Videotape of Northampton arrest sparks reactions; mayor cites 'ongoing police investigation'
NORTHAMPTON — Mayor David J. Narkewicz said he has received “numerous inquiries” about a YouTube video that alleges police misconduct during a Sunday morning arrest.
The five-minute video, titled “Northampton Massachusetts Police Brutality,” had been viewed more than 25,000 times as of Tuesday evening and sparked a flurry of online comments. Some supported the police while others said officers used excessive force. Many comments were critical of the anonymous videographer, who in the film claims to be a lawyer.
The footage shows police officers outside a Pleasant Street bar using pepper spray, tackling and handcuffing a man who, based on police reports and court files, appears to be Jonas Correia, 26, of 12A Longmeadow Drive, Amherst.
Correia on Monday pleaded not guilty in Northampton District Court to charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
He was released on his own recognizance and is due back in court May 16 for a pre-trial conference.
Attempts to reach Correia for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. It was unclear if he had an attorney.
In a statement released Tuesday evening, Narkewicz said that “the events in question are still the subject of an ongoing police investigation.”
In the same statement, Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz said, “The (Northampton Police Department) was summoned to Tully O’Reilly’s in response to a series of altercations that took place that night.
“In the moments before the video started, the arrested individual had attempted to assault a Tully’s bouncer and fled the grasp of an NPD officer, and he was then subdued, arrested and placed into custody.”
YouTube is not the only online site where the incident has been discussed.
In an open letter to Sienkiewicz posted Monday on Facebook, Desmond Duval of Amherst called the video “shocking” and “a shameful blot on the Northampton Police Department.”
“I might have expected this sort of behavior from the LAPD but not from the Northampton Police Department,” wrote Desmond, who described himself as owner and lead technician for Mobile Rapid Response Unit in Amherst.
Duval’s post expresses concern about what he describes as “the macing, tackling and arrest of a non-combative black man, who according to the video seemed to perform no crime more egregious than recording a police encounter that he was not himself a part of.”
“The unnamed victim had a phone out, recording their interactions,” Duval posted, adding that a copy of his Facebook letter is being shared through other social networking sites “along with pictures of the officers I have been able to extract from the video.”
Sienkiewicz said in a statement, “The taking of pictures played no role in the arrest. NPD officers are well-versed in the laws concerning videotaping, as clearly demonstrated by their non-interference with the filming of the YouTube video. Appropriate charges have been filed against this individual and will follow the usual procedure through the courts. The NPD is continuing to investigate this matter to assure compliance with all department rules and regulations.”
Neither Narkewicz nor Sienkiewicz immediately returned phone calls Tuesday evening from the Gazette seeking additional comment on the statement.
Court papers provided some additional details about the incident outside of Tully O’Reilly’s Pub. They allege that at about 1:35 a.m. Sunday, Correia was on the sidewalk outside the bar yelling at bar staff. According to reports from two officers, he raised his fist and took a “fighting stance” toward the staff person, prompting police to intervene.
According to police, an officer grabbed Correia’s wrist to prevent him from striking the staff person.
Correia allegedly pulled away and a second officer saw the confrontation and sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.
In the YouTube video, posted anonymously under the name “tiredofit,” two officers can be seen bringing Correia to the ground and placing him in restraints after the blast of pepper spray.
According to court files, police were called to Tully O’Reilly’s early Sunday morning to assist with the removal of Modesto Melendez, 22, of Holyoke, a patron who allegedly refused to leave the bar when asked by staff and punched a bar employee in the neck.
Melendez was arrested on charges of assault and battery, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to police.
He also was arraigned Monday and released on his own recognizance.
Lisa Lippiello, a criminal defense attorney in Northampton and a retired New York City police lieutenant, said that when she viewed the YouTube video, “I was not able to see or make out what might have prompted an arrest.”
But Lippiello also cautioned that the video provides a limited view of the situation.
“I don’t know what happened before that or what led up to that,” she said. “The video started when there was already a ruckus going on. So I don’t really know what happened.”
Lippiello added that she would be dismayed if the Northampton police ever created a technical unit similar to one she encountered in New York City, where officers were trained to videotape their department’s arrests.
“I really hope it doesn’t come down to that,” Lippiello said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.