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Retired SJC chief justice: Police in Cambridge acted appropriately in dealing with screaming naked Harvard student on LSD in the middle of Mass. Ave.

Cambridge Police did what they had to do and did not use excessive force to subdue a naked, black Harvard student standing on a Massachusetts Avenue traffic island screaming and making what appeared to be threatening motions on April 13 of last year, retired Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland concludes.

Cambridge released Ireland's 18-page review of the incident today. Ireland based his conclusions on reports and statements from officers and eyewitnesses, video of the incident, audio from police communications and his own knowledge of Massachusetts law.

Although he does not fault the officers, Ireland wrote that the department and city should use the incident as a learning experience: He recommended the city hold public meetings or forums at which to explain current practices for dealing with emotionally disturbed people in public, a private review to ensure officers are continuing to follow practices - many of them put in place after the Henry Louis Gates incident, and continuing professional education to ensure local officers are up to date on the latest techniques for dealing with people with apparent mental illness.

Such outreach is important, because it is difficult for the average layperson to look at this particular incident in isolation from the numerous cases that have occurred across the country in which black men have been subjected to overreactions or excessive force from police officers, including the Gates case that occurred right in Cambridge. Rightly or wrongly, any event involving police will be looked at with some skepticism and questioning.

Ireland, who is himself black, says the situation began with a call to 911 from Harvard's student health center, whom one of the student's friends had called to report the student had taken drugs and was "tripping" and walking naked in Cambridge Common.

When four Cambridge officers arrived, after several more calls to 911 about the man, now naked and standing on a narrow island on Mass. Ave.,, they started by calmly talking to him, trying to get him to sit down to await the ambulance they requested, Ireland writes. Police shut the road towards Porter Square as they tried to talk to the student, who answered none of their questions and refused to sit down. Then, Ireland writes, the student began walking towards on officer, then spun around and headed towards a second, his arms now raised to his waist level:

Officer 2 put up his hands, said "Whoa, whoa," and moved back. At that moment Officer 1 was concerned the student was going to harm Officer 2 or run into traffic and grabbed the student from behind by the legs and brought him to the ground.

The student started screaming, "I need Jesus," as the three officers tried to get him to put his hands behind his back. Instead of complying, the student was flailing, screaming and lying on his arms and hands. At some point an MBTA police officer, who happened to be driving by, stopped to assist. One of the officers hit the student once in the head with his fist hoping to distriact him so that they could get his arms out from under his body. It did not work. Another officer then punched the student in the abdomen area approximately five times, again hoping to proved enough of a distraction so that they could get the student's hands out from under his body. When that did not work, one of the officers used his baton to pry each of his arms out from under him. He was put in handcuffs with his hands behind his back. Because he was still screaming and flailing, officers put leg irons on him.

Ireland continues that once the student was put in an ambulance, he spat on one of the EMTs as he continued to flail and repeatedly calling for Jesus's help. At the hospital, the student spat at the officer who had ridden in the ambulance with him before doctors sedated him.

Ireland said the fact that nobody heard the officers screaming - along with the way they immediately called for an ambulance, rather than additional officers, showed their intent was to help the student, in part by talking to him in calm, low tones. And they had legitimate public-safety concerns what with a seemingly incoherent naked man standing on a narrow traffic island in one of the city's busiest streets, only one side of which had been shut down.

Ireland said the cops never unholstered their guns, tasers or pepper spray - and that they stopped their punching as soon as they had him in handcuffs.

It is clear in the video that the officers are intent on their task of keeping the student on the ground, but there is nothing that indicates any of them are displaying any anger toward the student. In fact, they all help ambulance personnel get the student onto the stretcher so that he could be transported to the hospital.

Ireland acknowledged many bystanders were upset when they saw the officers tackle and punch the student - and that the video "is upsetting to watch."

But Ireland continued that punching is actually taught as a technique to distract individuals resisting being handcuffed, as the students was - as is using a baton to pry a person's arms out from under them in such situations.

Ireland said he has no reason to doubt that assertion and that "the video does not show more force than the officers identified as part of their training."

In other words:

I conclude that the determination that the officers' actions were within the police of the Cambridge Police Department is correct and that the officers did not use excessive force when they subdued the student.

He then continued to list his recommendations for dealing with such situations in the future, in particular for forums between police and residents - especially students at local colleges.

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Comments

Another really good suggestion would probably be for people to not take LSD and then fight the police. That might help.

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Voting closed 65

How about we actually require police to be trained in dealing with people who are out of their minds, regardless of the cause?

Because Cambridge has a pretty shitty track record of doing just that.

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Voting closed 14

You mean like they did? In this case? That literally just happened very recently?

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Voting closed 25

Have any specific instances?

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Voting closed 15

However, there is at least one relatively recent incident where police have killed a mentally ill person in Cambridge (the family sued the city) as well as other cities in the Commonwealth.

Several specific instances here: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/the-desperate-and-the-dead/series...

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Voting closed 4

This is a late response, but I want to say that all Cambridge officers DO receive some sort of training on how to interact with someone who may have a mental health condition or intellectual/developmental disability, or who may be under the influence of a substance. And many receive advanced training.

Somerville Police have what is called a Crisis Intervention Team Training and Technical Assistance Center (CIT-TTAC). The goal of the TTAC is to help local PDs train officers to better interact with certain at-risk segments of the population. Cambridge has been an active participant in the CIT trainings that the TTAC offers, and a significant number of their officers have been trained.

It looks like the officers involved in this incident may not have had that advanced training (or have not "bought in" to the training). But it does exist. And it can be really effective.

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Voting closed 1

What would they have done back in the days of Doc Tim Leary?

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Voting closed 3

I'm kinda amazed so much time was spent by the courts and others on what most sane people would consider a non-issue. He was out of control and could have hurt others and himself. They were actually pretty gentle dealing with him. Of course, the fact he was (is?) a Harvard student brings priviledge.

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Voting closed 29

Political Correctness = WAHHHHH I DON'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT ANYTHING WAHHHHH

Stop whining. Start reading history. Response to such folk in Leary's day was in many ways far more humane than in this era of criminalization of everything and militarization of police.

Put simply, they would have sent out the nice men in white coats (not cops - people who dealt with the mentally ill) and taken him somewhere quiet until he got better.

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Voting closed 5

Bears get much better treatment in the next town over.

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Voting closed 7

You're advocating shooting people with tranquilizer guns?

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Voting closed 31

This made me lol Adam, great response.

I’m sure the Cambridge officers didn’t want to resort to having to get into close physical contact with the individual. He was extremely high on LSD, nude, probably sweating profusely and in the middle of a very public street. Not exactly the circumstances you want for up close human contact. I have personally become pretty germaphobic because of my job, so when things can be resolved verbally, it’s a huge win.

- a Boston Cop

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Voting closed 11

this further proves what so many refuse to believe: textbook policing can look really bad, force IS necessary at times and using force doesn’t make them racist thugs

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Voting closed 43

Citations are necessary

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Voting closed 3

You really believe force is never necessary? What world do you live in? It must be a wonderful place.

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Voting closed 6

According to the report, the Cambridge police tried using passive methods first and only used force when the person continued at them. The Cambridge police never withdrew their firearms.

Contrast this to other states where the first and only response is to shoot or taze the person.

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Voting closed 18

In this particular case, the perp was wearing his birthday suit so officers could be sure he wasn’t in possession of a concealed firearm or blade. In other cases, you can’t be too sure that one of the perp’s erratic motions won’t involve pulling out a weapon, so officers need to be prepared to ensure the safety of themselves and any bystanders.

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Voting closed 4

I take offense to your reference to a Young African American student as a PREP.

This young adult is a student who made a bad decision that could have brought harm to himself and many others.

I truly don't believe he deserves the title as a perp he wasn't a criminal he was a human being in need who happened to make a very bad decision. Should I now consider all your bad decisions and call you a PREP.

Perp epro criminal he wasn't a perp.

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Voting closed 3

The typos make this comment hilarious.

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Voting closed 4

At the point of arrest, he was suspected of perpetrating a crime.

However, since he was attending Harvard and using LSD, I would hazard a guess that he might have been a bit of a preppy. But not knowing him, I wouldn't want to definitely conclude his prep background. And as I believe that this mistake shouldn't follow him for the rest of his life, I don't want to track down his bio for prep evidence since I don't think his name should be out there.

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Voting closed 1

It's worth pointing out that the report states that the student was *not* under the influence of drugs. Justice Ireland focuses some on mental illness as a result, and how to interact with mentally ill persons.

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Voting closed 6

Should the protocol for dealing with "person acting crazy because he or she is on drugs" be different from the protocol for "person acting crazy for some other reason" be any different? Why?

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Voting closed 1

Since the guy was black, it went to the SJC.

If the guy were white, it would have been reported on in the mainstream media but would not end up in any court. Most people would be like, “What a tool! Haha, they should have used pepper spray!” But there would be a quiet undercurrent of white nationalist/conservative chatter online who would follow the story and be like, “Double standard bro!” thereby elevating the story.

If the guy were Indian or East Asian, it would not have been reported on. It would probably not even be discussed outside of the Indian or East Asian student organizations. If anyone were to bring it up among friends or in an Internet Post, people would just be like, “Yeah yeah, so anyway, did you see GoT last night?”

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Voting closed 28

Most of the time when a Black person is treated poorly or questionably by a representative of the government, absolutely nothing happens.

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Voting closed 17

I think he is referring to cases like Jesse Smollett where the reaction and investigation is so intense and expensive that the government almost reacts too hard the other way. That's not to say there isn't police brutality going around all over the country still, but I think his point has to do with specific cases like this that stem from police brutality in the first place.

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Voting closed 11

The SJC was not involved with this investigation. A retired Chief Justice was asked to investigate. The legal side of this consisted of charges in a district court that were eventually dismissed, which is one step different than if the guy was of another race (the other step being a continuance, meaning the charges would go away if the suspect didn’t commit another infraction in the next year.)

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Voting closed 8

Before I respond to this person.

I would like to say the Court's response to this incident was Justice.

Now I was going to call you an idiot but I don't understand what you're trying to say so I'm not going to call you an idiot but your statements sound like someone who is an idiot.

Being an African-American I think it is important not just when an act could have any racial tones should always be looked into and put out for discussion.

I asked the writer when law enforcement begin shooting shooting people that you know and later you find out that it was unjustifiable when law enforcement beat up bruised and violate individuals right you do happen to call into question some law enforcement activities.

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Voting closed 1

So... The expert the city hired cleared the city of any wrongdoing. Funny how that works.

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Voting closed 6

One of the officers hit the student once in the head with his fist hoping to distriact him so that they could get his arms out from under his body. It did not work. Another officer then punched the student in the abdomen area approximately five times, again hoping to proved enough of a distraction so that they could get the student's hands out from under his body.

Ah yes, the old closed-fist distraction.
How do they present this with a straight face?

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Voting closed 6

;)

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Voting closed 2

Once again, the Cambridge Police acted stupidly correctly. Good for Justice Ireland taking the time to carefully consider the evidence rather immediately lashing out with anti-police invective that would have to be walked back at face-saving beer summit.

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Voting closed 23

Judge Ireland used the landmark case of Gutierrez vs the MBTA Police to justify the officers actions. Just finished reading that case which the MBTA had to pay out large settlements for breaking the arm of a young black female student and falsely arresting her at New England Medical station.

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Voting closed 5