Beating Lee Messier, The White Knight
Oct. 25, 2016 (Fault Lines) — “The problem is that no matter how good your intentions, eventually you want to kill someone yourself.”
― Kenneth Cain
On October 17, Lee Messier, a student at Connecticut College, created a lengthy Facebook post to describe his beating and arrest at the hands of New London police. There are photos of bruises to his arm and face and a cut to his scalp.
According to Messier, he and a friend were “hangin’ in her room talking” early on the morning of the 16th when they heard a woman calling for help in the next room.
In addition to the hysterical and piercing cries, we also heard loud thumps and thuds against the wall that both rooms share. We thought to ourselves, “what could possibly be going on in there?” It was frightening to think even for a second that a woman could potentially be getting assaulted in that neighboring room.
So Messier and his girlfriend, Anna, decided to investigate.
When I entered the hallway and fixed my eyes onto the door where the screams were coming from I noticed that it was ajar. Now I could hear a man’s voice loudly scolding the woman in the room. I knew what I had to do. I lightly opened the door and peered into the room only to come face to face with the man for a split second as he hastily walked away and down the stairs. It was very obvious he was intoxicated. One of my first instincts in that moment was to go after him because it was evidently clear that he was hurting her in some way.
But he didn’t. Instead, he went to check on the woman, who, it became apparent, had been upset in some way by her ex-boyfriend.
She was lying half on the bed half off of it. The bed was pushed against the same wall that we were hearing the thumps and thuds. Anna and I invited her into her room next door. Anna wiped the makeup that was running down her face and also caressed her shoulder as tears continued to fall down.
She explained that the man in the room never acted like this before and his behavior scared her so much. She explained that she broke up with him 2 weeks prior and as a result of the breakup, he was very depressed.
Alright, so reading between the lines, at least she wasn’t actually getting beaten. After a minute of talking to Anna and Messier, the woman decided she’d had enough and left their room.
Case closed? Not quite. Because another concerned, but less venturesome student had also heard the “screaming and loud thumps and thuds” and called the police. Eleven or 12 officers arrived on the scene and allegedly started acting rather rudely towards Messier and his girlfriend.
Anna and I are now in shock because the officers are acting so combatively towards not only the victim but also to us. 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.
Passing over the conclusory use of the word “victim,” and the ongoing devaluation of the concept of shock and everything related to it, what exactly did Messier want from the cops? A pat on the head and a “good boy?” Instead of going back to his girlfriend’s room after doing something moderately brave and leaving the investigation to the cops, he decided to keep putting his oar in. So what did he do to provoke a “combative” reaction from the police?
Once the victim saw all of the officers she realized how serious the situation had become. Her hysterical cries become louder and even more hopeless. Seeing her react in this way was one of the saddest things I have ever had to witness. She even said to the police, “can you please just go away?” Anna and I knew that the victim was not going to be able to articulate what happened to her in that room. We even got the impression that she didn’t want to.
Therefore, we tried to get the attention of one of the officers in order to provide them with some context to the situation. After all, that’s what they were asking for. It was very obvious to the officers that Anna and I were not involved with the potential domestic violence. They were trying to find the boy who was responsible but he had already left.
The only way to explain Messier’s ability to read the thoughts of others is that he’s psychic. But if he’s psychic, why didn’t he do a better job of getting the facts right? According to the police, the cops had already found the woman’s ex-boyfriend by the time they arrived outside Messier’s room.
Similarly, Messier was very eager to impute irrationality to the woman he’s convinced was a victim. That’s understandable, as Messier is a college student, and it’s fashionable on campus to treat women like infants. But it’s striking that while he’s sure of her inability to give a good account, he merely “got the impression” that she was reluctant to. Didn’t she outright say she wanted the cops to go away?
The thing is that a reaction like this is typical in domestic violence cases. The fear and pain of being assaulted pass, to be replaced by awareness that getting the law involved can have serious repercussions for the assailant (whom the victim may very well love) and the assaulted person (her living situation, the couple’s social network and the effects of a court case on the children are all considerations). Cops and prosecutors know this, and it can make them extremely pushy when the victim is reluctant to press charges. Messier, it seems, didn’t get it.
Unless none of the 11 or 12 officers on the scene had done a DV call before, they would’ve understood. By contrast, Messier comes off a lot less well: between his Dunning-Krugery conviction he knew what was going on, his insistence on forcing the issue and speaking for the supposed victim and his presumption in overruling what he believed her wishes to be, his actions go a long way towards proving T.S. Eliot right when he said that “most of the evil in the world is done by people with good intentions.”
Messier has a more legitimate complaint to make about the cops’ treatment of the alleged victim:
The screams and cries got even louder. All of the officers were surrounding her.
This must have scared her so much. In a hopeless and drunken attempt to just escape the situation, the victim made an attempt to flee down the staircase. Soon after making that decision she was bearhugged by one of the New London Police officers. Another officer began to approach her and she kicked him in the groin. This prompted the other officers to begin putting her in handcuffs.
It’s a recurrent theme at Fault Lines: we can’t expect the police to be anything other than what they are. It’s de rigueur to call the cops for all sorts of emergencies, from dealing with the mentally ill to saving kittens in trees* to getting confused Bostonians out of corn mazes. But the fact is that cops aren’t trained, and frequently aren’t able, to do all the jobs we expect of them.
As a result, the more hats we make them wear – not just crime fighter, but emergency first responder, social worker – the more likely it gets that something will go wrong. Unless and until empathetic treatment of frightened women becomes part of the core law enforcement curriculum, which won’t happen unless cops are willing to spend fewer training dollars on the job we hired them to do, it’s unreasonable to expect cops to fare better with people in a vulnerable emotional state than the rest of us would. In fact, they may do worse; as Seth Stoughton points out, the “warrior cop” mindset he argues is common to many police officers may predispose them to treat people roughly.
There’s an argument to be made that if you’re in doubt about getting help in a volatile situation (like one where the person involved is mentally ill or emotionally unstable,) it’s better to call in a professional or handle things yourself rather than call the police. Professional fantasists like Shaun King may think that today’s cops could easily be replaced with roving teams of crime fighters/consummate mental health professionals, but relying on unicorns is a surefire way to get people killed.
So thanks in part to less than ideal treatment of the alleged victim by the cops, she wound up detained for kicking one of them in the groin. Messier got back on his white horse and objected to this ungentlemanly treatment.
Immediately we were told to “get the fuck back in the room” and so we got back in the room.
Impossible. Surely no cop would use such harsh language? They certainly don’t in the courtroom.
Regardless, Messier and his girlfriend left the room again and objected a second time. The officers didn’t take kindly to them ignoring their command presence:
One officer approached me with an angry and malicious grin. He tells me to, “get the fuck back in the room or I will get arrested.” I say to the officer, “arrest me for what? I’m trying to help you figure this all out.” Right then the officer begins to twist my arm in an attempt to handcuff me. In an instinctive response, I pull my arm away only to get it yanked behind my back aggressively, inflicting a great deal of pain on my shoulder. I let him continue man handling me but the officer takes the situation to new extremes. He pulls out a can of Mace and holds it two inches from my eyes while threatening to spray me. I was shocked and paralyzed in this moment. I could not believe what was happening.
Another 3 officers grab me and plant me onto the ground and continue to lock the cuffs. I receive 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.
If this is true, the actions of the police in arresting Messier are totally beyond the pale. “Probably annoying” and “not as knowledgeable as he thinks he is” aren’t justifications for arresting someone, let alone this violently.
According to Messier, he was arrested for resisting arrest and detained for three hours before being released. For its part, in a couple of vague, spokesman-y press releases, the New London PD claimed he was arrested for interfering with police and that the incident is being investigated. Connecticut College’s Dean of Student Affairs also released a bland statement saying he and his office are looking into things.
It’s too early for there to be any real answers. But even at this stage, it’s impossible to overlook how banal, how avoidable the violent outcome was. Even when a deeply emotional college student and a bunch of cops with short fuses lock horns, there doesn’t have to be a fight and an arrest. If only either side were even slightly inclined to comity, a little less absolute in its refusal to give ground.
*Sometimes, the fire department has to go and save the cops. But only sometimes.