Tuesday, December 03, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Though critical of how the case was handled by the Northwestern District Attorney’s office, Mayor David J. Narkewicz said Monday he believes it was in the city’s best interests to drop charges against an Amherst man at the center of a controversial arrest.
Jonas Correia, 26, of 12A Longmeadow Drive, was arrested March 31 outside Tully O’Reilly’s Pub in Northampton on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, charges he later denied in court. Police had been called the bar at the corner of Pleasant and Pearl streets to remove another patron.
A passer-by used her cellphone to film officers using pepper spray on Correia and tackling him to the ground. The video was posted to YouTube and has been viewed nearly 81,000 times.
Police alleged at the time that Correia, in the moments before the video started, attempted to assault a bar employee and fled from a police officer’s grasp.
Correia’s lawyers maintained that he was trying to video record police officers questioning three “men of color” when he was arrested.
In May the Northwestern district attorney’s office dropped the resisting arrest charge but said that police were justified in arresting Correia and used no more force than was necessary.
The disorderly conduct charge was subsequently downgraded from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.
“Once it became clear that Mr. Correia knew or should have known he was being placed into custody, he offered no resistance to the police, and for this reason we declined to prosecute Mr. Correia for the crime of resisting arrest,” according to a statement issued Monday by the Northwestern District Attorney’s office.
On Friday afternoon, a special prosecutor hired by Northampton to handle the case dropped the charge. The matter had been scheduled for trial in Northampton District Court starting Dec. 10.
Narkewicz released a statement Monday afternoon saying he made the decision to drop the case.
“After reviewing this issue extensively with the city solicitor, the chief of police and a former prosecutor who the city retained as special counsel, I decided that it is in the best interests of the city of Northampton not to proceed any further with this matter and I directed our special counsel to file for dismissal of the civil charge,” Narkewicz said.
In his statement, the mayor appeared critical of the decision by the district attorney’s office to reduce the disorderly conduct charge to a civil infraction.
“Unfortunately, the district attorney decided to decriminalize the charge of disorderly conduct, which placed the burden on the city of Northampton and its police department to serve as prosecutor, which is not its usual role,” Narkewicz said.
In its statement, the DA’s office said, “Our review of the case also led us to conclude that converting Mr. Correia’s disorderly conduct charge to a civil infraction was in the best interests of justice. The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office’s involvement in the case ended once that criminal charge was converted to a civil infraction, and we have no comment on the City of Northampton’s decision not to pursue that matter.?
Narkewicz also said in the statement he believes the department acted appropriately during the arrest.
“I believe then, and I continue to believe that NPD officers acted professionally and appropriately during this incident and I have full confidence in the men and women of our police department,” Narkewicz said.
Following the posting of the arrest video, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group calling itself the Justice for Jonas Coalition rallied to Correia’s defense.
“We are pleased that no longer will our friend and neighbor have to plead his innocence in a court of law against fabricated charges designed to shield unwarranted, violent police action,” coalition member Ruth Jennison, a University of Massachusetts Amherst English professor, said in a statement Monday.
Luke Ryan of Northampton, one of Correia’s attorneys, said Monday that his client has “been vindicated by the outcome of these proceedings.” Ryan said Correia was not available for comment.
A statement from the coalition reads in part, “The Justice for Jonas Coalition praises the continued strength of Jonas Correia and his family and thanks members of the community, including his legal team, for their sustained efforts for justice.”
The coalition is also seeking an independent investigation into allegations of police misconduct in connection with Correia’s arrest.
In May, Northampton Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz said the department had conducted an internal review of the arrest and no misconduct was identified.
In its own statement issued in May, the district attorney’s office said, “In light of the circumstances surrounding (Correia’s) arrest and their own internal policies, the police used no more force than was necessary to effect this arrest.”
At-large City Councilor Jesse Adams, chairman of the city’s public safety committee, asked for a review explaining how officers determine when to use force and how much to use.
After that informational session in October, Adams said he still had questions about Correia’s arrest and said he was not certain that what could be seen in the video was enough to warrant the use of pepper spray.
However, Adams acknowledged that Correia’s behavior in the moments before the camera started recording could have been what triggered the police response.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.