Committee petitions Vassell’s charges

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Michael Phillis/Collegian

The Committee for Justice for Jason Vassell and over 1,700 University of Massachusetts students, faculty, alumni and community members sent a message to the office of Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel on Monday morning.

The committee sent a petition to the D.A.’s office, stating it wants the case against Vassell to be “seriously and carefully” reconsidered and for the “excessive” charges against him to be lessened.

Vassell, a 23-year-old African American and former student at UMass, faces two counts of aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon stemming from a Feb. 3 incident on campus involving him and two Caucasian males not enrolled at the University. The charges could result in a maximum of 30 years behind bars.

The D.A.’s office did not comment on the pending case but confirmed that the petition was delivered and reviewed by the district attorney’s office yesterday.

“The UMass Police investigated the case, and then it was sent over to the judicial system. It’s really a case now that is in the hands of the district attorney,” said UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.

According to a press release, the petition is “an attempt to again communicate to the prosecutor the extent of this community’s concern and dismay at the apparent excessiveness and unfairness in her office’s prosecution of this case.”

The petition follows a Feb 27 vigil and March 12 rally held on campus for Vassell.

A violent altercation involving Vassell and the two white males occurred at approximately 5 a.m. on Feb. 3 in Vassell’s dormitory in the Southwest Residential Area. John Bowes, 20, and Jonathan Bosse, 19, allegedly yelled racial epithets at Vassell, kicked in his window and gained access into the building. A fight followed, which left Vassell with a broken nose and the two other men with stab wounds.

Vassell was arrested nine hours later, and Bowes was later charged with two hate crimes and disorderly conduct. Bosse has not been charged.

Monday’s press conference announced the petition intended to raise awareness about the case and the upcoming court hearings. They include a May 27 court date for Bowes at Eastern Hampshire District Court and Vassell’s pretrial hearing at Hampshire Superior Court on July 24.

The press conference featured statements from a number of professors and student leaders but was highlighted by the words of Vassell’s older sister, Tiffany.

“Jason means so much to our family and to see him going through such a difficult situation is heartbreaking. Yet we remain steadfast in our belief that the truth and justice will prevail,” she said in an emotional address to those gathered in the Massachusetts room of the Mullins Center.

A statement from Jason Vassell’s lawyers, David P. Hoose and Luke Ryan of Sasson, Turnbull ‘ Hoose, was also read by Tobias Baskin, an associate professor from the University’s biology department.

“Jason does not understand why the district attorney initially chose to prosecute only him or sought to have him incarcerated as a dangerous person,” Baskin read. “Having suffered a broken nose at the hands of Mr. Bowes, Jason is particularly perplexed as to why the district attorney now takes the position that Mr. Bowes did not commit a civil rights violation, which resulted in an injury.”

After Baskin finished the prepared statement, he pulled out a small pocket knife from his pocket, and said, “I carry this around in my pocket because it’s extremely useful. At least once a day, I find something that needs to be done that this can help me do.

“And I have to say, that if I ever find myself with two large people looming over me with a broken nose – being beaten – that I will take this out and do what Jason had to do. And that is defend myself,” he said.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]