UPDATED: April 18, 2018 at 3:40 p.m.
Two Harvard Law School professors are now representing the black Harvard undergraduate whose arrest Friday by Cambridge Police Department officers has sparked allegations of police brutality and drawn national headlines.
Professors Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Dehlia Umunna, who serve as faculty director and deputy director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute, respectively, will represent the College student in court, according to a press release Sullivan and Umunna published Tuesday.
In the press release, Sullivan and Umunna wrote that the student is still recovering from injuries he suffered during the arrest.
“He is currently recovering from injuries sustained during his encounter with the Cambridge Police Department,” Sullivan and Umunna wrote. “This has been and continues to be a trying ordeal for [the student] and for his family.”
Before the student’s arrest Friday, the undergraduate and four members of local law enforcement—including three CPD officers and one Transit Police Department officer—engaged in a physical confrontation. The officers tackled the student, who was naked and likely under the influence of narcotics, to the ground.
A later CPD police report states the student clenched his fists and began making aggressive moves toward the officers, prompting them to tackle the undergraduate. But eyewitnesses of the incident—including members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association—have stated that CPD’s version of events is incorrect and have stated the officers acted “without provocation.”
A video of the incident later published by the New York Times shows the student standing still surrounded by four officers while the officers talk to him for several seconds. The student turns around and takes two steps towards one officer before taking a step back and raising his arms to chest-level. Another officer then tackles the student from behind.
While the student remained on the ground, at least one CPD officer punched the undergraduate in the stomach five times in an attempt to unpin the student’s arms and handcuff him, according to the CPD police report.
BLSA has called the incident an instance of police brutality, and Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Harvard University President Drew G. Faust later called the incident “disturbing.” In the days following the arrest, hundreds of Harvard students gathered across campus to discuss the incident, reflect, and plan a response.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr. said at a press conference Monday he “absolutely” supports the officers involved in the arrest. CPD plans to conduct an internal review of the arrest per CPD policy, which stipulates reviews must take place following any use of force.
Sullivan and Umunna wrote in their press release that, while there has been significant public interest around the arrest, they do not intend to “litigate” through the media. Since the student’s arrest Friday, national publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post have published articles describing the incident and the backlash.
“Although there has been significant extrajudicial commentary on [the student’s] case, we do not intend to litigate these matters in the media,” Sullivan and Umunna wrote. “As the public is aware, several students captured the incident on their cell phones.”
“The video speaks for itself,” Sullivan and Umunna added.
The statement goes on to say that Sullivan and Umunna’s main focus is the student’s “health and well-being” and that the two lawyers will not comment further until they feel it is “necessary.”
“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 and Umunna wrote.
Sullivan has a history of representing high-profile individuals facing legal charges. In 2016, he defended former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in his double murder trial. Sullivan has also represented the family of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male who was shot in Ferguson, MO in 2014. Brown’s shooting ignited significant unrest in Ferguson.
Asked to discuss her decision to represent the College student, Umunna wrote in an email that she could not discuss the situation further and instead provided a copy of the press release.
“Unfortunately I am unable to make further comments beyond the press release sent out yesterday,” Umunna wrote.
Sullivan also responded to requests for comment with a copy of the press release.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.
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