Last Friday’s arrest of a black Harvard undergraduate does not mark the first time local authorities physically confronted and arrested a naked College student under the influence of drugs.
In 2006, police were called to deal with a non-black undergraduate—who has identified himself as Asian on social media—who was running through the hallways of Quincy House naked while under the influence of LSD. Harvard police arrived on the scene and sought to arrest the student; the undergraduate proved resistant and struck two Harvard University Police Department officers, one in the head and one in the face.
A 2006 Crimson article describing the incident notes Harvard police eventually managed to handcuff the student, who was later freed of all criminal charges. The article makes no mention of the officers violently engaging the student in any way.
This past weekend, the Cambridge Police Department responded to reports of a student in a similar situation. CPD officers arrived at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street—an off-campus location—and physically confronted a black student, who was also nude and likely under the influence of narcotics.
Video evidence published by the New York Times shows that four officers approached and surrounded the student. The undergraduate at one point took two steps towards an officer—and then at least one step back—but never touched any member of law enforcement. Shortly after the student stepped forward, one CPD officer standing behind the undergraduate tackled the student to the ground. While on the ground, one officer punched the student in the stomach at least five times in an “ineffective” attempt to handcuff the undergraduate, according to a CPD police report.
The black student has been charged on multiple counts including assault, indecent exposure, and resisting arrest. He is currently undergoing medical evaluation in part for mental health concerns; one city official—partly citing the ongoing mental health evaluation—has said CPD may drop the charges against the student.
The two incidents—which involved two different police departments—unfolded in starkly different fashions. In the wake of the black student’s arrest Friday, some have called the incident an instance of police brutality, questioning why CPD officers saw fit to tackle the student.
The ensuing controversy has roiled campus, drawn condemnation of CPD from University President Drew G. Faust and Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern, and generated national headlines. Both Faust and McGovern called the arrest “disturbing.”
The 2006 arrest—so similar in setup—invites comparison to the 2018 arrest.
In the 2006 case, the student—busy with schoolwork and friends—had not slept for 30 hours leading up to the incident, he told The Crimson at the time. He decided to “drop acid” for the first time shortly after this sleepless period, which turned out to be “too much to handle,” he said then.
HUPD officers reported to Quincy C entryway on Feb. 24, 2006 around 6:15 p.m. in response to calls alleging the student was running in and out of rooms in the House and making a disturbance while naked, according to the 2006 Crimson article. The student was allegedly knocking over objects and jumping on furniture, scaring residents.
HUPD officers ordered the student to stop his behavior, but the student did not comply. Instead, he tried to evade the officers, shouting while doing so. Police tried to grab the student, but he was soaking wet—he later said he had just finished showering—and managed to slip from the officers’ grasps.
In the ensuing struggle, the undergraduate hit one HUPD officer in the nose and another on the left side of the head before the police could handcuff him.
But the Crimson article does not state police involved took extreme physical action against the student. An eyewitness, then-Quincy resident tutor John C. McMillian, said at the time he did not think the student was acting belligerently and that the student did not seem to be behaving in an “intentionally aggressive” manner.
“He was excitedly trying to avoid capture, but he didn’t strike me as being intentionally aggressive,” McMillian told The Crimson in 2006. "No punches were thrown."
Following the student’s arrest, officers conveyed the undergraduate to Cambridge Hospital, according to the Crimson article.
The 2018 incident proceeded differently.
Harvard University Health Services received a call about a naked male late on Friday, April 13; the day of Yardfest, Harvard’s annual spring concert. HUHS transferred the call to HUPD, who then transferred the call to CPD. HUPD spokespeople have said “jurisdictional requirements” mandated that HUPD transfer the call to CPD.
CPD had jurisdiction because the student—who was standing on a median in the middle of the road feet from Harvard Law School’s campus—was not standing on campus and was thus outside HUPD’s jurisdiction. HUPD has to inform other police departments of incidents that take place off Harvard’s campus, per policy.
When CPD officers arrived on the scene, the student was naked, and acquaintances of the undergraduate told police he had previously taken narcotics, according to the CPD police report. At least 30 people soon gathered to watch the incident, according to the report.
Four officers approached the student and stood talking with him for at least several seconds. The police report states the undergraduate was “acting completely irrational” and that “every attempt that was made to calm [the student] down and reason with him was met with opposition.”
The report calls the undergraduate’s behavior “aggressive, hostile, and intimidating,” and notes that the student “clinch[ed] both his fists” before he “started to take steps towards officers in an aggressive manner.”
Police then decided to tackle the student to the ground, according to the report.
But eyewitnesses of the event—including members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association—have stated that CPD’s version of events is “incorrect.” The eyewitnesses say the police tackled the student “without provocation.”
“A naked, unarmed Black man, stood still on the median,” a statement issued by BLSA reads. “He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground.”
A video of the incident later published by the New York Times shows three officers surrounding the student and negotiating with him for several seconds. A fourth officer initially has his back to the scene.
The student takes two steps forward, one step back, and raises his arms mid-way up his chest. A police officer standing behind the student then tackles him to the ground. Two other officers rush to help subdue the student, and another officer runs into view to aid the others. In total, four officers ultimately attempt to pin down the student.
“While on the ground, at least one officer repeatedly punched the student in his torso as he screamed for help,” the BLSA statement reads.
The police report acknowledges one officer punched the student in the stomach five times in an attempt to unpin his arms and handcuff the undergraduate. The report calls the punches “ineffective.”
The police then cuffed the student’s arms and legs before loading him into an ambulance, where he spat “a mixture of blood and saliva” at an ambulance technician, according to the report. The student was transported to an unidentified hospital, where he remains under police custody.
The BLSA statement notes that a “pool of blood remained on the pavement” as the ambulance departed.
HUPD officers initially charged the student arrested in 2006 with two counts of assault and battery of a police officer, possession of marijuana, and possession of a fake ID. Officers found marijuana in pants the undergraduate left behind in Quincy.
But all charges were dropped several months after the student’s arrest. He was placed on pretrial probation, allowing him to evade criminal penalties if he avoided legal trouble for one year. The Administrative Board voted to allow the student to return to the College after one semester of time off.
It is as of yet unclear how the black student arrested in 2018 will fare. After the arrest, he was charged with assault, resisting arrest, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, and assault and battery of ambulance personnel.
Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. said at a press conference Monday that CPD may drop the charges against the student.
Asked why the student was charged if there are concerns over the undergraduate’s mental health, Bard said Monday that the department is currently trying to decide whether the student would be better served if CPD moves forward with his case by “means other than the criminal justice system.”
It is unclear when—or if—the student will face arraignment.
CPD spokesperson Jeremy Warnick wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday that any decision made would be done so “in consultation with various agencies” which could include the hospital and the District Attorney’s Office.
“In Friday’s case, a determination on timing for charges proceeding or not would not be clear until the individual’s in-patient treatment concludes or progresses. That decision would be done in consultation with various agencies,” he wrote.
As for disciplinary proceedings on the part of the College, that too remains unclear. Asked multiple different questions about whether the student is likely to face an Ad Board case and how criminal charges might affect that case, Harvard spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman wrote in an emailed statement that he could not comment.
“We do not comment on individual student cases before the Ad. Board, nor can we comment on a hypothetical case,” Goldman wrote.
Guidelines posted on the Ad Board’s website state that Ad Board cases begin with “an allegation in the form of a complaint or report,” which can be made by a Harvard affiliate or by another agency like the police.
The website also includes a section discussing allegations of “serious criminal conduct”; the guidelines stipulate an Ad Board case may be postponed or suspended until a criminal case has been concluded.
“[S]tudents are advised to seek legal advice about how the College’s disciplinary process could affect any criminal case in which they may be involved,” the guidelines read. “Ordinarily, if a complaint is being pursued through the criminal justice system, the Board may assess the timing of the investigation so that it does not compromise the integrity of the criminal investigation.”
Editor’s Note: The Crimson is withholding the name of the student involved in the 2018 incident out of concern for his privacy.
—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.
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