NEW LONDON --The New London police department says it is conducting an internal investigation following a claim of police brutality by a Connecticut College student who was arrested in a dormitory last weekend.
Lee Messier, a junior at Connecticut College, says cops cuffed him and threw him on the ground when he was trying to share information he had about an assault of a female that had taken place in a dorm room next to the one he was in late Saturday night. He says that after being forced to the ground, he was threatened with Mace and received "4-5 direct blows to the head from one of the knees of the arresting officer. Other officers kicked me repeatedly in the back and pressed my head extremely hard into the ground."
Police said in a press release that Messier, 21, began to interfere and “exacerbate the situation.” Police said he was “directed several times by officers not to interfere and to keep his distance,” and was warned he’d be arrested if he didn’t comply. When he didn't, he was arrested and charged with interfering with police.
On Wednesday, FOX 61 learned that the arresting officer, Joshua Bergeson, was fired three years ago by then Mayor Daryl Finizio after an alleged beating and pepper spraying incident, but the union filed a complaint with the state labor board for a wrongful termination. The case was settled and Bergeson got his job back.
"Because we have an open investigation going, into what allegedly took place that night, I am not able to comment on any of the details of the case at this time," said Deputy Chief Peter Reichard of the New London Police Department.
However, the department did release a statement on its Facebook page:
The New London Police Department is committed to investigating all complaints against its members in an open and fair manner with the truth as its primary objective. It is the policy of the New London Police Department to maintain an effective and efficient administrative system to receive, process, and fairly investigate all complaints against its personnel.
A relationship of trust and confidence between the personnel of the New London Police Department and the citizens of our community is essential to the successful accomplishment of law enforcement objectives. All New London Police Department employees are expected to conduct themselves in such a manner as to reflect favorably upon themselves and the department.
As a result of this fundamental belief, an internal investigation of the Connecticut College incident was ordered by Chief Margaret Ackley on Sunday, October 16, 2016 after being notified of complaints of police misconduct associated with the incident. Deputy Chief Peter Reichard has been assigned the internal investigation by the Chief. The disposition of the internal investigation along with the relevant facts shall be made public upon completion.
While opinions on this incident will vary and incite emotion, we hope that everyone will remain civil and respectful along with maintaining an open dialog with us.
Despite claims from both the police and Messier, the parents of the girl who was allegedly assaulted deny the incident. In a statement to FOX 61, they said:
We are the parents of the female student involved in the incident at Connecticut College, for which the actions of the New London police are under investigation. We fully support the actions of Connecticut College in this matter. We would also like to state, unequivocally, that the call to the police was the result of a misunderstanding, and that no domestic assault actually occurred. At no time did any student assault another student. We send our love and support to all of the students involved.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said it's trying to change laws to ensure that incidents like this are properly investigated.
"The ACLU, this next legislative session, is going to call for the creation of a truly independent police oversight agency to handle incidents like this and give a true neutral perspective on what happened," said David McGuire, acting executive director of the ACLU.
Meanwhile, Connecticut College says it's doing its own internal investigation, but that Messier's decision to intervene in what he perceived to be a volatile situation is actually encouraged on campus.
"Bystander intervention is a hallmark of our campus culture, and the initial steps taken by students demonstrate this commitment," said Victor Arcelus, the Dean of Students at Connecticut College.
Here is the full statement from Arcelus and Connecticut College:
I write to inform you about an incident that took place in one of our residence halls this past weekend. Early Sunday morning, a student called 911 and Campus Safety requesting assistance with an incident involving individuals in a residence hall room. Officers from the New London Police Department (NLPD) and Connecticut College Campus Safety responded.
Before the officers arrived on the scene, students helped defuse the situation by intervening directly with the individuals involved. During the interaction between the NLPD and the individuals, the situation unfortunately escalated and resulted in three arrests.
On Sunday and Monday, Student Life staff reached out to and met with the individuals involved to learn more about the incident, and we are also interviewing the Campus Safety officers present on the residence hall floor. In addition, I met with leaders within the NLPD to discuss my concerns and those raised by individuals about their interaction with NLPD officers. I appreciated learning that the NLPD has already initiated a review of the officers' actions. 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.
Student safety is our priority at Connecticut College and 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. As always, I am here to talk if you have any questions.
Here is Messier's own recollection of the incident: