Gerald Jones’ long Thanksgiving weekend last fall took its first unfortunate turn when he got into a fight with a cabbie, and was charged with larceny. But things soon got far worse.
As Jones, of Worcester, was handcuffed and shackled in preparation for his Monday morning trip to Worcester District Court, he says, the officer guarding him, Michael Motyka, started to rough him up.
Jones, who is black, says that Motyka began shouting racial slurs at him and slapping him in the back of the head as he led him down a hallway. Eventually, Jones says, Motyka knocked him down and kicked him in the head in one of the cells. Several officers, Jones said, looked on during the ugly confrontation and did nothing.
“He punched me more than three or four times,” Jones — a slight man of 48 — said in a recent interview. “The other cops were just standing around, and laughing while he punched me and kicked me. Eventually, he walked out of the cell.”
Jones, who has a history of arrests, didn’t report the incident for two months, fearful law enforcement would close ranks around one of their own. But after he did, a video taken from inside the cell was sufficiently damning for Motyka to be arrested and indicted.
The officer is charged with assault and battery, assault and battery with a deadly weapon — his foot — and a civil right violation. He has pleaded not quilty, and is on paid administrative leave, although Worcester city attorney David Moore said Thursday in a telephone interview that the city is trying to fire him.
Three officers who were placed at the scene by the video, and were facing disciplinary action, have instead taken retirement.
“They were eligible for retirement and they took it,” Moore said.
According to Jones’ attorney, Stephanie Soriano-Mills, he has a long history with Worcester law enforcement. She said he has struggled with drug addiction, and has a history of drug and larceny-related arrests.
It’s the kind of history that can certainly make someone unpopular with the local police, but hardly justifies beating up a prisoner, let alone a shackled one who is pretty much the definition of defenseless.
This incident didn’t come as a shock to some people in Worcester. The police department there has been the target of a series of civil rights suits in recent years. Indeed, just days after Jones first reported his encounter with Motyka, three Worcester officers attempted to arrest him on an old warrant. Soriano-Mills believes that action was an attempt to teach him a lesson about complaining about police.
Worcester has been careful in its handling of the Motyka case. His prosecution was turned over to the state attorney general’s office, in an attempt to avoid any conflict of interest. The city’s police chief has described the incident as a stain on the department. Motyka, in an arraignment earlier this year, said his actions may have been the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting from his nine years in the military. Not exactly a ringing denial.
Jones is suing the city of Worcester, and the two sides may be close to a financial agreement that would resolve his claim. Jones told me he hopes to eventually become a substance abuse counselor. Motyka’s prosecution is pending, and obviously he should be fired as well. Under the circumstances, his paid leave is an injustice.
But among the most disturbing aspects of this is the fear that it could represent business as usual at the Worcester police lockup. As Jones notes, no one there seemed especially bothered that a man with a badge was calling him racial epithets and slapping him around.
“All these guys were looking, and I was waiting for them to do something,” he said. “They were just laughing. I didn’t tell anybody what happened. There was nobody to tell.”
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the location of the incident. It occurred at the Worcester police lockup.