Two Harvard law school professors will represent student arrested by Cambridge police
The Harvard College student whose arrest by Cambridge and Transit Police officers has sparked debate over police use of force is now represented by two Harvard Law School professors, who said their client won’t be speaking publicly any time soon.
Selorm Ohene, 21, a mathematics major at Harvard, was arrested by police last Friday during an encounter. Police said Ohene was naked, appeared to be delusional, and was combative with officers. The arrest was captured on video, and one officer is seen delivering blows to Ohene while he was being restrained by other officers, critics of the police contend.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. has defended the officers’ actions, while Harvard University president Drew Faust called the incident “profoundly disturbing” and Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern has expressed similar concerns.
Ohene won’t provide a public account of what happened to him or be stepping into the public debate about whether police used excessive force during their encounter, his attorneys said.
In a statement Tuesday, Harvard Law School professors Ronald F. Sullivan Jr. and Dehlia Umunna said they now represent him. Sullivan is the director and Umunna is the deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard.
“He is currently recovering from injuries sustained during his encounter with the Cambridge Police Department,’’ the attorneys wrote in a joint statement. “This has been and continues to be a trying ordeal for Selorm and for his family.”
The professors noted the circumstances of his arrest have generated a major public debate, but they said Ohene won’t be part of it — except, possibly, in a courtroom.
“Although there has been significant extrajudicial commentary on Selorm’s case, we do not intend to litigate these matters in the media. As the public is aware, several students captured the incident on their cell phones,’’ the professor said. “The video speaks for itself.”
The attorneys said their focus is on “Selorm’s health and well-being. We hope that the public will respect his privacy and afford him time and space to heal. We will not have further comment until such time as necessary.”
Sullivan was one of Aaron Hernandez’s defense attorneys in Boston in 2017 when he was acquitted of murdering two men in the South End in 2012. He also has represented the family of Usaamah Rahim , who was shot and killed by law enforcement in Roslindale in 2015 when he menaced officers with a knife while he was being investigated for terrorism.
The Globe reported Tuesday that Drew Faust said that while all of the facts are not yet known, the incident raises important issues about the relationship between police and the communities they serve, student health resources, and the manner in which university units operate with each other and their community partners.
The incident began after police responded to a 911 call from a woman who said a naked man had thrown his clothes into her face. Six other callers reported seeing the naked man, who was identified later as Ohene of Cambridge, officials said.
The police arrived at 9:09 p.m. at Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street, along Cambridge Common in Harvard Square.
A video, shot by a bystander and released by police, shows an officer grabbing Ohene’s legs from behind and knocking him forward into another officer. The three men fall to the pavement, and, with the help of a third officer, Ohene is pinned to the ground.
“Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jesus!” Ohene is heard saying in the video. A fourth officer helps restrain Ohene, and one of the officers can be seen striking Ohene.
Ohene was taken to Mount Auburn Hospital for a mental health evaluation. Officials are awaiting the results of Ohene’s mental health evaluation before determining whether he should face criminal charges.