A Chelsea police officer was arraigned earlier today on criminal charges after a video surfaced that allegedly shows him beating a handcuffed man during a Sept. 26, 2014, incident. Police officer Felix Rivera, Jr., 34, is facing charges of assault and battery, filing a false police report, and violating a man's civil rights.
According to a joint press release issued by the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office and Chelsea Police Department:
Based on Rivera’s report, the victim – then 20 and a resident of Chelsea – was arraigned in Chelsea District Court on charges of assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. In March of this year, however, the victim’s attorney provided Suffolk prosecutors with a video clip filmed by an unknown witness showing the incident and argued that the charges against the victim were unfounded.
The ensuing investigation by Assistant District Attorney Michele Granda of the DA’s Special Prosecutions Unit and Chelsea Police Internal Affairs detectives developed significant evidence, including the statements of other officers, that corroborated the victim’s claims. As a result, prosecutors terminated the pending case against the victim and began presenting evidence and testimony to the Suffolk County Grand Jury.
The investigation revealed that multiple Chelsea Police units responded to the rear of 155 Chestnut St. that night for a report of a man with a gun. Among those present at the scene was the victim, whom a supervising officer found to be intoxicated and interfering with the investigation. This supervisor directed other officers to place him into protective custody and remove him from the area.
As the handcuffed victim was being escorted away, Rivera allegedly struck him four times in the face, knocking him to the ground. Another officer reached out to stop him. This officer denied the allegation in Rivera’s report that the victim had pushed him while being led from the scene.
Rivera has been suspended without pay from his job and is currently being represented by attorney Keith Nicholson.
The district attorney's office has not released the video yet, but we have filed a public records request for it.
While it's good news that this officer was charged if the allegations are true, this case still raises a number of troubling questions.
If other officers had witnessed this beating and saw that it was unjustified, as the press release claims, then Rivera should have been arrested on the spot and no charges should have been filed against the victim.
Instead, the victim was charged and the district attorney's office seems to have had every intention of prosecuting him based solely on the word of Rivera. Charges against the victim were not dropped until about five months after the incident occurred and not until a video contradicting the officer's statements was released.
Perhaps instead of blindly trusting police officers who claim to be victims of assault, prosecutors should begin insisting on being provided with actual evidence before filing criminal charges.
Rivera was previously awarded a Medal of Valor for his role in stopping an armed home invasion, showing that faith alone isn't enough even for seemingly heroic police officers.
It remains to be seen whether the district attorney's office will re-open every other case this Rivera has been involved in, given that they have established that he is a liar.
It's not clear if any of the other officers who were involved in the incident are facing any potential consequences for not immediately reporting the beating or arresting the perpetrator.