Victor White was sitting with two friends, drinking beers on the porch of his Lynn apartment complex last month when three police officers arrived to investigate a noise complaint.
White, a 32-year-old cook at Tufts University, bluntly told the officers to get lost. The officers responded by handcuffing the trio and hauling them to Lynn police headquarters on charges of public drinking, an arrest that one expert called questionable. There, inside a holding cell, White refused to take off a sanitary mask when directed to do so.
That’s when a white police officer set upon White and allegedly pummeled him.
“I was curled into a ball on the floor, screaming for help,” said White, who is Black. “I heard one of the officers say, ‘That’s enough.’”
The June 16 incident, captured on video, quickly sparked an internal probe, an officer’s resignation, and public backlash that continues to swell amid a larger, national reckoning over allegations of systemic police bias and brutality.
Within 10 days, the department opened an investigation and officer Matthew Coppinger resigned. The department also unveiled a slate of new use-of-force policies, including requirements that police issue warnings before using force and that officers intervene when colleagues are using excessive force.
Coppinger told the Globe he followed department policies and procedures during the altercation, but that Lynn police “needed a scapegoat given the current environment around policing.”
“It’s a tough time to be a cop,” he added.
Coppinger, 34, is the nephew of former Lynn police chief Kevin Coppinger, who left the department in late 2016 to serve as Essex County sheriff.
The case underscores how even a relatively minor concern — like a neighborhood noise complaint — can lead to a questionable arrest and, later, an even more troubling controversy. The incident has become a flash point in Lynn and the topic of fiery bullhorn speeches at demonstrations decrying police abuses.
In a June 25 press release, Police Chief Michael Mageary said his department addressed the situation squarely: After the allegations had been shared widely on social media, officials opened an internal investigation. Mageary’s public statement did not identify Coppinger or comment on the incident other than to say White was uncooperative in the booking process, “which resulted in a use of force in the cellblock.”
Lynn police would not say what violations Coppinger may have committed. Mageary, who announced his retirement from the police force earlier this week, declined to comment further, saying the investigation is ongoing and will be turned over to Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. A spokeswoman for Blodgett’s office said the agency received a copy of the video of the alleged altercation and that it will review the police department’s investigation once it is completed.
Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee declined to comment. The city denied a Globe records request for a copy of the video, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.
The chain of events began with a seemingly routine noise complaint at a Brightwood Terrace apartment complex.
Officers saw White and his friend Alexandros Armand, 26, of Malden, and his neighbor, Scott Reed, 55, drinking beer on a porch, according to a police report. After being questioned by police, White swore at the officers and told them, “It ain’t illegal to drink outside,” the incident report said. Police said White refused to share his name with officers and that the officers and the men continued to argue. Ultimately, officers Freddy Demota-Done, John Clem III, and Michael Chalmers arrested the trio for public drinking.
“One of them asked my name and before I knew it I was being dragged off my porch on my private way and being arrested without being told what the charges were.” White told the Globe.
The municipal ordinance prohibits someone from having an open container of alcohol “on a public way or where the public has a right of access.” Yet, it appears the men were on their own property. The report lists White’s address as the location of the arrest, and it states the men were “outside on the porch,” bottles around them. The report also notes that officers advised them “it was not legal to be drinking outside.”
Peter Elikann, a Boston criminal defense lawyer, said the city’s ordinance does not outlaw drinking on your porch.
“The police officers may have misinterpreted the city ordinance,” said Elikann, former chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section. “It absolutely does not prohibit residents from drinking on private property.”
“The defendants were correct when they told officers they were not in violation of any law by drinking on their porch,” Elikann added.
At the police station late that night, White continued to press his case. In a police report, Coppinger described White as obnoxious and a “highly resistant prisoner.” Coppinger wrote that he stepped in to assist officers and deescalate the situation. White swore, yelled, and otherwise hindered and resisted “nearly all aspects of the booking process.” He refused to remove a sanitary mask, which, the report states, is not permitted inside the cell.
“We gave him one final chance and told him [the mask] would be removed from him by us if he did not do so,” Coppinger wrote. Then, Coppinger and Demota-Done “guided” White onto the floor “to stop his violent behavior,” the report said. The trio continued to tussle. Eventually, the officers removed White’s mask and locked the cell.
White said his injuries were modest and that the swelling had largely subsided by the time he was released from the Middleton House of Correction the next morning.
White has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and public drinking. He questioned not only his treatment at police headquarters but the premise for his arrest.
“I want all the officers involved to be relieved of duty, held accountable, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law because what they did was unjust,” White said. “They are supposed to protect and serve, but they violated my civil rights.”
Two weeks after the incident, White and Armand participated in a peaceful march from the Lynn police station to the Lynn Common, a public park.
“I appreciate all the support we’ve received from the community, from students, and Unite Here Local 26, which represents Tufts dining workers, because this needs to spread,” White said. “I keep saying, if we’re silent, the story will never be told.”
Coppinger worked on the Lynn police force for five years. In 2017, he was one of four Lynn officers who received the George L. Hanna Memorial Awards for Bravery at a State House ceremony. Coppinger and colleagues were honored for their efforts to help a woman who was forced out of her vehicle at gunpoint. The gunman was later shot and killed by police.
Coppinger told the Globe that, after the cellblock incident with White, the department placed him on administrative leave, pending the results of the internal investigation. A week later, the Lynn Police Association told him the police report was inconsistent with the images on the cellblock video, Coppinger said. The police union also told him the chief and the mayor wanted him fired.
Coppinger said he did not know what the inconsistencies were.
“I asked to see the video so I can review it and write a supplemental report, but it never happened,” he said. “I was forced to resign with backdoor threats of termination and of the filing of criminal charges.”
Coppinger said he has yet to be questioned as part of an internal investigation. He has hired an attorney and has appealed to civil service, arguing that he was forced to resign under duress. The union did not respond to requests for comment.
The final insult, Coppinger said, was that he was not allowed to visit the police station to submit his resignation to the chief.
He was asked to turn in his gun and badge to a union representative at a 7-Eleven parking lot.