North Shore man fighting assault charge
After Haverhill resident Ernst Jean-Jacques was arrested following a December 2020 demonstration in Swampscott, the chair and vice chair of the town’s select board sent a letter to Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, urging him to drop the charges that Jean-Jacques had assaulted pro-Trump protestor Linda Greenberg.
Yet during a June 1 hearing, an Essex County judge overruled a motion to dismiss charges against Jean-Jacques, an anti-Trump demonstrator who will face a jury trial and a maximum sentence of two-and-a-half years in jail.
A Swampscott police officer who viewed a video of the encounter alleged that he saw Jean-Jacques “wind up his arm and strike a bystander with a closed-fist punch,” while another said he saw Jean-Jacques “punching … with his right fist.”
But video recordings of the incident, during which Jean-Jacques was dancing in front of a group of pro-Trump demonstrators, painted a different picture. From one angle, Greenberg is seen grabbing a water bottle, seconds before the alleged assault. In another, Jean-Jacques is seen reaching an open hand toward Greenberg. No wind-up. No closed fist.
Jean-Jacques and his supporters say he merely tried to grab the plastic water bottle after Greenberg threw its contents into his face, a contention the alleged victim partially supported in her comments to police.
“He was gyrating in front of me and I was getting mad,” Greenberg reportedly said. “I did get water on him … I’m not going to lie.”
The officers interviewed the woman, who did not show any sign of injury or complain of injury, and several other Trump supporters, before arresting Jean-Jacques for assault.
Greenberg, despite her admission of throwing water on Jean-Jacques, was not charged. Other video footage from the protest shows her trying to attack other counter-demonstrators with an American flag and shoving another demonstrator.
“They approach this whole scene with a predisposition to think that the white woman was a victim and that the Black man was the perpetrator,” said Murat Erkan, Jean-Jacques’ attorney. “Ernst never should have been arrested. He never should have gone to trial on this bogus charge.”
A spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s office dismissed Erkan’s and the select board members’ concerns.
“Members of the board of selectmen are not judges in a courtroom who hear evidence,” she said. “These decisions are made in a courtroom in which the defense attorney is free to raise objections.”
The demonstrations were a weekly occurrence in Swampscott, the North Shore town where Gov. Charlie Baker lives. Trump supporters, including New Hampshire talk radio personality Diana Ploss, have demonstrated against COVID restrictions and the Black Lives Matter movement and have clashed with counter-protesters at a traffic circle near an elementary school.
The town’s select board, while opposed to the vitriol espoused by confederate flag-waving Trump supporters, is limited in its ability to crack down on the protests, which are protected under the First Amendment.
The arrest of Jean-Jacques prompted the Town of Swampscott to order an independent audit of the police department’s handling of the incident. While the audit concluded there was probable cause to arrest Jean-Jacques, it also concluded there was probable cause to arrest Greenberg for throwing water in Jean-Jacques’ face, which constitutes an assault. Police did not arrest her.
Erkan said police based their charges against Jean-Jacques on video footage and statements they took from Trump supporters.
“If the police had done an objective investigation, they would have found that Ernst was a peaceful protester who was attacked by this woman because she didn’t like that he was dancing,” he commented.
Jean Jacques faces a pre-trial hearing August 18.