Yesterday, University of Massachusetts-Amherst student Thomas Donovan filed suit against five police officers after he was arrested for recording them during the 2014 "Blarney Blowout," a rowdy St. Patrick's Day party that was broken up by riot police. The suit, which was filed in US District Court in Springfield, names Sergeant Jesus Arocho, Officer Andrew Hulse, and three unnamed police officers as defendants. According to Donovan's complaint:
Mr. Donovan recorded Amherst police using what appeared to be too much force while making an arrest. Although Mr. Donovan filmed the officers from behind a fence, at a safe distance, and did not interfere with them, an officer wearing full riot gear and carrying a pepper-ball gun—believed to be Defendant Andrew Hulse—approached Mr. Donovan to prevent him from filming. When Mr. Donovan did not stop filming, another officer pepper sprayed him at close range. Mr. Donovan continued to film until, a few seconds later, Defendant Jesus Arocho knocked the phone out of his hand and threw him to the ground. Defendant Arocho, assisted by Defendant Andrew Hulse, placed Mr. Donovan under arrest. Meanwhile, Mr. Donovan’s phone, which had landed on the ground with the camera facing up, continued to film. It captured the actions of another police officer, Defendant John Doe 3, who walked over to the phone, stood over it, then stomped on it with his boot, several times, in an unsuccessful effort to destroy it.
Donovan was charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.
Sergeant Arocho claimed in his incident report that Donovan was arrested because he refused to leave the area and "began to close the distance between himself and the offices [sic]," but Donovan's video shows that he was standing in place and that police approached him. All charges against Donovan were eventually dismissed.
According to Donovan's complaint, he was suspended from school for a semester due to the charges he faced. He contested the suspension and the university rescinded it after finding he had done nothing wrong.
“I have the utmost respect for police officers who conduct themselves with integrity, but officers who blatantly disregard the law and are willing to arrest innocent civilians to cover up their own misconduct must be held accountable,” Donovan said in a press release.
“Recording the police is a basic First Amendment right. Police officers should be trained to assume they are being recorded whenever they’re on duty. This case shows the futility of police efforts to squash the public’s exercise of the right to record police,” said David Milton, Donovan's attorney.
Milton previously represented Simon Glik in his lawsuit against the Boston police, which helped establish that recording police is a clearly established right protected by the First Amendment. Milton is also currently representing George Thompson in a civil suit against a Fall River police officer who arrested Thompson for recording him last year.
UMass Amherst announced earlier this month that they are banning non-students from campus from March 5 to March 9 to prevent a repeat of last year's Blarney Blowout, which saw more than 50 arrests. The university did not publicly announce any plans to curb police violence against students like that experienced by Donovan.