Justice for Jonas coalition calls police ‘malicious’ in arrest of Amherst man which was videotaped
NORTHAMPTON — A group calling itself Justice for Jonas is calling on the Northampton Police Department to drop a civil infraction against an Amherst man stemming from a March arrest that was recorded and widely distributed.
“The force used on Jonas Correia was unethical, harmful, but above all, extremely unnecessary,” Camilla Carpio, a junior at Amherst Regional High School and member of the coalition, said before the City Council Thursday.
Northampton Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz on Friday defended the actions of officers who responded to a call outside a Pleasant Street bar March 31 and arrested Correia on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“As per our position and the confirmation by the DA, my officers had ample probable cause for the arrest,” the chief said in an email.
Correia’s arrest was captured on a video and posted on YouTube. In the video, two officers can be seen bringing Correia, of 12A Longmeadow Drive, Amherst, to the ground outside Tully O’Reilly’s and placing him in restraints after a third officer sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.
Police alleged that Correia threatened a member of the bar’s staff, prompting police to subdue him. His arrest followed another involving a man who allegedly punched a bar employee after refusing to leave.
Charges against Correia were later dropped by the Northwestern district attorney’s office, with the Northampton District Court agreeing to convert the disorderly conduct charge to a civil infraction.
Sienkiewicz said that neither his department nor the district attorney’s office will drop the civil infraction for disorderly conduct.
The chief said a week ago that an internal review of the incident and the actions of officers at the scene concluded that “no misconduct was identified.”
The DA’s office, based on its own review of the incident, said police used no more force than was necessary in arresting Correia. Sienkiewicz has said the response complied with the department’s use of force and arrest policies, established under the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission standards and the Massachusetts Police Training Council’s guidelines.
The state dropped the criminal charges after it determined Correia did not resist police once it was clear he knew or should have known he was being placed into custody.
Members of the coalition, speaking before the City Council, called the arrest of Correia that night “malicious and unnecessary” and said that his rights were violated.
They urged the council to launch an independent review of police department actions and questioned if there have been similar incidents in the past.
“What other incidents have taken place over the years with Northampton police that weren’t on video and that someone had to plead out?” asked Garret Schenck, of Sunderland.
Sienkiewicz refuted this claim, saying his department is one of the few in western Massachusetts using dash cameras in frontline cruisers. These cameras record many situations of officer interaction with the public to ensure professional police conduct and accountability, he said.
“The stated claim that there must be other ‘unrecorded’ acts of misconduct just isn’t true given the prolific use of our dash cams on patrol,” Sienkiewicz said in his statement.
“On this particular night the cruisers on scene dealing with the ongoing disturbance just weren’t positioned in a manner to capture Mr. Correia’s actions,” he said.
Jordana Rosenberg, of 251 Bridge Road in Northampton, called the Correia incident a “chilling repetition” of the mistreatment of Jason Vassell, an African-American student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was arrested in a 2008 incident in which he claimed to stab two white men in self-defense.
Charges were later dropped, but Vassell’s case became a rallying point for many who charged that racist attitudes played a role in the prosecution led by the Northwestern district attorney’s office.