A Waltham, Mass. resident is suing the MIT Police for “excessive force” and violations of his constitutional rights during his Feb. 2006 arrest.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts, lists 13 counts spanning a wide range of police misconduct allegations, including excessive use of force, false imprisonment, withholding exculpatory evidence, and violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.
The allegations stem from an incident in Tang Hall on Feb. 11, 2006, where approximately 20 people were attending a birthday party on the 24th floor. The MIT Police arrived at the party around 11 p.m. after receiving a noise complaint.
As the police were escorting people away from the party, two guests — Ilya Zhadanovskiy and the plaintiff Boris Gershteyn — were arrested.
The reasons behind the arrests are somewhat unclear; according to MIT’s response to the lawsuit, Zhadanovskiy had yelled at the officers while leaving the party and was “attempting to fight with one or more of the officers.” Statements in the lawsuit seem to imply Zhadanovskiy was drunk, as alcohol was being served at the party and he allegedly needed help to walk.
According to the lawsuit, as Zhadanovskiy was kneeling, MIT Police Sergeant Joseph Amoroso “shoved Zhadanovskiy’s face to the ground by hitting [him] in the neck and head” while Officer David A. Smith “struck Zhadanovskiy with a baton numerous times.” MIT denies these allegations.
Neither the lawsuit nor MIT’s response is clear on the reason for Gershteyn’s arrest. In the plaintiff’s description of the events, Gershteyn joined a crowd of people that had formed around Zhadanovskiy and the arresting officers. Allegedly, Gershteyn approached the officers and asked them to stop beating Zhadanovskiy. Amoroso then arrested Gershteyn, allegedly throwing him to the ground, breaking his glasses and lacerating his face in the process.
MIT’s response categorically denies the counts of the lawsuit and refutes much of the plaintiff’s description of the events. The response explicitly denies the claims that officers assaulted or injured Zhadanovskiy and Gershteyn, stating that the officers “were acting within the scope of their employment … [and used] reasonable force to effect an arrest.” The response also claims that Zhadanovskiy was resisting arrest and kicking the arresting officers.
The lawsuit and MIT’s response also differ widely on the claims that people witnessed the incident. In the plaintiff’s version of the events, a crowd was present during the arrests, and “several impartial witnesses” observed the events. MIT’s response claims that no individuals witnessed the incident.
After their arrests, Zhadanovskiy and Gershteyn were charged with assault and battery of a police officer, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.
Those charges were subsequently dismissed when the MIT Police failed to provide evidence to the defense counsel. According to the lawsuit, the police provided an incomplete list of persons who witnessed the arrests during the discovery phase leading up to the trial. The list of witnesses served as exculpatory evidence, according to the lawsuit, which led to a dismissal due to prosecutorial misconduct.
MIT also disputes this claim, stating that although the police did not provide a supplemental incident report, the report contained no exculpatory evidence and listed no witnesses. From the lawsuit and MIT’s response, it is unclear why the charges against Zhadanovskiy and Gershteyn were dismissed.
The court filings, which are available at http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N40/police/, name four police officers: Joseph Amoroso, David A. Smith, Louis C. Rosa, and Jennifer Ortiz; as well as then-Police Chief John DiFava (now the director of facilities operations and security) and MIT itself.
DiFava and MIT are explicitly accused in the lawsuit of “deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights” by “failing to adequately train their officers” on production of evidence and use of force, and by tolerating a culture where officers fail to produce exculpatory evidence and use excessive force.
MIT has denied these allegations, stating that the officers used reasonable force, that the arrests “[were] expressly authorized by Chief DiFava and MIT,” and that the officers have qualified immunity.
Jeffrey Swope, MIT’s counsel with law firm Palmer & Dodge, declined to comment on the pending litigation, directing inquiries to the MIT News Office.
According to a court schedule, the discovery will be completed by April 1, 2009, making a trial possible in late 2009. The plaintiff has requested a jury trial.