CAMBRIDGE – A prominent black Harvard professor has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a Cambridge police officer, his police supervisor, and the Cambridge city manager, charging them with false arrest and imprisonment.
Samuel Allen Counter, a 62-year-old neuroscientist, alleges in a complaint lodged in U.S. District Court that Officer William Macedo, acting upon the instructions of Officer John Fulkerson, violated his civil rights when he arrested Counter in front of his home in December 2006 on domestic assault charges.
The lawsuit, which also names Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy as a defendant, accuses the officers of pursuing spurious charges against Counter because of Fulkerson’s personal dislike of the Harvard professor. Counter contends that the animus stems from an ongoing personal relationship between the Cambridge police veteran, who is white, and Counter’s ex-wife, who is also white.
Neither Fulkerson, Macedo, nor Healy responded to a request for comment.
Arrested after his former spouse told police Counter had pushed their teenage daughter from a moving car, Counter was subsequently acquitted in a trial after his daughter denied that the incident ever occurred.
According to Counter, Fulkerson ordered Macedo to arrest the professor as part of a pattern of harassment dating back to 2005, when Fulkerson, allegedly at the behest of Counter’s ex-wife, filed a criminal complaint – later dismissed by the courts – charging spousal abuse.
During the December 2006 incident, Counter was handcuffed and taken into custody by five police officers after being asked to step outside his home. Counter said he suffered chest pains at the police station, where uniformed officers laughed at him before transporting Counter to a nearby emergency room for treatment.
Counter also alleges that police refused to specify the charges against him at the time of his arrest.
According to the complaint, the police officers violated Counter’s “Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure and committed malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment.”
The civil action was filed at the same time the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board is moving forward with a separate investigation of the incident.
The same civilian panel has also launched an inquiry into allegations of police misconduct in the July 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in front of his home after a neighbor reported suspicious activity. That incident sparked a firestorm of media attention – along with the infamous “beer summit” at the White House – on the issue of police-community relations in general and the treatment of African American men in particular by law enforcement.
Broader reviews of Cambridge police procedures and training are also underway by a special panel appointed by the city in the wake of the Gates case, along with inquiries by the Cambridge City Council and Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons.
In addition, Cambridge City Councilor Kenneth E. Reeves, who was instrumental in the creation of the civilian review board and has long sought greater powers for the panel, has scheduled a Feb. 11 forum to allow Cambridge residents to speak out about police – community relations.