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Special prosecutor to investigate alleged beating of man inside Lynn police station

A Lynn police officer allegedly beat Victor White inside a holding cell at the police station in June. The department announced an investigation shortly later. The district attorney announced in late July that a special prosecutor would examine the case.
A Lynn police officer allegedly beat Victor White inside a holding cell at the police station in June. The department announced an investigation shortly later. The district attorney announced in late July that a special prosecutor would examine the case.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett announced Thursday the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that a white Lynn police officer beat a Black man held in custody last month.

In a statement, Blodgett said he had appointed Daniel Bennett, the former head of the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, to examine allegations that officer Matt Coppinger used excessive force on a 32-year-old Tufts University cook.

Victor White said Coppinger pummeled him inside a police station holding cell when White refused to take off his sanitary mask.

The June 16 incident — which was captured on video — sparked an internal probe, Coppinger’s resignation, and protests in Lynn over allegations of police brutality.

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The district attorney’s office also announced Thursday that it was dropping the criminal charges of resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and public drinking that were previously filed against White, Alexandros Armand, and Scott Reed. The three men were arrested following a noise complaint outside White’s apartment.

One legal expert said the arrest — for drinking beers on the front stoop — appeared questionable. Blodgett’s office apparently concurred.

“After a review of all the facts and circumstances,” the statement said, the district attorney “elected in its discretion to discontinue the prosecutions.”

Patrick Gioia, the attorney representing White and Armand, said his clients feel vindicated.

“The case never should have been brought to begin with,” Gioia said. “They are still upset about what happened and this isn’t the end of it, in some ways it could be the beginning of their quest for justice.”

Gioia also demanded the public release of the police station video that captured the alleged beating.

“People have a right to see it if it’s as bad as it seems,” he said.

Lynn officials have denied a Globe records request for the video, citing the pending investigation. Blodgett’s office confirmed it has obtained the footage.

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Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee did not return a call or text message seeking comment. Acting Lynn Police Chief Leonard Desmarais could not immediately be reached.

Coppinger, the nephew of former Lynn Police chief and current Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger, declined to comment.

The five-year veteran of the Lynn police force told the Globe last month that he had followed department policies and procedures during the altercation, but that Lynn police “needed a scapegoat given the current environment around policing.”

Lynn police were called to White’s Brightwood Terrace apartment on June 15 for a noise complaint. White and friends exchanged words with officers, questioned their presence, and told them to leave. The officers ended up handcuffing the trio and bringing them to Lynn police headquarters on public drinking charges.

A 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, the men, according to their own account and a police report, were on the front porch of White’s apartment.

At the police station, White refused to take off a mask, saying he feared COVID-19. That’s when Coppinger allegedly pummeled him.

“I was curled into a ball on the floor, screaming for help,” White told the Globe.

Within 10 days of the altercation, the department opened an investigation and 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.

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In an interview last month, Coppinger said he was forced to resign under duress.

“It’s a tough time to be a cop,” he said, acknowledging the roiling national outcry over systemic police abuses. Coppinger has appealed his resignation to the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, alleging he was wrongfully pushed out.