FBI enters probe of police beating in Mass.
The FBI has launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that a white police officer in Springfield beat a black suspect with a flashlight during a traffic stop, leaving the man partially blind in one eye.
Mayor Domenic Sarno and Police Commissioner William Fitchet said Wednesday that the city had received notification from the FBI about the probe.
“The City and the Springfield Police Department will cooperate fully with any and all investigations regarding this incident,” Sarno said in a statement.
Police are also conducting criminal and internal investigations into the Nov. 27 arrest. The FBI planned to defer any action until after the local investigations were completed, according to the city’s statement.
Patrolman Jeffrey Asher was seen on video shot by a bystander repeatedly hitting Melvin Jones with the flashlight during the incident. Three other police officers were on the scene.
An arrest report stated that Asher struck Jones after he grabbed another officer’s gun during a struggle with police.
Jones was charged with drug possession and resisting arrest. His family has stated that the beating left him with a partially blind eye, fractured bones in his face and a broken finger.
Asher, a 16-year veteran of the force, was suspended for six months without pay in 1997 when another video showed him kicking a black suspect who had already been subdued by two other officers.
The Springfield police union has defended Asher, saying he was justified in using force and that racism had nothing to do with the incident.
“Force was used during Mr. Jones’ arrest because he resisted, not because he is black,” said Joe Gentile, president of Local 364 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, in a statement.
People who resist arrest are sometimes “desperate enough to kill,” and that the amount of force required by police is a “subjective matter,” Gentile said.
He also said the cell phone video was of poor quality and did not reveal what was said during the altercation, what dangers the officers believed they faced or on what part of the body Jones was struck by the flashlight.
In the aftermath of the incident, the mayor and police commissioner announced that a civilian review would be formed to investigate future citizen complaints of police misconduct.
The Springfield branch of the NAACP said the incident has raised troubling questions and that the group expected to have access to the investigations and findings.
Meanwhile, Gentile is under fire from black clergy for describing anger over a suspected case of police brutality as “a lynch mob mentality.”
A statement last week by the Statewide African American Clergy Alliance/Western Massachusetts faulted the comment. Gentile recently urged people to resist a rush to judgment until the FBI probe is completed.
Patrick unveils $1M to fight H1N1 among minorities
Gov. Deval Patrick has announced that his administration will make available $1 million in federal funds aimed at increasing H1N1 vaccination rates in communities of color.
The administration said Friday that the funds will be offered to community groups who serve Latino, African American and Asian American communities across the state.
Recent finds released by the state Department of Public Health found that the state’s communities of color were getting swine flu more often that whites. The findings also showed that the state’s minorities had higher hospitalization and death rates.
Details on which groups have been awarded funds will be released in the coming weeks.
Court: Mass. law on wine shipping unconstitutional
A federal appeals court decision could open the door for more direct wine shipments to Massachusetts consumers.
Upholding a lower court ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that a state law sharply restricting direct shipments by large out-of-state wineries violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The 2006 law gave wineries producing more than 30,000 gallons a year a choice between contracting with a wholesaler in Massachusetts or applying for a license to ship wines directly to consumers. But they couldn’t do both.
The law did not apply to any Massachusetts wineries, all of which produce less than 30,000 gallons a year.
A group representing California winemakers argued the law was “protectionist” and that it effectively put 98 percent of domestic wine out of direct reach of Bay State consumers.