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Cambridge Police Don’t Know When They’ll Finish Reviewing Controversial Arrest of Black Harvard Student

Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr.
Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. speaks about the arrest of a black undergraduate at an April press conference.
 

Nearly five months after the arrest of a black Harvard undergraduate roiled campus and drew allegations of police brutality, the Cambridge Police Department has yet to determine a timeline for completing its internal probe into the conduct of officers involved.

CPD spokesperson Jeremy Warnick wrote in an emailed statement that a schedule for completing the investigation “will be communicated once the results are nearly finalized.”

The controversy around the April arrest largely centered around CPD officers’ use of force in apprehending the student. Shortly after 9 p.m. on April 13, the night of Harvard’s annual spring concert, Cambridge police arrived at a street median feet from the Harvard Law School campus to respond to calls about a naked man.  

The officers later stated in a report that the student — who was nude and likely under the influence of narcotics — had clenched his fists and began making aggressive movements towards them, prompting an officer to tackle him to the ground. But eyewitnesses, including members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, stated CPD’s version of events was inaccurate and the officer acted “without provocation.”

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In a video of the incident later made public by CPD, the student is seen standing still, surrounded by four officers, while the officers speak with him for at least two minutes. The student turns around and makes two steps towards one officer, then takes a step back and raises his arms to chest-level. Another officer then tackles him from behind.

The arrest triggered a CPD internal investigation. Per department policy, CPD investigates all incidents in which officers use force.

CPD is also facing a second, external probe. The department announced in April that Roderick L. Ireland, the first African-American Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, would conduct an “independent review” of CPD’s internal review. The results of Ireland’s review will be made public, according to the April press release.

Last week, Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed announced that a Harvard task force tasked with reviewing the arrest and systematically examining relevant University policies had missed its deadline to share its findings with University President Lawrence S. Bacow.

Gordon-Reed wrote in a letter to Bacow explaining the delay that the committee needs to hold more meetings with student focus groups before it can issue any conclusions.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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