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Harvard police arrested a man for trespassing in the Smith Campus Center Thursday morning after a physical altercation, drawing criticism from some eyewitnesses.
At 11:40 a.m. on Thursday, an officer recognized Tyrique Simmons — who had “an active trespass warning for all Harvard University property” — and apprehended him, according to the HUPD police log released Friday. The department stated that additional officers arrived on the scene when Simmons “engaged in physically combative behavior” after police conducted a field interview and informed him he was being placed under arrest.
Witnesses said the officer who identified Simmons did not make an effort to inform the suspect beforehand and exerted excessive force during the arrest.
Connor J. Schoen ’21 said the arrested man was walking through the main corridor of the center wearing a Harvard sweatshirt and carrying a skateboard when police told him to get on the ground. Schoen said the officer “ran up” to Simmons almost immediately.
“It was very unclear as to why he was being apprehended,” Schoen said. “He was not causing a ruckus.”
A video of the incident posted to Twitter shows two officers pushing Simmons down from a sitting position on to the floor, holding him, and rolling him over as they arrested him.
“This morning in Smith Campus center the police used excessive force to arrest a black man who was apparently trespassing in the open areas of Smith,” the tweet reads.
Harvard University Police spokesperson Steven G. Catalano declined to comment on the incident. Simmons could not be reached for comment.
Schoen said he was “appalled” by the officers’ behavior toward Simmons.
“What happened next was extremely disturbing and really traumatizing for a lot of people watching,” he said. “He was grabbing him forcefully, screaming at him, telling him to get on the ground. Tyrique went to his knees, and was screaming, ‘Why is this happening? What did I do? What did I do?’ The officer was not answering his questions, was not providing any clarity, did not attempt to have a civil conversation with someone who wasn’t even resisting.”
Kara Bratlie — who was with Schoen at the time — said the HUPD officer called out Simmon’s name and immediately told him to get on the round.
“It happened so fast. Basically, he was on the ground and the officer was holding him with pepper spray in his hand,” she said.
Schoen wrote in an emailed statement that Smith Campus Center was a public space so many non-University affiliates like Simmons occupy the building.
“People come through from all over the place to work and eat at the many eateries inside,” he wrote.
Bratlie said she was dismayed by the officers’ behavior during the arrest.
“I was basically doing the same thing [he] was, but the officer went at him,” she said. “Why didn’t he come at me? What’s the difference?”
History Ph.D. student Laura Correa-Ochoa said that, after witnessing the event, she filed a complaint with HUPD because she was concerned about officers’ handling of the arrest.
“I think that instead of de-escalating the situation, the officers actually escalated the situation,” she said. “This wasn’t a proportionate use of force.”
—Staff writer Charles Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @charles_xu_27.
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