Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Massachusetts Traffic Stop Becomes Fourth Assault And Battery Claim Against One Police Officer

Today we discuss yet another tale wherein Massachusetts law enforcement officials are in need of a criminal defense attorney. It involves recent accusations against four such officers and an event arising out of a suspected racially motivated apprehension from this past November.

Well, it is not so much the fact of the apprehension that has raised suspicion, but the method of it. You see, Melvin J. (hereinafter, the “Passenger”) was a guest in a particular motor vehicle that police stopped. While not the driver, police say he acted suspiciously. So, the officers ordered him to get out of the car. He did as ordered…and kept going. He ran away from the scene.

The officers, apparently having lost interest in the driver of the car and whatever traffic violation they thought they had witnessed, chased after him. They say that when they chased him, he violently resisted and tried to grab one officer’s gun.

That’s a big “no-no” for law enforcement. It does, however, seem to give a perceived license for officers to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.

One officer apparently told Police Officer Jeffery A. (hereinafter, “PO Striker””) to “strike” Passenger. According to the report, PO Striker did so. And then did so again. And again. And, need I add, again. He is said to have been using a flashlight.

Police say that Passenger continued to resist arrest and somehow, while assumedly trying to block the blows against his face and chest, now managed to repeatedly reach for his own waistband. Naturally, PO Striker rewarded such behavior by striking Passenger several more times in the front of his body, causing him to be disoriented.

Finally, the four trained officers were able to get Passenger under control and brought him in.

One little problem though…the beating was filmed by an onlooker who, for some reason, found the scene upsetting.

And so it is that the Springfield Police Department immediately released the statement that they are launching two independent investigations into the incident. One will be criminal in nature, while the other will be conducted by internal affairs.

You want to hear a coincidence? PO Striker has a bit of a history of starring in such films. For example, back in 1997, he was similarly accused when a passing driver took video showing him kicking a black suspect repeatedly. In that case, PO Striker was cleared of wrongdoing, but was suspended without pay for six months. Of course, that was only one of the three previous incidents when has been accused of such brutality.

Oh, did I mention that Passenger is black and PO Striker is white?

And what of Passenger? Well, apparently, he has needed reconstructive surgery to repair fractures in his face and is now partially blind.

Meanwhile, the four officers involved in the incident have been assigned desk duty with pay.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

In case you are wondering, there are not many crimes in this country that are punishable by loss of vision or vicious beating. Of course, there are two sides to every story. The officers claim that Passenger was a qualified Olympic Champion who was able to withstand a great deal of punishment while, despite the officers, reaching for guns and his own waistband (within which there did not seem to be anything).

“Maybe he was on crack or something”.

Maybe…but there does not seem to be any evidence of that.

“I don’t get it, Sam”, you tell me. “If there have been three previous allegations against PO Striker for this sort of thing, why is he still out on the street?”

Well, first of all, only one prior incident, it would seem, was captured on video tape. Kinda hard to contradict a video tape. Such devices are one of the few things that tend to carry more instant credibility than police officers.

“Well, why did Passenger run from the police in the first place?”

I do not know. I also am aware of nothing that would have allowed the officers to grab him. We do not know what the alleged traffic offense was for which the original stop was conducted. Assuming the stop to be legal, however, it is clear that Passenger was not the one driving, so he should not have even been under suspicion.

“But don’t the officers have the right to have him step out of the car?”

Yes, if they feel that there is some risk that they want to eliminate. The key word here is “risk”. The officers have the right to keep themselves safe. Being an officer is a dangerous job and one never knows when someone has a gun they are about to pull from underneath their body. However, Passenger got out. He simply did not stay. He took off.

A bad idea in this day and age? Absolutely. A crime? No.

Passenger was not a part of any investigation, suspect or otherwise. When the officers claim he was “resisting”….what would he be resisting? Arrest? Well, he did not take off to resist arrest because he was not only not under arrest, but not even under suspicion for anything.

There is an old well-known understanding in the trenches of the criminal justice system.

Q: What is the difference between resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer?

A: How badly the suspect has been beaten.

Always? No. But often enough.

One wonders what the officers would have charged Passenger with had this case not been caught on film. I would vote for the felony of Assault and Battery on a Police Officer. Of course, the pre-requisite for Disorderly Conduct would probably also be added.

I can tell you that I am presently handling a matter in which my client is accused of one such punch and, because it allegedly caused serious injury to an eye socket, he is charged with aggrevated assault and battery by the Commonwealth. Our defense is self-defense as well. Think we will see PO Striker face that same charge despite the more serious damage to Passenger’s eye?

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you have been wrongfully accused of a crime and that things did not occur as the officers say they did, you want an experienced criminal defense attorney to help present your case and confront the officers in an effective way. Police Officers are given a great amount of deference in the criminal justice system. Often, they deserve it. Sometimes, they do not. At those times, you need a zealous defense attorney who will go against the grain to get you a fair trial.

If you are facing such a scenario and wish to discuss it with me, please feel free to contact me at 617-492-3000.

To view the story upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://www.necn.com/Boston/New-England/2010/01/08/Controversial-Springfield/1262990541.html

NOTE TO READERS: Over the past several weeks, due to holidays and court schedules, this otherwise daily blog has not exactly been daily. Please be aware, however, that, although my first responsibility is to my clients, I will make every effort to improve the “daily-ness” of this blog. Once again, thank you for reading.

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