Dressed in military gear, Massachusetts cops were beating a man when they realized another man was video recording them from the other side of a fence, standing about 20 feet away.
Several cops then stormed up to Thomas Donovan, forcing the law student and aspiring cop to retreat as he asked for their badge numbers, reminding them he had every right to record.
Not that it made a difference that day.
The cops first pepper sprayed him, then knocked the phone from his hand before handcuffing him, double-locking the cuffs for good measure.
Meanwhile, another cop used his boot to stomp on the phone in an obvious attempt to destroy it.
The cops then carted Donovan off to jail, charging him with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse during a riot, which in this case, was the so-called Blarney Blowout, an annual drunkfest involving UMass Amherst celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
In their report, perhaps thinking they had destroyed the evidence, Amherst police accused Donovan of approaching them as they were trying to make an arrest and refusing to leave, making it seem as if he was standing right over their shoulders. Donovan was then suspended from school after news of his arrest made it to university administrators.
But the video survived because Donovan had enclosed his phone in an shock resistant casing. And the charges against him were not only dismissed, his school suspension was eventually rescinded.
And now, more than a year after the incident, Donovan is suing the officers who arrested him and tried to destroy his phone.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Tuesday, listing two of the officers involved by name, Jesus Arocho and Andrew Hulse, as well as three John Does. Below is an excerpt of the lawsuit, which can be read in its entirety here.
On March 8, 2014, Mr. Donovan was a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His major was legal studies. His plan was to become a Massachusetts State Trooper. He hoped to join the military after college to help him obtain this goal.
On that day, Mr. Donovan met some friends at his apartment in Amherst with the intention of going to the “Blarney Blowout.” At the event, students gather informally to revel and to celebrate the coming of St. Patrick’s Day and the spring. Mr. Donovan’s apartment was near one of the gathering places.
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. Within minutes, police officers in full riot gear, many of whom had pepper-ball guns, began slowly herding the crowd toward Mr. Donovan’s apartment complex.
When they reached Mr. Donovan’s apartment complex, Mr. Donovan saw several police officers holding someone on the ground and attempting to place handcuffs on him. Mr. Donovan believed the officers were using excessive force. Mr. Donovan pointed his smartphone toward the officers and began to film the incident.
Mr. Donovan stood behind a fence approximately 15-20 feet away from the officers. 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.
After a short time, an officer noticed Mr. Donovan and began to walk towards him. The officer demanded that Mr. Donovan stop filming. The officer was wearing full riot gear, including a helmet and visor, and was carrying a pepper-ball gun. On information and belief, this officer was Defendant Hulse. In the alternative, this officer was Defendant John Doe 1.
Mr. Donovan replied that he had the right to film.
The officer continued to demand that Mr. Donovan stop filming, and continued to approach Mr. Donovan in a threatening manner. Mr. Donovan remained on the other side of a fence from this officer; Mr. Donovan never approached this officer or any other officer.
As this officer walked toward Mr. Donovan, another officer, Defendant John Doe 2, sprayed oleoresin capsicum—pepper spray—at Mr. Donovan from close range.
Mr. Donovan asked for the officer’s badge number, but the officer did not respond and walked away. The other officer, Defendant Hulse/John Doe 1, continued to approach Mr. Donovan and to insist that he stop filming.
Moments after this officer came around the fence to where Mr. Donovan was, Defendant Arocho stepped toward Mr. Donovan. Arocho swung his arm at Mr. Donovan and knocked the phone out of Mr. Donovan’s hand.
Defendant Arocho immediately grabbed Mr. Donovan’s arm and forcefully took him face down to the pavement.
Defendant Arocho placed Mr. Donovan in handcuffs. On information and belief, Defendant Hulse assisted Defendant Arocho.
Mr. Donovan’s phone landed on the ground, where it lay flat with the camera facing upward and continuing to film.
After a few seconds, another Amherst police officer in riot gear, Defendant John Doe 3, walked over to the phone. Defendant John Doe 3 stood above the phone, looked around, then stomped on the phone. He stomped on it several times. 22.
Defendant John Doe 3 deliberately stomped on the phone. He was trying to destroy the phone and the film footage that it captured. 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, and for asserting his constitutional right to film police officers.
Mr. Donovan’s phone was inside a shock-resistant protective case. The case was damaged, but the phone was unharmed and the video stored on it was preserved.
Here is an excerpt of how police described the events leading up to Donovan’s arrest from their report, which can be read in its entirety here.
And below is the video of what actually took place, which indicates Donovan should expect a nice payout. Because thanks to the 2011 landmark Glik case, which came out of the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts, leaving no doubt that citizens have the right to record police in public, cops in that state have absolutely no excuse not to know the law.