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Police report clears officer who stopped student at gunpoint (updated 3/5)

An internal Yale Police Department investigation has cleared an officer who drew his gun while stopping a student on Cross Campus in January, saying he “conducted himself professionally and followed the procedures.” But “given the concerns raised by this incident,” the university has named an “independent review panel” to investigate the investigation.

The January 24 incident drew national attention when New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow wrote about it—first on Twitter, then in the Timesidentifying the student as his son, Tahj Blow ’16. The elder Blow said he was “fuming” that the officer, searching for a burglary suspect who was not reported to be armed or violent, drew his gun while ordering Tahj to the ground.

Police detained Tahj Blow briefly, then let him go after catching the burglary suspect nearby. The Blows and the officer are African American.

The incident took place in the early evening, when students called police to report a suspected burglar in Trumbull College. They described the intruder as an “extraordinarily tall” young black man, wearing a black jacket and red-and-white hat.

About three minutes later, an officer spotted someone who matched the description, walking across the darkened Cross Campus. The officer called out “stop” and drew his gun. When Blow turned around, the officer ordered Blow to the ground. Blow immediately complied.

The report says the officer held his gun in the “low ready” position, pointed downward “in the direction of but not directly at” Blow, with his finger away from the trigger at all times. As soon as he got close enough to ascertain that Blow was not a threat—because the student was compliant, “scared and shaking,” in the officer’s words—the officer reholstered his gun and “de-escalated,” the report says.

The officer, whose name is redacted from the report (as is Blow’s), “conducted himself professionally and followed the procedures,” the report concludes. “When he thought he encountered the burglar he used the amount of force necessary as spelled out in the Yale University Police Department’s general order as well as the Connecticut statute.” The report quotes Blow, who filed a formal complaint, as saying the officer “raised his gun at me.” It does not address the apparent discrepancy between that description and the “low ready” account.

In a message to the Yale community yesterday, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD—joined by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway ’95PhD and Police Chief Ronnell Higgins—commended “the department’s rapid and professional response to calls for assistance on the night in question, and for a speedy arrest that ended a criminal threat.”

Nonetheless, the three administrators asked psychology professor Marvin Chun to head a three-member group that will “assist in addressing an array of issues that have emerged during this process,” they wrote:

This panel is reviewing the Yale Police Department’s investigation process to ensure that it meets the highest standards. We have also asked the panel to offer any recommendations it deems appropriate for the Yale Police to consider regarding relevant policies, procedures, and training; and to suggest actions that might be taken to continue to advance the goal of community policing and constructive interactions between police and students.

Chun, who is also master of Berkeley College, will be joined by corporate lawyer Stephen C. Robinson, a former federal judge and US attorney, and Charles Reynolds, a former police chief who is now a policing consultant.

“We trust the panel will complete its work expeditiously, and, as with the internal report, we will share the panel’s findings when they are available,” the Yale officials wrote.

The internal report itself identified three “deficiencies” in YPD policy and training: the definitions of “low ready” and “pointing a firearm,” and the policy on when an officer should activate a body camera.

Neither Charles Blow nor Tahj Blow responded to requests for comment. The Yale Police Benevolent Association also did not respond, but told other news outlets that it “is pleased Yale University did the right thing in exonerating our officer.”

“Hesitating when confronting a potential felony suspect could cost an officer his/her life,” the police union statement continued.

“We certainly empathize with the student who was stopped on the Cross Campus by our officer, as being the subject of a felony stop can be traumatizing to a member of the public. However, our officer would have been derelict in his/her duty had he/she not stopped a person matching the description of a suspect in a burglary occurring minutes prior and within a short distance of the stop.”

Update (March 5): The YPBA is “withholding judgment” on the review panel, union treasurer Earl Reed says by e-mail. “While we are always open to constructive suggestions and best practices recommendations, officer safety is paramount to our members and remains our highest priority.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

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