SALEM — A former Lynn police officer admitted in court Tuesday to using excessive force and assaulting a Black man last summer in a police station holding cell, an incident that sparked a sharp local outcry amid a nationwide reckoning over police misconduct.
Matthew Coppinger, who acknowledged beating a Lynn man who had refused to take off a sanitary mask, will likely avoid jail time as part of a deal with prosecutors. Under the agreement, Coppinger, who is white, will serve 18 months’ probation, contribute 80 hours of community service at a homeless shelter, and never serve in law enforcement again.
If Coppinger, a fourth-generation police officer and the nephew of Essex Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger, satisfies the conditions, the assault and battery charge will be dismissed.
The victim of Coppinger’s pummeling, Victor White, did not attend Tuesday’s hearing but told the Globe he supports the deal.
“My goal was not to ruin his life by putting him in jail,” said White, a 33-year-old Tufts University cook. “I wanted him to be held accountable and he was.”
Had he been convicted, Coppinger, who served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Serbia as a US Army sniper and Black Hawk helicopter pilot, would have been dishonorably discharged from the military.
“He won’t be discharged from the military, and this gives him a second chance,” White added.
Coppinger resigned from the Lynn Police Department shortly after the incident, which had been captured on video. Authorities appointed a special prosecutor, who eventually sought charges and called Coppinger’s use of force “well over the line.”
Coppinger declined to comment Tuesday morning, shortly after the deal was inked in Salem District Court. His attorney, Kenneth Anderson, called the assault unfortunate.
“He’s making the best of a bad situation,” Anderson said of his client. “He stepped up and owned it. He took responsibility and I commend his attitude.”
The special prosecutor, Daniel Bennett, said in court that in offering the deal, he took into account several aspects of Coppinger’s conduct.
“Considering what Mr. Coppinger has done during his entire life, the type of person he’s been, how he’s served in the US Army multiple times, putting his life at risk,” Bennett said, “this is an appropriate disposition.”
District Court Associate Justice Carol-Ann Fraser agreed.
Coppinger’s attorney had previously sought to get the case dismissed by citing the Brave Act, a state law that allows judges to dismiss charges against public safety employees if the violation was the result of post-traumatic stress from military service. Fraser rejected that request.
The case unfolded last summer when a group of officers arrested White and two friends for drinking beer on the front stoop of White’s Brightwood Terrace apartment.
The officers had been responding to a noise complaint about White’s housewarming party. Coppinger was not involved in the arrest, but encountered White at the police station. Inside the cell, Coppinger pummeled White when he refused to remove his sanitary mask.
The incident resulted in protests in Lynn. Within days, the police department opened an investigation and Coppinger resigned. The department also unveiled several new use-of-force policies, including requirements that police issue warnings before using force and that officers must intervene when colleagues are using excessive force.
The charges against all three men were eventually dismissed.
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.” The men, according to their own account and a police report, were on the front porch of White’s apartment.
Peter Elikann, former chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section Council and a Boston criminal defense lawyer, called the arrest questionable.
Shortly after his resignation, Coppinger told the Globe he followed department policies and procedures during the altercation. He said Lynn police “needed a scapegoat given the current environment around policing.”
“It’s a tough time to be a cop,” he added.