Cambridge police said Saturday they will conduct an internal review into the use of force during the arrest of a 21-year-old black Harvard University student Friday evening, after members of a campus student group said officers violently attacked the man without provocation.
Cambridge police said Selorm Ohene of Cambridge approached them with clenched fists after officers responded to calls reporting a naked man on a traffic island near the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street, along Cambridge Common in Harvard Square. Officers made the “tactical decision” to bring him down to the ground, according to police.
While attempting to place Ohene under arrest, one officer punched Ohene five times in the torso, according to a redacted copy of a report released by Cambridge police Saturday night.
The arrest involved three city officers and one from the MBTA Transit Police.
In a statement e-mailed to city councilors, police Commissioner Branville G. Bard said police used their discretion and struck Ohene to “gain his compliance and place him in handcuffs.”
The incident is under internal review by the department’s leadership and Professional Standards Unit, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale told Cambridge city councilors in the same statement Saturday.
“I have great faith in Commissioner Bard and the men and women of Cambridge Police Department and I am confident that they will use this as an opportunity to reflect on lessons that can be learned from this incident,” DePasquale said.
MBTA Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan declined to comment Saturday.
The arrest was witnessed by members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association and admitted students, and in a statement Saturday, the group called the incident a “brutal instance of police violence.”
“We demand that the officers who assaulted this man while he was naked, fully subdued and bleeding on the ground be investigated and held accountable,” the student group said in the statement.
The group said witnesses said officers lunged at Ohene, tackled him, and pinned him to the ground, according to their statement.
After he was taken away in an ambulance, a “pool of blood” remained on the pavement until it was cleared away by firefighters, the student group said. They also said officers tried to prevent witnesses from recording the incident.
The law student association also criticized Harvard University’s Health Services, which they said contacted Cambridge police to respond to Friday’s incident.
“Instead of sending staff to support the student, HUHS transferred callers to CPD, who then responded as police often do whether cameras are rolling or not — by failing to appropriately respond to the individual needs of the person concerned and resorting to violence unnecessarily and with impunity,” the group said in the statement.
Harvard University officials said in a statement that they were aware of the incident and were looking into it.
“We are concerned and gathering information about the facts and circumstances leading up to the arrest and understand that the city of Cambridge is reviewing the situation. University officials are also working, as they always do, to care for and support our students,” according to the school’s statement.
According to the Cambridge police report, Ohene was found nude on Massachusetts Avenue “acting completely irrational” around 10 p.m. Friday.
The arrest was witnessed by about 30 onlookers, and vehicles driving by slowed to see what was going on. Police said two women standing nearby appeared to be acquaintances of Ohene, and one of them told officers that he “possibly took LSD (acid) or ‘morning glory,’ ” according to the report.
Officers attempted to calm Ohene and were there to help him, according to the report, but his behavior “was aggressive, hostile, and intimidating.”
As Ohene spoke to one of the officers, the report said, he was seen clenching his fists and his hostility quickly escalated, then he began moving aggressively toward officers.
“Ohene’s goal was to seriously hurt himself or one of the officers on scene,” the report said. “Ohene absolutely could not be reasoned with.”
After police took Ohene down to the ground, he resisted attempts to place him in handcuffs, the report said.
“We gave Ohene verbal commands to give us his hands, which he did not. Unable to pry Ohene’s hands from underneath his body, I delivered approximately 5 strikes with a closed fists [sic] to the area of his stomach,” according to the police report.
The strikes appeared to be ineffective, the report said, and one officer was able to gain control of Ohene’s right arm and get the handcuffs on. Police also restrained Ohene with shackles around his ankles before he was put into the ambulance.
While he was being transported to a local hospital for observation, he spat blood and saliva at an EMT, police said. Two Cambridge officers were also treated for minor injuries and unprotected exposure to bodily fluids, police said.
Ohene was charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on ambulance personnel, police said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.