The Framingham Police Department confirmed last Tuesday that it has opened an internal investigation into an alleged police brutality incident, according to The MetroWest Daily News. Richard Porter said he witnessed police slamming the head of 20-year-old Jonel Reyes into the pavement after the man was already in handcuffs. Porter went inside his home to get his cellphone so he could record the incident, but police confiscated it.
According to The MetroWest Daily News:
Porter said he witnessed the beating and went inside to get his cellphone. He had started recording the aftermath, when an officer grabbed him and "slammed" him into a cruiser. The officer Porter said was slamming Reyes’ head into the ground told the other officer to take his phone.
"They gave me a choice. They said we’ll either put you under arrest and we’ll get a warrant for the phone or you can just give us the phone," said Porter. "After the fact, after they confiscated the phone, a sergeant came over and he’s swearing at me. He got in my face and said, ‘Instead of videotaping us, why didn’t you go over there and help him.’ "
The incident began on Monday, when police went to Harmony Lane for a report of a man having a bad reaction to drugs, police spokesman Lt. Stephen Cronin said. Officers encountered Reyes, who was naked and exhibiting behavior like someone who had taken bath salts, a drug that can cause hallucinations and violent outbursts.
Cronin said officers began struggling with Reyes, who fought them as they tried to take him into protective custody. During the struggle, officers sprayed him twice with pepper spray and fought with him to get him handcuffed. Reyes was taken to the MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham to be treated, Cronin said.
Reyes was not arrested at the time, but police said they will charge him with assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Reyes had been arrested Sunday in Framingham on a Westborough District Court warrant that charged him with driving without a license.
Porter said the police returned his cellphone on Tuesday, but there was no video on it, although he wasn't sure he had successfully recorded anything that happened on Monday.
This story is disturbing because of both the police brutality allegation and the fact that the police took a witness's cellphone. People have a well-established First Amendment right to record police activity and police have no right to interfere with people who are recording them.
It remains to be seen how seriously this case will be taken and what, if any, action will be taken against the police officers who took Porter's phone. I've followed cases of Massachusetts police interfering with the right to record for years and have never heard of a police officer facing criminal charges or serious disciplinary action even in cases where they arrested someone for recording.
When three Boston police officers arrested Simon Glik for recording them in 2007, the Boston Police Department actually stood behind the officers for years. It wasn't until 2012 that the department finally admitted the officers were wrong. The disciplinary action the officers faced was light, however. A department spokesperson said at the time that the three officers faced "discipline ranging from an oral reprimand to suspension."
In the George Thompson case, which The Bay State Examiner has been reporting extensively on, the Fall River police chief told WPRI that he supported an officer's decision to arrest Thompson for recording. After the prosecutor dropped the charges, the police chief never publicly admitted that he was wrong and the officer who made the arrest was not punished at all. After a follow-up investigation determined that a Fall River police officer was responsible for wiping the data off Thompson's phone while it was in police custody, the chief did not reveal the name of the person who was responsible and indicated that they would not face any disciplinary action, despite previously telling WPRI he would fire any police officer who was responsible for wiping the phone.
Hopefully the Framingham police will take this case more seriously than these other police departments have.