As reported in the Boston Globe and other newspapers, on November 2, 2007, following a Yale University lecture, human rights activist Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, was falsely arrested while passing through the Boston suburb of Needham, which earlier that day had experienced its first murder in 20 years. The charge was immediately quashed as groundless by the overseeing judge, and the Town of Needham issued a full apology to Mr. Neuer, saying he was "an innocent victim."
Town of Needham Letter of Apology to Hillel Neuer
Letter in PDF
March 31, 2008
Dear Mr. Neuer,
The Town of Needham apologizes to you for any emotional trauma, embarrassment or injury that you suffered as a result of being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct on November 2, 2007. You were an innocent victim caught up in the events of that day.
On that day our town was traumatized by a brutal murder and vicious assault upon two members of the Moore family. It was the first murder in out town in almost 20 years. Town officials immediately locked down the town while an intensive manhunt was conducted for the perpetrator.
News of the murder and manhunt spread throughout the community by word of mouth, and by radio and television. Word of the situation was also spread by locked-down students who used their cell-phones to call and text friends and relatives. This included a student with an after school job at Stone Hearth Pizza restaurant, who phoned managers at the restaurant to say that he would be late because of the lockdown.
During this time, town authorities used an automated telephone system to call approximately 12,000 residences and businesses to notify them of the situation. Recipients of the call were advised to secure their doors and windows and to report anything that might be suspicious.
We know that you entered the Stone Hearth Pizza restaurant and purchased some food. You asked for a taxi and then went to the restroom to change into a suit. The restaurant employees saw you come in with a black sports bag and change into different clothes. After you changed your clothing, they called the police to report you as a suspicious person. You had a small travel pack over your shoulder that they also considered suspicious. Also, it was reported that you left the restaurant and went next door to the CVS store. That call was followed by two agitated calls from the same location. In one of the calls, the caller was very excited. She reported that the same person now appeared to have a gun. We now know you were not in possession of a gun.
The police arrived at a highly emotionally charged, chaotic scene. It was reported that one of the restaurant’s employees was unaccounted for and could be in the restaurant with the suspicious person. The police were compelled to treat this as a possible situation where a suspected murderer was holding a hostage.
It now appears that you reacted to seeing a police car pull up in front of the restaurant and a police officer emerge from the car holding a weapon. You went to the floor and took cover to reduce the chance of being injured. You called 911 and requested guidance from the police as to what to do. You were ordered out of the restaurant, arrested, handcuffed and brought to the police station.
No innocent visitor to our town should ever have such a reception. We know that the fact the police were acting reasonably and as needed based on the information they had at that time is little or no consolation to you nor lessens your distress.
We understand that you entered Stone Hearth Pizza unaware of what had happened in Town. At the time all this was happening the only goal of the police and other town officials was to protect the civilians in the area, including you. So much was going on, if the police were to make a mistake, it was necessary to err on the side of public safety. Detaining you was done in that spirit.
The excitement has passed and the adrenalin has reduced. In retrospect, you should not have been charged with disorderly conduct and we apologize for the charge being brought. Your conduct was not disorderly. On a normal day your conduct would have passed without notice. The fact that on November 5, 2007 you were completely exonerated by the Clerk Magistrate and a Judge of the Dedham District Court, who found no probable cause to issue any complaint against you, cannot completely resolve the indignities you suffered. Nonetheless, we hope this letter of apology will soothe the emotional trauma that you experienced as an innocent victim caught up in the events of that day.
Very truly yours,
Town of Needham
UN Watch director victim of false arrest after Yale lecture
Too suspicious in suburbia
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe, November 8, 2007
COULD THE irony get any deeper?
An international human rights activist stops for pizza and ends up under arrest for disorderly conduct.
The arrest of Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, is clearly a case of wrong place, wrong time. But it's also a case of something more - a tendency toward hysteria and overkill that appears to be a product of the current mood.
Neuer was visiting the United States at the invitation of Yale University. On Nov. 2, he was meeting with local supporters in Needham. He spent time at the Needham Post Office, where he mailed copies of a report he had just delivered at Yale. Later, he went to a Needham pizza shop. He did not know that police in that town were searching for an armed killer.
The overlay of the manhunt explains some, not all, of what happened next.
At the pizza shop, employees found Neuer's behavior troubling, so they called 911 in a panic.
On the 911 tape, the police dispatcher reported that, "Employees told me that a male subject, possible olive-skinned . . . came into the store carrying a large gym bag. . . . He kept placing his hand over a fanny pack, which [employees] believed carried a gun."
Neuer, 37, "was acting very weird," an employee said on the 911 tape. Apparently, there's a low bar for weirdness in Needham: Neuer repeatedly asked for a cab, changed into a suit in the restroom, and went to a CVS store next door without finishing his pizza. He also talked a lot into his cellphone.
"Oh my God, we need someone here," a pizza store worker wailed on the 911 tape. "There is a guy that was here in Stone Hearth Pizza, and now he is in CVS. He left everything here. And we think he has a gun." Moments later, the woman screams, "Run, run, run!"
Neuer, meanwhile, was unnerved after he returned to the pizza shop and noticed a police officer with a gun. "I thought there was a shootout going on, and I dropped to the floor," he told the Boston Herald. "I called 911 twice while I was on the floor. You'll hear me speaking quietly saying, 'I'm on the floor of this pizza shop and what should I do here?' . . . They said come out with your hands up. . . . It was not until I left the scene that it sort of dawned on me that the entire police action was because someone had called for me."
Needham police surrounded the pizza shop, and took Neuer into custody at gunpoint. No gun was found on him. According to his lawyer, David G. Eisenstadt, Neuer was fingerprinted and booked. His mug shot was taken and he was put in a cell.
At about the same time, some 2 miles away, Needham police arrested William B. Dunn, 41, of Norwood. A contractor installing a lawn sprinkler system, he was charged with bludgeoning Robert Moore Sr., 78, to death. Dunn was placed in the cell next to Neuer.
On Monday, the clerk-magistrate in Dedham District Court refused to issue a criminal complaint against Neuer, finding no probable cause that any crime was committed. A judge agreed. "It's a highly unusual move that the clerk-magistrate and judge would both review police reports after an arrest and not find probable cause, which is a very low standard," said Eisenstadt.
The dramatic chain reaction that started with Moore's tragic death raises several questions.
Of course, Needham police had to pursue every lead to find Moore's attacker. But was live television coverage of the manhunt necessary? If it is legitimate, should Boston residents expect the same when a homicide takes place on their city streets?
Once the pizza workers panicked, police had to follow up on their 911 calls. But after police had Neuer and Dunn in custody, why did they pursue a criminal complaint against Neuer once they knew his true identity?
Neuer, now back in Geneva, is reviewing his legal options, his lawyer said. UN Watch, the organization Neuer heads, is an arm of the American Jewish Committee. According to its website, its mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own charter and "provide for a more just world."
That's a tough mandate in a world gone mad, or in a suburb gone temporarily hysterical.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
Original URL: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/11/08/too_suspicious_in_suburbia/
Boston Herald cover, November 6, 2007
Surreal: Human rights activist Hillel C. Neuer is more used
to chatting with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan,
than being arrested at gunpoint - as he was Friday in
Needham, when it was briefly thought he was a
suspect in a murder.