.

Reichard noted that the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council recognizes the city department as a Tier One Accredited Agency, something many departments don’t achieve. That’s in part because of its intensive use-of-force guidelines.

According to Reichard, police interviewed 18 people for the investigation, 14 of whom were students or faculty of Conn College.

He said three officers responded to the incident at Jane Addams House, and a fourth showed up after the arrests had been made. He said he believed three or four Campus Safety officers were on scene, too, including one undergoing field training.

Arcelus said college policy prohibits him from discussing a specific incident.

“Our final conclusion came from information derived from a compilation of the 18 statements,” Reichard said. “The information we developed proved a lot of information from (Messier’s) post was not accurate.”

A representative of Robinson + Cole, the law firm that records show is representing Messier, said she was not at liberty to discuss his case.

Messier didn’t immediately respond to a message left for him.

Records show Messier is next due in New London Superior Court for a pretrial hearing Jan. 12.

Gorin is scheduled to appear there for a pretrial hearing Feb. 2. O’Leary’s next court date is Jan. 26.

l.boyle@theday.com

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