Harvard Professor Alleges Abuse By Cambridge Police

Cambridge city officials filed a motion earlier this month to dismiss charges by Harvard neurologist S. Allen Counter alleging that he had been unfairly arrested three years ago.

In a complaint filed on Dec. 18, 2009, Counter alleged that Cambridge police officer William Macedo, acting under instructions from Detective Sgt. John Fulkerson, violated his 4th and 14th Amendment rights when arresting him in Dec. 2006.

Counter’s ex-wife told police that he had attempted to push his then-17-year-old daughter out of a moving car on Dec. 18, 2006, according to the complaint. Counter was arrested and charged that day with domestic assault and battery but was later acquitted when the girl told the court that he had not tried to push her from the car.

In his complaint, Counter alleged that the police officers performed an unlawful search and seizure by arresting him without probable cause. He said that they refused to state the charges against him at the time of his arrest and laughed when he asked why he was being arrested.

“One of [the police officers] was quoted as saying he ‘wanted to teach me a lesson’ by a witness,” Counter said.

The defendants—Macedo, Fulkerson, and Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy—asked the U.S. District Court to dismiss Counter’s complaint for failure to state a claim. In the motion, they argued they were not liable for the injuries Counter claimed, which include financial losses, humiliation, hypertension, high blood pressure, and depression.

Since the defendants are being sued in their official capacities as Cambridge city officials, Counter has effectively brought a lawsuit against the city, the motion argued. But a municipality bears no liability for “intentional torts” committed by its employees, and additionally, Counter does not show that the alleged civil rights violations resulted from a policy established by the city, the defense team wrote.

Fulkerson and Samuel A. Aylesworth, who represents the defendants, declined to comment for this story, and Macedo and Healy did not respond to requests for interviews.

Counter, who directs the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, alleged that the police officers’ improper actions constituted racial discrimination.

“We filed this suit because we believe that I, like many other persons of minority background, are victims of police abuse of power and discretion against minorities,” he said.

Counter compared his case to several others, including that of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. this past summer. He called the Gates case “a tragic reflection of the kind of racial profiling and hostility that African-Americans, especially men, face every day.”

“We don’t expect all of our white brothers and sisters to fully understand the nature of this racial humiliation,” Counter said. “We hope they do, but we don’t expect it.”

Counter said that he and his legal team—led by Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree, who also represented Gates—have waited since 2006 to bring the discrimination suit for a variety of reasons, including a fear of “retaliation by the police.”

But the statute of limitations for the case was approaching, he said, and he and his attorneys decided to file the suit to make a public statement against discrimination.

“At some point, we as African-American men and women must stand up to racial abuse,” Counter said.

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