Massachusetts police confiscate cell phone of witness, destroy evidence of alleged police brutality
By End the Lie
A troubling case, in a long line of cases of Americans being targeted for exercising their Constitutional right to film on-duty police conducting their public duties, emerged in January of last year involving Springfield, Massachusetts police and a young man named Michael Ververis.
According to an advocacy site for Ververis (which has videos of the incident), he was on his way home from a bar with his two friends when they encountered police in heavy traffic.
The police officer allegedly told them to “get the f**k out of here!” after which, Ververis said they could not due to the congested traffic. The officer reportedly responded by continuing to yell, “Move the car!”
The driver then made a right hand turn at the earliest opportunity at which time the police officer allegedly broke their taillight with either his baton or flashlight.
When the driver got out of his car to inspect the damage, the officers continued to yell obscenities and told him to get back into the car.
After returning to the vehicle, the driver requested that the officers provide their badge numbers.
The officers allegedly responded to this by punching both the driver and Ververis in the face, head and chest.
It gets even worse with Ververis allegedly being dragged from the car by four officers while continuing to be assaulted with punches and kicks.
He was then allegedly thrown against a parked car, choked until he was unconscious and then while still unconscious, the police allegedly shook him violently and dragged him through the snow by his collar after which point he was kicked twice by one of the officers and then flung to the ground.
The driver was pulled from the car but was placed in a prone position on the ground and later allowed to return home.
Ververis, on the other hand, was arrested and charged with three misdemeanors and one felony, which could mean up to seven and a half years in prison if convicted.
The abuse Ververis was subjected to allegedly did not end there, when at the police station his handcuffs were tightened after he begged an officer to loosen them several times.
The legal representation for Ververis has filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the Springfield police officers destroyed evidence in order to support their story, which Ververis alleges is fabricated.
Two individuals who filmed the incident seemed taken aback by what they saw and accused the officers of police brutality.
A third witness who happened to catch the incident on video had her phone confiscated by police and held for three months, after which time she realized that they had deleted the footage.
Springfield District Court Judge William P. Hadley said the way that the cell phone was handled “is extremely troubling,” according to MassLive.
The police say that 24-year-old Ververis tried to steal one of the officer’s weapons as they pulled him from the car, while the defense maintains that they used excessive force during the course of the arrest then after the fact created the assault and attempted larceny of a firearm charges to cover up their abuse.
Currently Ververis is facing charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, assault and battery on a police officer and attempted larceny of a firearm.
After two days of testimony, on February 28 Judge Hadley gave both legal teams until March 7 to file their final briefs before he made a decision.
I have been unable to determine what, if any, decision has been made since this time.
The attorney for Ververis, Luke Ryan, said of the events that led to the cell phone video being lost as evidence (which could have cleared Ververis of the charges), “If this isn’t bad faith, then its monumental incompetence.”
Ryan urged the judge to dismiss the case against Ververis and “send a message that this is not acceptable.”
In an attempt to refute these statements, Assistant District Attorney Max Bennett said that there I no proof that the video existed in the first place nor is there proof that the video would have shed any light on the arrest.
“Instead of solid evidence, we have wishful thinking,” Bennett stated, pointing out that 38-year-old Raquel Perosa who allegedly shot the video admitted that she never actually saw the officer kicking the defendant after he supposedly attempted to steal his firearm.
The video “could just be a fingerprint on a lens,” according to Bennett.
However, Perosa testified that another officer took her phone away the moment that he noticed that she was filming the arrest.
“I told him if he wanted to erase it, erase it, but I wanted my phone back,” Perosa said, speaking through an interpreter.
When questioned by Bennett, she said that she could not be sure the video was saved before she handed her phone over to the officer.
That being said, an expert witness for the defense testified that the type of phone Perosa had would likely automatically save the video.
Another problem with Bennett’s claims is that in previous testimony Patrolmen Christopher Collins recalled seeing the women using a cell phone to apparently film the arrest, saying, “I said: Did you record it? She said: Yeah, from start to finish.”
Collins also admitted when questioned by Ryan that he did not get a warrant to search or seize the cell phone and claimed that when he was questioned several months after the incident about the cell phone by the Springfield Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit he claimed, “I assumed they knew about it.”
The most glaring issue I see in this case is that the police have acknowledged that they never even brought up the confiscation of the cell phone (and the video which was likely on it) in the police report.
“In retrospect, I wish I had,” Sgt. Steven Kent said during a pre-trial hearing, according to MassLive.
When Ryan asked if it was a mistake, Kent claimed, “It was an oversight.”
Police claim that leading up to the incident, Ververis was yelling out of the window of the car he was in, allegedly trying to incite a fight between two groups of individuals on the sidewalk.
Police also allege that he refused to move after being ordered to and then spat on the officers as they approached him before attempting to steal one of their guns.
However, as Carlos Miller points out, this isn’t the first time that the Springfield Police Department has been in hot water (see here and here), so their word is not quite as trustworthy as one might hope.
It’s quite sad that in the United States this is such a common occurrence, as one would assume this might go in an openly oppressive society but in an ostensibly free nation it is still shocking to see incidents like this.
Then again, when police can murder tourists and get away with it, beat old men with dementia and get nothing more than a written reprimand for turning off their recording equipment and children are increasingly criminalized in our schools, I guess it is just to be expected.
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