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UMass student files federal civil rights lawsuit against Amherst police officers after ‘Blarney’ arrest

Updated: 4:08 p.m.

A University of Massachusetts student filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against Amherst police officers he said falsely arrested and assaulted him during last year’s “Blarney Blowout” for videotaping them on his smartphone.

The student, Thomas Donovan, currently a senior studying legal studies, saw multiple police officers using what appeared to be excessive force while making an arrest during the March 8, 2014 event and used his phone to record them, according a press release from the Law Offices of Howard Friedman. The release stated that Donovan was standing 20 to 30 feet away from the scene behind a chain link fence.

According to the release, an Amherst police officer in full riot gear approached Donovan and demanded that he stop recording. When he refused, another officer allegedly sprayed him with pepper spray.

Video from Donovan’s phone shows objects being thrown at police, and Donovan can be heard saying, “I’ve got freedom to f***ing film,” and demanding to see the officers’ badge numbers.

The release states Amherst Police Sergeant Jesus Arocho then tackled Donovan, knocking the phone out of his hand, which continued to record. Video shows another Amherst officer stomping on the phone.

“The police were well within their rights and indeed should have been directing their attention toward those people (throwing objects), but if it is a dangerous situation and the police feel outnumbered and feel that they need to take steps to regain control of the situation … it is ridiculous for them to be focusing on someone who was recording them from a safe distance,” Donovan’s attorney David Milton told the Collegian Wednesday.

According to Arocho’s arrest report, Donovan approached officers as they were attempting to make an arrest and refused to leave after being told to do so by officers. According to the report, he was sprayed “as he began to close the distance between himself and the officers.”

Donovan was arrested for disorderly conduct and failure to disperse, according to the report.

However, Donovan claims these statements are not true, and all criminal charges against him were later dismissed.

According to Milton, Donovan was suspended from UMass for a semester, effective the following semester, as a result of the charges. However, his suspension was later lifted after an investigation cleared Donovan of any wrongdoing.

“I think it is important as this year’s ‘Blarney Blowout’ approaches that police officers respect the right of people to record them and ensure that they are accountable for their actions,” Milton said. “If police are acting appropriately, then they should have no problem being recorded. In fact, they should welcome being recorded.”

UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said the University had no comment on the matter when reached Wednesday afternoon. The Amherst Police Department was not able to be reached for comment.

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at aluttrel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.

Comments
8 Responses to “UMass student files federal civil rights lawsuit against Amherst police officers after ‘Blarney’ arrest”
  1. Larz says:

    The arrest report says Donovan was advancing toward the officers, but the video shows that from the time he started yelling to them that he had the right to record them, he was backing away. It’s clear from the vid that rocks and beer cans are landing near the officers, but why do they single him out to be sprayed and knocked to the ground. Then theofficer tries to crush the phone. I realize it’s a chaotic scene, but this was just wrong.

  2. Chris says:

    There was no chaos. the officers were quite calm methodical and malicious in their illegal execution of their powers.

    the officer calmly stood over the phone so no one could get it. then calmly and with subterfuge (trying not to be obvious) planted his feet so he could begin trying to methodically smash the phone.

    I got one thing to say to him. Smile for that pretty little lens a**hole.

  3. Bob says:

    All involved should be ashamed, public drunkenness, screaming at the cops like a fool, when told to stop demanding badge number, for what? Here is an idea, if you want to get drunk, that’s fine,stay in your residence. Don’t trash the area, run around like hooligans, ignore traffic laws, and bother your neighbors. Filming cops arresting drunken, belligerent fools is just dumb. Grow up and do something constructive with your life. It’s really sad when people feel they have a right to be fools, litter,publicly drinking,antagonizing cops, and then cry when things don’t go their way.It’s just not worth it. Mr.Donavan would not be involved in ruining his reputation and life, if he just stayed away from all these fools. You got your badge number, was it worth it?

  4. Richard says:

    Donovan is going to make the worst kind of lawyer. I work day in and out with these former college crusader types. They don’t get better with age. The article doesn’t mention what civil rights were allegedly violated to justify a federal lawsuit…can we get a clarification on that? Bottom line is this kid is going to turn the break-up of a party scene into the proverbial federal case. And people wonder why the U.S. is going down the crapper. Not exactly protesting Vietnam, know what I mean? This reminds me of the time when I was at UMASS and some moron went on a hunger strike/sit-in in an effort to abolish the UMASS Minuteman’s musket at basketball games because it was racist, or imperialist, or some other crap. It’s always something in Amherst.

  5. Rob says:

    Shocker, another sub 100 IQ neanderthal breaking the law and the city defending it because he wears a magic costume. How about local govt starts doing their job and vetting these animals. This will be another big payout and the Chief of polcie will stand there like a boob and do nothing..why? Because they KNOW is systemic and if he addresses it they probably have to fire the whole department. Go look at Baltimore City..they canned a IA invesigation because they found nearly ALL the cops corrupt.

  6. Bob is Dumb says:

    Bob so you are saying the police arresting him for filming is ok? Go live in NK you terrorist

  7. Bob says:

    Yea man, “fight for your right to party” This is what Tommy Donovan believes in. I heard him and you heard him. He is a douche t. bag. May this video live with him for the rest of his life. It will keep him right where he belongs,well below the curb. This video justly will keep him unemployable. Tommy,you reap what you sow. Have fun being a social worker, then you will appreciate the cops.

  8. Buddy says:

    Which cop in the video are you, bob?

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