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Somerville officer accused of using pepper spray on handcuffed man

A veteran Somerville police officer who’s also the president of his union faces arraignment Nov. 13 for allegedly pepper-spraying a handcuffed suspect who posed no threat to him during an incident last year, authorities said Friday.

Officer Michael McGrath was charged with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office said in a statement.

“The complaint arises from an incident in which the officer allegedly deployed pepper spray on an individual who was in custody and who allegedly posed no threat to the officer,” Ryan’s office said.

McGrath’s union and his attorney didn’t respond Friday to requests for comment.

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City officials on Friday released surveillance footage of the encounter, which appears to show McGrath pepper-spraying a handcuffed suspect and shoving him into a prisoner transport van. Once inside the van, the man slumps over, clearly affected by the spray.

Somerville cop charged criminally for allegedly pepper spraying handcuffed man
Surveillance footage shows a Somerville police officer who also serves as the president of his union allegedly pepper spraying a handcuffed suspect last year.

The statement from prosecutors didn’t identify the suspect or say why police initially took him into custody. His encounter with McGrath occurred on Oct. 1, 2019, according to prosecutors.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said in a separate statement that the city released the footage “in the interest of transparency,” and that the city and police department “will not tolerate” any unnecessary use of force.

“Our officers are entrusted with tremendous responsibilities, and our residents must be confident that every officer will perform those duties to the highest standards, using force only when necessary and according to Departmental training, policy, and the law,” Curtatone said. “We referred this matter to the District Attorney, and we will continue to fully cooperate with that office.”

In a phone interview, Curtatone said the fact that McGrath heads his union simply shows that “no matter what level of rank or affiliation the officer has, whether head of the union or not, every officer is sworn to protect and serve the community, and they’re held at the highest level.”

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The mayor conceded the public will have justifiable anger over the McGrath case, but also said the police department has overcome prior issues surrounding bias to be lauded as a “model of compassionate, community-based policing.”

Curtatone said he’s “proud of the overwhelming majority of men and women who want to do their jobs [on the police force] under the highest standards of professionalism.”

City officials said McGrath had been placed on paid administrative leave with his police powers suspended within hours of the alleged assault, and that the leave has since been made unpaid in light of the felony charge.

McGrath says on his LinkedIn page that he’s been an officer since 1994 and previously served in the US Marine Corps. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the page says.

In a separate statement Friday, Somerville Police Chief David Fallon said the actions captured in the video footage represent the “antithesis of everything the Somerville Police Department stands for and is not indicative of the tens of thousands of interactions (many on video) we have with residents every year.”

The department’s actions, Fallon said, “immediately following our discovery of the incident is rather what is indicative of our values. Within hours of the Command Staff viewing the video, the Officer was placed on Administrative Leave, relieved of all Police Powers, and the video was turned over to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office.”

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.