The Cambridge, Mass., Police Department has launched an internal investigation since video has surfaced showing officers beating up an unarmed, naked, black Harvard student who appeared to be in distress.
Video of the incident was released Sunday. Authorities claim that the student in question, 21-year-old Selorm Ohene, was apparently high on drugs and was acting aggressively, approaching officers with clenched fists when they tried to calm him down, the New York Times reports.
“Ohene’s goal was to seriously hurt himself or one of the officers on scene,” a police report read. “Ohene absolutely could not be reasoned with.”
Video footage shows a few officers standing in the median of a busy street around Ohene. Ohene appears to take a step toward one officer before another officer rushes in and tackles him to the ground. Officers begin to wrestle with Ohene, who can be heard crying out. At least one officer can be seen punching him as witnesses loudly protest.
Police acknowledge that an officer punched the student five times in the stomach.
“Unable to pry Ohene’s hands from underneath his body, I delivered approximately five strikes with a closed fists to the area of his stomach,” the report notes.
However, the Harvard Black Law Students Association has disputed police accounts of the incident, noting in a statement that Cambridge police lunged at, tackled and pinned the student to the ground “without provocation.” Members of the organization who witnessed the event say that a pool of blood was left behind.
The statement reads in part:
We must address the incorrect reports of the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) released today. On the evening of April 13th, a number of our current Harvard Black Law Students Association (HBLSA) members and admitted students witnessed a brutal instance of police violence at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A naked, unarmed Black man, stood still on the median at the center of Massachusetts Avenue across from Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church. He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. While on the ground, at least one officer repeatedly punched the student in his torso as he screamed for help. The officers held him to the ground until paramedics arrived, placed him on a stretcher, and put him in the ambulance. A pool of blood remained on the pavement as the ambulance departed. Shortly thereafter, firefighters came and cleaned up the blood with bleach and water.
In the statement, the organization called out the university’s health services for failing to come to the student’s aid before involving the police.
“By involving CPD, HUHS put this student at great risk of being killed by the police,” the statement noted.
The group took the time to voice demands, addressing both the university and the police department:
For Harvard University, HUHS, and HUPD:
We demand that Harvard University create an internal crisis response team to support students, faculty, and staff that does not involve CPD.
We likewise will require support from the school, fellow students and our instructors to put pressure on the CPD for the following.
For the CPD:
We demand that the officers who assaulted this man while he was naked, fully subdued and bleeding on the ground be investigated and held accountable.
Additionally, we demand that CPD respect the rights of civilians recording police conduct. The CPD policy recognizes that ‘individuals have the right under the First Amendment to openly record police activity in public in a peaceful manner’ and that ‘[o]fficers shall not under any circumstances threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement of activities or operations, or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices . . . .’ It was clear to our Harvard BLSA members that CPD officers were not following these procedures. But for our members’ persistence in defying police attempts to obstruct videotaping this incident, there would be no record.
Ohene is still in the hospital, the Times notes, and actually remains under police watch. He is facing charges of indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on ambulance personnel. However, he is still undergoing mental health examinations and has not yet been arraigned.
University President Drew Faust called the incident “profoundly disturbing,” especially given “the backdrop of increasingly urgent questions about race and policing in the United States.”
Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern echoed the sentiments, calling the video “disturbing.”
Meanwhile, Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr., on the other hand, said at a news conference that he supported the arresting officers, noting that even though an investigation has been launched, he has not placed them on administrative leave.
Bard said that the results of the investigation would be released to the public as soon as it was finished.