WORCESTER – A 44 count civil lawsuit was filed in federal court on Wednesday, May 31, related to police action in response to a demonstration on Main Street on the night of June 1 and after midnight on June 2, 2020.
The lawsuit claims that “at no time did the speech or actions of any plaintiff, either singly or in combination with actions of others, create a reasonably perceptible threat of harm to any person or property.”
The complaint alleges the “City of Worcester and [Worcester Police Department] has a de facto policy of tolerating officers’ use of excessive force and their false reporting of their own conduct and that of their victims.”
Several of the plaintiffs were arrested the night of the demonstration. All charges were dropped on March 19, 2020.
The complaint names the City of Worcester, Former City Manager Ed Augustus, Police Chief Steven Sargent, 14 total Worcester Police sergeants and lieutenants and 15 John Does as defendants.
The complaint claims the 14 plaintiffs were bystanders who were observing and, in some cases, recording the conduct of officers. It claims they suffered “gratuitous violence, false arrest and malicious prosecution on baseless criminal charges, theft or damage of cell phones, and in some cases racist slurs,” by police on the scene.
The complaint also makes class action allegations and seeks to create two classes of plaintiffs:
- Individuals who “observed, photographed or video recorded protesters or police at a rally, march, or other demonstration in the City of Worcester on June 1 or 2, 2020.
- “All members of the public present or who may be present within the city limits of the City of Worcester who carrying on their persons cameras, cell phones or other devices capable of capturing photographs or video, audio or audio-video recordings who at any time photograph or record the public conduct of Worcester police officers or who attempt to do so.”
The second class of all those present in the city is not for compensation, but to seek a federal injunction to stop several practices alleged against the police department related to police using false arrests, excessive force, malicious prosecution, threats, intimidation, coercion, assault, or battery. It also seeks an injunction against the city for use of the following:
- Allowing police supervisors to from reporting or instituting disciplinary proceedings;
- Allowing police officers to refrain from intervening or reporting the conduct;
- “Whitewashing” investigations into complaints against police by the public;
- The police chief and other high-ranking officers knowingly and deliberately failing to screen, train, supervise, monitor and discipline;
- The city and former City Manager Augustus, the police department, and police, and chief of police and other supervisors sanction and/or deliberately failed to rectify the practices.
The allegation by the 14 plaintiffs named include:
- Unreasonable Force
- First Amendment Violation and Retaliation
- Assault and Battery
- False Arrest, Malicious Prosecution
- Monell Liability
- Supervisor Liability
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- Mass. Civil Rights Act violations
The complaint claims that police escalated the situation which led to the injuries sustained by the plaintiffs. It also says that the Worcester Police Department had no mention of de-escalation in its use of force policy until two years after the events on June 1,2020, and started de-escalation training at the same time.
Other accusations made in the complaint:
- Police used less than lethal weaponry in ways that failed to comply with the Worcester Police Department policy and against manufacturers instructions.
- Several police reports for different arrests were “cut and pasted.”
- That the Worcester Police Department Bureau of Professional Standards policy at the time did not require in-person interviews of officers accused of wrongdoing, and permitted written only responses;
- Other than activation and deployment of officers, WPD did very little planning ahead of the protests;
- A police K-9 was used to intimidate an individual who was already handcuffed and sitting;
- An officer told a woman that if she did not comply her friend, who was already arrested, would be raped;
- Several arrest reports conflicted with video evidence collected by arrestees, bystanders, or available surveillance camera footage in the area;
- Two journalists at the scene both spoke with police to identify themselves as media and stood away from protestors. One was arrested, another was shot at with pepper spray projectiles and was injured;
- Internal investigations of the events on June 1, 2020 found only policy failures and held no officers accountable for any wrongdoing.
A report by the lead investigator into the protest-related events, Sgt, Franis P. Leady, is quoted in the complaints and says, in part:
“No one was tasked to be an aide to the commander to offer advice and suggestions; there was no videography done, professionally, by the Worcester Police; not one police official who issued dispersal orders wrote an IDC indicating they did, an oversite; and there appeared to be no unified command structure that incontrovertibly and definitively established a chain-of-command. Finally, I am secure in the knowledge that a disturbance of this size and kind will happen again, especially in these times. It is of elementary and fundamental importance that a cogent and understandable working operational plan be devised and implemented when necessary.”
The complaint also alleges that former City Manager Augustus and Chief of Police Sargent are responsible for a policy of police impunity in Worcester. Multiple previous incidents are cited in supporting this claim.
The individual cases of each plaintiff is covered in the 99 page complaint. Several include video to support the claims made.
In one of the cases, the complaint says that Javier Amarat was in a vehicle with his cousin on Loudon Street heading towards Main Street. An officer stopped them and told them they could not drive on Main Street. They parked on Loudon Street and walked to Main Street to see what was happening.
Officers allegedly stopped Amarat, conducted a pat-frisk, shoved him, and told him to leave, using an expletive. Amarat began live streaming as he walked back to his car.
The police report described Amarat’s arrest was the result of his yelling obscenities, offensive conduct, and disruptive shouting. He was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Disturbing the Police.
The live stream captured the arrest. The video continues for several more minutes after the arrest, when phone was apparently picked up. Amarat filed a report with the Worcester Police Department related to his missing phone.
The Worcester Police internal investigation by Leahy exonerated the two officers involved in Amarat’s arrest. Leahy’s report, as quoted in the complaint, says:
“Since the video does not clearly and unambiguously show who took the phone I can not say clearly and unambiguously that PO Frigon and PO Coleman took the phone. Just because the cell phone is recording the sound of police activity doesn’t mean that a police officer is in possession of it-it could have just as easily been picked up by a citizen who was following along all the action.”
Leahy’s internal investigation report also says:
“As I mentioned above, what became of Mr. Amarat’s cell phone remains a mystery and I do not know where it is today. This sergeant, however, must accept the word of the two police officers involved in his arrest as they responded in official documents because to falsify a police report is serious business and these police officers have no history of doing this. I also must add that Captain Davenport had asked both Deputy Saucier and Deputy Chief Roche to query the men in their command to check for Mr. Amarat’s cell phone. The deputies informed the captain that no police officer could locate the cell phone. Perhaps, in the end, Mr. Amarat may want to petition the City for reimbursement.”
The complaint says that the video, below, captured by Amarat’s phone, shows that the arresting officers gave false information about Amarat’s arrest in their report.
Below is the video and audio captured by Amarat’s phone and broadcast to live stream.
The two arresting officers were not interviewed during the internal investigation.
The report exonerating the two arresting officers was ratified by both Captain Davenport and Chief Sargent.
The plaintiffs in the case are Javier Amarat, Veronica Euga, Christopher Euga, Max Marcotte, Richard P. Cummings, Olyvia Crum, Jay Verchin, Sarah Drapeau, Antonio Barrera, Lyndsay Demanbey, Sam Bishop, And Antonio Barerra.
The defendants are the City Of Worcester, Former City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Police Chief Steven W. Sargent Shawn Frigon, Trevis Coleman, Shawn Tivnan, Brett J. Kubiak, Brian M. Piskator, Nathan P. Lafleche, David Green, Lt. Michael R. Girouard, Sgt. Daniel Lopopolo, Sgt. Ryan J. Maher, Lt. David P. Doherty, Sgt. Michael R. Loverin, Duy Chao, Sgt. Jarret Watkins, and John Does 1-15.
The City of Worcester does not comment on pending litigation.
Editor’s Note: The claims above are made in a civil complaint filed by attorneys representing plaintiffs. All claims are allegations.
Editor’s note: One plaintiff, Sam Bishop, an independent journalist, is a contributor to This Week in Worcester. He has not and does not cover crime or other police related issues for this publication.