The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 35.0°F | Fair

Former Toscanini’s Employee Charges Officer with Assault

By Rima Arnaout
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Theodore Bell, a former employee of Toscanini’s Ice Cream, filed assault and battery charges with the City of Cambridge against Officer Michael E. Carey of the MIT Campus Police earlier this month.

The controversy between Bell and the Campus Police arose after an incident on March 30 in which Bell was arrested for trespass in the Stratton Student Center despite having an MIT student escort. Although, other non-MIT persons were present in the Coffeehouse that night, Bell, who is African-American, was the only one arrested.

An April 16 hearing at Cambridge District Court, however, ruled that there is insufficient evidence for the charges against Officer Carey to go to trial. After the hearing, Bell said that he would appeal that ruling. “Because my lawyer wasn’t there, they took me as a kid,” Bell said.

Attorney Mark W. Shea had volunteered to take the case pro-bono but had a client’s case at the same time as the hearing.

According to Bell, Carey allegedly used unnecessary force when he arrested Bell, then an employee of Toscanini’s, for trespassing. Bell had been with some of his Toscanini's co-workers in the 24 Hour Coffeehouse on the third floor and had fallen asleep in a back room when Carey and a fellow CP had found him.

At the hearing, two weeks after Bell’s arrest, Carey decided to also file resisting arrest charges against Bell in addition to the existing trespassing charge.

“I wasn’t resisting arrest. So he had no just cause for harming me,” Bell said. “I do know that my civil liberties are violated.”

Multiple hearings involving Bell and Carey will be held at Cambridge district court in coming weeks. The appeal hearing for the assault charges against Carey will appear before a judge, and there will be a hearing for the resisting arrest and trespassing charges filed against Bell.

Trespassing policy unclear

Although MIT Policies and Procedures lists certain rules for use of event space by non-MIT members for performances and conferences, there is no clear policy determining the right that non-MIT people have to be in the Student Center.

Phillip J. Walsh, director of the Campus Activities Complex, said that while he wasn’t familiar with the specifics of Bell’s arrest, “people who use the [Student Center] are people who have business at MIT... It’s hard to give a hard and fast rule” about where in the Student Center non-MIT people are allowed.

“You don’t have to show a badge to get into the Student Center... we don’t have card security at the Coffeehouse,” Walsh said.

When asked whether employees of Toscanini’s were ever told not to go to other parts of the student center, Toscanini's manager Gus Rancatore said that “nobody’s ever told us anything about it. A lot of our employees are friendly with MIT students.”

Bell’s arrest “struck me as outrageous,” Shea said. “There are other trespass charges where the people they arrest for trespass at MIT are African American. [Campus Police] also have that ridiculous policy” of putting up a no trespass sign on the whole building, that they’re expecting the general public to go to, Shea said. “What it does is give them capricious authority to arrest anyone who they don’t like the look of,” Shea said.

Clifton C. Beck, who works at MIT’s Humanities Library, said that he has spent time at the Coffeehouse without ever being approached by the police. “I didn’t even know you had to have an I.D. to be in [the Coffeehouse],” Beck said.

CPs defend actions

“There’s a difference between using that facility to buy coffee and using it as a bedroom,” said Anne P. Glavin, chief of the MIT Campus Police.

Carey and White were unavailable for comment; Carey has taken some time off from work, according to Glavin. “We don’t generally have our officers comment on ongoing cases... as far as I know he is on time off,” Glavin said.

According to Glavin, the officers had been patrolling the student center looking for sleeping people. “The student center is something we routinely patrol,” Glavin said. “If we have people sleeping in that facility, we make sure that they don’t use that facility as their bedroom.”

Hearing did not go to trial

Captain John E. Driscoll and Lieutenant Paul J. Baratta, also of the MIT Campus Police Department, accompanied Carey and his partner, Officer Jo Ann M. White, to the hearing.

“This is not a trial,” said Thomas Begley, the hearing’s clerk. “It’s a hearing to determine if a trial is necessary.”

At the hearing, Bell gave his account of the night he was arrested. He explained that Carey had arrested him for trespassing although he was the guest of Mariacamilla Fiazza ’02, an MIT student, and although the officers had just let another, white non-MIT person leave the Coffeehouse without even a warning.

Bell said that his arrest, and the force used to cuff him, was unprovoked and was a case of racism and assault. Bell further said that the injuries he sustained from Carey’s use of force resulted in his losing his job at Toscanini’s.

Bell presented as evidence a note from his physical therapist documenting injuries he sustained from the arrest. The physical therapist’s note suggested that Bell refrain from physical exertion until six weeks after the arrest.

Driscoll then questioned Bell on his story. “Did you raise a hand against [Carey]?” asked Driscoll at the hearing. Bell said no. “Did you resist [Carey] in any way?” Bell again said no. Bell said that he only held his hands together so that Carey could not handcuff his wrists.

“Did you turn around and reenter the building?” asked Driscoll.

“No. I was in the doorway,” Bell said. “I stopped in my tracks in the doorway when [Carey] threatened my job.”

Carey maintains that he used force on Bell because Bell had stalled while he stood at the second floor exit of the Student Center and had tried to reenter the Student Center.

The incident was not one of assault and battery but one of legal force to make an arrest, Carey said.

Carey produced as evidence a photo of his hands after the incident saying that “in attempting to release [Bell’s] arms,” Carey did sustain some scrapes from the floor.

Bell then had a chance to question Carey. “Was I leaving the building?” asked Bell at the hearing. After hesitation, Carey said yes.

Bell was arrested while leaving

At the hearing, Bell recounted in detail the events of March 30. “I went into the back room, and I guess I passed out reading... I was woken up by two CPs [one of whom was Officer Carey]. There was an overweight white male who was also there... he didn’t have any reason for being there,” Bell said.

According to Bell, when Carey and his partner asked the white male where he lived, the white male gave him three different addresses; first he told them he lived in Cambridge, then in Watertown, then in Boston.

Although, according to Bell, this man was giving the officers a hard time, “they let him walk. He left, clean as a whistle. Then they focused attention on me,” Bell said. Bell said he explained to the officers that he was Toscanini’s employee and asked the officers if he could get his friend and Coffeehouse worker, Fiazza, from the front room of the Coffeehouse to vouch for him.

At this point, Bell said that Carey patted him down to check for weapons and drugs, finding nothing. Carey denied this saying that it was not he, but another officer who had patted Bell down.

Carey told Bell “that the rules were that you are trespassing unless you are the guest of an MIT student,” Bell said. Carey refused to allow him to step into the other room to contact Fiazza, and neither he nor his partner made any attempt to find her, Bell said.

Fiazza had meanwhile gone up to the fifth floor of the Student Center to check her email. Fiazza said that, had the officers gotten her, she would have vouched for Bell. “I know Theo... He’s a very interesting person. He’s kind of a Coffeehouse guest. He bothers nobody,” Fiazza said.

“When I realized [Carey] was being unreasonable, there was nothing I could do but gather my books and leave,” Bell said.

Bell and Officers Carey and White exited the Coffeehouse from the door in the back room, so that Fiazza still had no idea what was going on. As they went to the second floor to exit the building, Carey actually recognized Bell from Toscanini’s, where police officers are served for free.

On his way out, Bell said that he repeatedly asked the officers why he was being asked to leave, since he was a Toscanini’s employee and since he was a guest of Fiazza, an MIT student. Carey’s response, Bell said, was to tell him to “hurry the f--- up.”

Bell and the officers descended one flight down to the second floor exit. “I was walking out, but still complaining, ‘why am I being asked to leave?’ Bell said.

“By the time I got to the double doors, [Carey] was extremely frustrated,’ Bell said. “I kept my cool.”

At that point, Bell said, Carey began to threaten his job at Toscanini’s. “If I didn’t shut the f---up, [Carey said, he would make sure that I wouldn’t be allowed on MIT’s campus and that I wouldn’t be allowed to work [at Toscanini's] any more,” Bell said.

When asked at the hearing by Bell whether he said he knew Bell, Carey admitted knowing Bell but said that he did not state that on the night of the arrest.

“At this point I wasn’t charged with anything, because I was complying... When officer Carey threatened to have me fired, I had one foot out, one foot in” the doorway on the second floor of the Student Center, Bell said. “I stopped and said, ‘let me get a pen and take your badge number and name.’ He went belligerent then,” Bell said.

“That was when he grabbed and started fighting me,” Bell said. “He slammed me against the wall, slammed me against the door, then slammed me to the ground and landed on top of me with his knee on my back... he continued to elbow me and thrust my head down,” Bell said. “The female officer [White] sat back and watched it happen,” Bell said.

At the hearing, Carey said that he used force against Bell because he tried to reenter the building. Carey said that Bell had pushed off the wall into him, and he showed the clerk pictures of abrasions he had received from the grating on the floor of the student center (between the doors) when he put Bell on the ground.

As Carey used force on Bell, Bell said that he had clasped his hands together so that Carey couldn’t cuff his wrists and asked repeatedly, “Why are you doing this? I didn’t provoke this... [Carey] continued to fight me and was trying to arrest me. I finally allowed him to grab my arms and handcuff me.”

At this point, Carey allegedly gave Bell his name and badge number. Carey’s partner, Officer White, allegedly stood by and did nothing.

Once cuffed, Bell was taken to the MIT Campus Police Station on Massachusetts Avenue. The police took an instant photograph of Bell; Bell was told that the officers would fax his photo to the FBI and CIA. Then, Bell said, the officers slammed the door and drove him to the Central Square police station, “where I was charged with trespassing,” Bell said.

The police in Central Square let Bell out of jail out an hour later because there was no warrant. It was now 2:30 a.m., Bell said. His arraignment was 9 a.m. the same morning.

At the arraignment, the district attorney wanted Bell to plead guilty and pay a $50 fine, Bell said. Instead, Bell filed a complaint against Carey for assault and battery.

According to a letter written by a physical therapist, Bell sustained a “lower muscular spasm” caused by Carey, and it will take six weeks for Bell to recover.

Because of the injuries he sustained on March 30, Bell had to miss work at Toscanini’s and ended up losing his job. Bell was in the middle of his third week working at Toscanini’s.

“Theo was not fired because he was arrested... he was fired as a result of the injuries because of the arrest, because he missed a lot of shifts and didn’t call us,” Rancatore said.