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

Video from Donovan's iPhone

Video from Donovan's iPhone

By Aviva Luttrell

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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 [email protected] and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.