Report: Amherst police did not abuse authority during encounter with youths

  • Amherst Police Department GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 2:29:32 PM

AMHERST — Amherst police officers who told youths they have no rights during a July interaction, captured on a 54-second video posted to social video, did not abuse their authority, according to a report completed by the town’s director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

But even though a memorandum from Pamela Nolan Young, furnished to the Town Council in advance of its meeting on Monday, found no abuse of power by police officers, members of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee, which previously issued a statement condemning the officers’ actions, continue to contend that there was wrongdoing by police.

In her investigation, conducted in response to a complaint filed by the Human Rights Commission, Young wrote that juveniles have rights under both federal law, including the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and state law.

“Minors are afforded rights under the Massachusetts State Constitution and the United States Constitution,” Young wrote.

Young, though, told councilors that an officer telling juveniles they have no rights doesn’t meet the United States Department of Justice’s definition of abuse of authority, which “is the misuse of a position of power to take unjust advantage of individuals.”

“The officer’s statements were clearly erroneous, but I do not believe they equate to an abuse of power,” Young said.

Young’s narrative states that the two officers, identified as Tyler Martins and Lindsay Carroll, responded to a noise complaint at 683 Main St at 12:32 a.m. on July 5. There, they encountered nine youths, at least three who identify as members of the Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, and all were under 18.

While the officers erred in saying youths have no rights, Young said it was appropriate to not allow the youths, who were in two vehicles, including one which had a flat tire, to leave the scene due to a state law prohibiting juvenile drivers from operating between midnight and 5 a.m.

The call was cleared within about 50 minutes following the arrival of parents and guardians, there were no summons or arrests made, and no use of physical force or profanities, Young said.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone said he has spoken to both officers about what transpired.

“He regretted it the second it came out,” Livingstone said of Martin’s comments. “Both of the officers feel bad about it.”

He added that the remaining time the officers spent with the youths was cordial, and that they had a duty to stay with the youth until parents and guardians were contacted and made it to the scene. The department otherwise might have faced criticism should there have been another outcome for the youths, he said.

“If someone wandered off, that was our responsibility,” Livingstone said.

A police department report on the incident is being finalized, but was not expected to be ready until there was an opportunity for input from parents and youth, who have not responded to requests to meet. Livingstone said he would like to have that conversation.

“We want this to have a positive outcome, that’s why we want to meet with the youth involved,” Livingstone said.

Still, members of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee, which acts in an advisory capacity to the Town Council on matters of racial equity, are not satisfied with the town’s response so far.

Pat Ononibaku said police have put out an incorrect narrative that attacks the youth “who did nothing wrong.”

“We don’t have a process we can trust,” Ononibaku said, referring to Young’s report as incomplete.

Debora Ferreira said the youth were intimidated and humiliated, but that doesn’t show up in the narrative. “There was a violation that night,” Ferreira said.

Almost all members of the public who spoke also criticized police, though one resident who spoke anonymously praised the department for its work in keeping Amherst safe.

The council’s discussion on the video lasted nearly four hours.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Amherst is at an exciting crossroads that includes creating a new model of public safety and incorporating equity into all operations, though this is fragile. He added that it is important to recognize the town has a strong police department, and that criticizing the department more broadly isn’t right.

“It’s important to call people to account, but it’s not appropriate to be attacking people,” Bockelman said.

While councilors thanked Young for the report, District 1 Councilor Michele Miller said she is concerned that elected officials haven’t adequately responded to the community, and that a more detailed, fleshed-out report may be needed.

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said she wished the town had been quicker to respond. “In that time people have been upset,” Pam said. and

Outreach to youth for some kind of reconciliation is something that should be supported, said District 4 Councilor Pam Rooney.

District 5 Shalini Bahl-Milne said she sees that everyone’s intention is to make the community safer for all residents, while acknowledging that there are various viewpoints, though some fear speaking up about their experiences.

“Despite our differences, what I did hear is a shared intention from all of us that we want to create a safe community for everyone,” Bahl-Milne said.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said no solution or resolution was going to come out of the extended discussion Monday, but the town needs to think about how to move forward from the moment and create healing.

“What we do in the future is really going to be a demonstration of whether or not we really care,” Griesemer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy