UMass senior Thomas Donovan files civil rights lawsuit against Amherst Police in Blarney Blowout arrest

Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2015

AMHERST — A University of Massachusetts senior has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging that four or five Amherst police officers falsely arrested him, used excessive force in taking him into custody, and deprived him of his constitutional right to film in a public space during last year’s Blarney Blowout.

Lawyers for Thomas C. Donovan of Holliston, a senior legal studies major at UMass, filed the complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Springfield. The lawsuit, which seeks money damages, names Sgt. Jesus Arocho, Officer Andrew Hulse and three unidentified officers referred to as John Doe.

David Milton, an attorney with the Law Offices of Howard Friedman of Boston, said the lawsuit requests a jury trial to hold the officers and the Amherst Police Department accountable for actions that included using pepper spray during Donovan’s arrest and attempting to destroy the smartphone he was using to record the pre-St. Patrick’s Day revelry, including police interactions with the college-age people.

“The goal of the lawsuit is to obtain money damages to compensate Mr. Donovan, as well as to vindicate his First Amendment right to videotape officers in public,” Milton said.

The Law Offices of Howard Friedman, which specialize in police misconduct cases, and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Simon Glik in a 2011 case in which a federal appeals court in Boston upheld the right of citizens to videotape officers.

“Recording the police is a basic First Amendment right,” Milton said. “Police officers should be trained to assume they are being recorded whenever they’re on duty.”

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said Wednesday afternoon that he could not comment because he had not seen the lawsuit. Amherst Town Manager John Musante declined to comment Wednesday evening for the same reason.

Last year’s Blarney Blowout on March 8 brought thousands of UMass students and others to off-campus areas, resulting in the arrests of 55 people, including Donovan and 20 other UMass students. Following the disturbances, UMass hired former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, at a cost of up to $160,000, to issue a set of recommendations to bring an end to the event, which began as a bar promotion. Many of these recommendations, including joint training by Amherst and UMass police and restricting access to dormitories, are expected to be in place in advance of March 7, the anticipated date of this year’s Blarney Blowout.

Though the incident occurred nearly a year ago, Milton said preparation of Donovan’s lawsuit could not begin until late fall, when the charges against Donovan of failure to disperse from a riot and disorderly conduct were dismissed in Eastern Hampshire District Court.

In a statement issued by his attorneys, Donovan, who was suspended for a semester by the university and only had this suspension lifted when the charges were dropped, said he did nothing wrong.

“I have the utmost respect for police officers who conduct themselves with integrity, but officers who blatantly disregard the law and are willing to arrest innocent civilians to cover up their own misconduct must be held accountable,” Donovan said.

Milton said Donovan is hard at work in classes and would offer no further comments.

Details in lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges that Donovan, who had planned to join the military after graduation and then become a state police trooper, was using his smartphone to film officers, who had donned riot gear, and was approached first by Hulse.

“When Mr. Donovan did not stop filming, another officer pepper-sprayed him at close range,” the complaint states. “Mr. Donovan continued to film until a few seconds later, defendant Jesus Arocho knocked the phone out of his hand and threw him to the ground.”

The lawsuit claims that another officer attempted to destroy the smartphone by stomping on it with his boot.

Much of this is visible in the 80 seconds of police interaction recorded on Donovan’s device, including the initial approach of an officer, and the smartphone falling to the ground, facing skyward until the boot is on top of it.

The lawsuit does not dispute that Donovan, whose apartment was near the large crowds, planned to join friends at the event.

“Sometime between 11 a.m. and noon, Mr. Donovan and two friends went outside to observe the crowd of people outside the apartment complex adjacent to Mr. Donovan’s.”

Donovan had intended to film an arrest as it was being made, according to the lawsuit: “He did not interfere with their actions in any way. As he filmed the arrest, he did not say anything to the officers or to anyone else. He did not make any gestures. He stood quietly and calmly.”

Yet an officer, identified as Hulse and wearing a riot helmet and visor and carrying a pepper ball gun, moved toward him. Another officer then allegedly used pepper spray, while Arocho knocked the phone out of Donovan’s hands. A few seconds later, an attempt was underway to destroy the phone.

The lawsuit reads: “Defendant John Doe 3 stood above the phone, looked around, then stomped on the phone. He stomped on it several times. He did so in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy evidence of his fellow police officers’ misconduct. He did so to retaliate against Mr. Donovan for filming police officers.”

Donovan is alleged to have suffered “physical, economic and emotional injuries,” including pain to his right eye from the pepper spray and then not being allowed to receive timely treatment, embarrassment for having his name publicized, and anger that his career as a police officer might be derailed.

Milton said this is the beginning of a long process and that he does not expect a trial to begin until 2016.

While the lawsuit names individual officers, Milton said he expects that, as in most cases involving police, the officers will be indemnified by the department and will have any court costs covered by the department.

Milton said Donovan is not asking for a specific amount of money, but compensatory and punitive damages, costs of the action and further relief the court deems “necessary and appropriate.”

Milton added that he hopes this will serve the community and students well in advance of March 7.

“As this year’s Blarney Blowout approaches, we hope police will focus their efforts on something other than squashing people’s First Amendment rights,” Milton said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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


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