We filed a case against Amherst police officers who arrested our client for videotaping officers at the 2014 “Blarney Blowout” 

Today we filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of University of Massachusetts-Amherst student Thomas Donovan. The case is against Town of Amherst police officers, who Mr. Donovan alleges assaulted and falsely arrested him for videotaping police activity at the 2014 “Blarney Blowout,” an annual informal student celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and the arrival of spring.

Click here to read the complaint.

At the event, which took place March 8, 2014, Mr. Donovan saw multiple police officers using what appeared to excessive force making an arrest. Mr. Donovan used his smartphone to record the arrest. Although Mr. Donovan was standing 20-30 feet from this scene, behind a chain link fence, an Amherst police officer in full riot gear approached him and demanded that he stop recording. When Mr. Donovan refused, another officer pepper sprayed him in the face.

A few seconds later, Amherst police sergeant Jesus Arocho tackled Mr. Donovan, knocking the phone out of his hand. The phone continued to record from the ground and captured another Amherst police officer repeatedly stomping on the phone in a failed attempt to destroy it. Video of the incident is available here:

Click here to read Arocho’s arrest report. Arocho’s arrest report falsely states that Mr. Donovan approached the police officers making an arrest, that he refused orders to leave the area, and that he was pepper sprayed “as he began to close the distance between himself and the officers.” The video shows these statements are not true. All criminal charges were later dismissed.

As a result of the charges, UMass suspended Mr. Donovan for a semester. The university lifted the suspension after its investigation cleared Mr. Donovan of any wrongdoing. Mr. Donovan, now in his final year of undergraduate studies, said: “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’s attorney, David Milton, said, “Recording the police is a basic First Amendment right. Police officers should be trained to assume they are being recorded whenever they’re on duty. This case shows the futility of police efforts to squash the public’s exercise of the right to record police.” Mr. Milton, along with Howard Friedman and the ACLU of Massachusetts, represented Simon Glik in the landmark 2011 lawsuit Glik v. Cunniffe, in which the federal appeals court in Boston affirmed that recording police officers is protected by the First Amendment.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, seeks money damages for violations of Mr. Donovan’s rights under the federal Constitution and Massachusetts civil rights law. The lawsuit is called Thomas Donovan v. Jesus Arocho, et al. (C.A. No. 15-30031).

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