A graduate student is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 4, 2008, facing four charges stemming from an incident that occurred at the List Visual Arts Center last October.
Leonardo A. Bonanni G is charged with assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and drug possession.
Police reports indicate that Bonanni was attending a film opening at the List Center in the Media Lab on Oct. 20, 2007, when he was approached by Officer Joseph West of the MIT Police. West said that he originally approached Bonanni due to what West described as Bonanni talking loudly on his cell phone.
A copy of the police records can be found on The Tech’s website at: http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N49/arrest/
As he got closer, West noticed what he believed to be a marijuana joint perched atop Bonanni’s left ear. West alleges that Bonanni pushed him away after he requested to examine the item, at which point he proceeded to make multiple attempts at an arrest. The police report states that the two participants, in the midst of a struggle, “bounced off a statue in the lobby, the glass entrance way area, and the floor of the building.”
At least two additional MIT police officers came to West’s aid after he radioed for backup. Together, they handcuffed Bonanni, read him a Miranda warning, and took him away from the scene. West was later treated at Cambridge City Health and Alliance Hospital for an injury to his left hand that resulted from the arrest.
Resident witnessed arrest
Andrew Richardson, a Cambridge resident who was attending the event with a few friends, said he believes the police used excessive force in the arrest. Although he said he did not see the initial encounter between Bonanni and police, he told The Tech that loud voices quickly drew his attention, and that of nearby attendees, away from the festive atmosphere accented by free food and wine.
“Suddenly, there was some kind of commotion going on by the entry”, said Richardson. “It was an odd juxtaposition.”
MIT Director of Facilities and Security John DiFava denied that anyone in his department would have used excessive force against an arrestee.
“I am comfortable with the behavior of the officers of the station,” said DiFava. “There is no excessive force on the MIT police force because I would not allow it.”
According to Richardson, Bonanni was yelling as a male campus police officer pinned him to the floor and a female security guard stood by. A woman who Richardson believed to be a List Center staff member stepped forward in an attempt to calm the situation, but officers told her to stay out of the situation.
“The campus police officers were ‘in the zone,’” Richardson said. “Their efforts to subdue the kid seemed uncalled-for, an overreaction.”
DiFava said that officers undergo extensive training to meet and exceed Institute and state regulations regarding the use of force in an arrest. Standard protocol for campus police officers is to use enough force to overcome the level of force used by the arrestee.
If, for example, someone were to hit an officer with a closed fist, the officer would be authorized to use next level of force — perhaps pepper spray. Should an arrestee use a knife, the arresting officer can draw his firearm.
“It should be enough to subdue the individual,” said DiFava.
Days after the incident, Richardson called MIT campus police to report what he saw, although he believes his complaint was not adequately heard. “If what I saw is the way MIT officers are trained to respond, that’s pretty scary,” Richardson stated.
DiFava, however, said that an arrest has the potential to be overwhelming to the typical person, who has not seen as many arrests as a police officer. From experience, he said even a ninety-pound person can provide a surprising amount of resistance. In most situations, it is best for multiple officers to confront a belligerent suspect.
“For a person to see an arrest transpire … they don’t know what it’s like,” he added. “It’s probably the first or second arrest someone’s seen in his life.”
Bonanni’s lawyer said that he and his client are focused on the current case and have not given much consideration to the possibility of pursuing counter legal action following Bonanni’s jury trial.