BOSTON – A University of Massachusetts student filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against Amherst police alleging he was wrongly arrested last year during rowdy, pre-St. Patrick's Day parties known as the "Blarney Blowout."
Thomas Donovan says he was assaulted on March 8 after using his smartphone to videotape police officers appearing to use excessive force while making an arrest. He says he was pepper sprayed and tackled to the ground when he refused to stop recording the incident. Donovan's video also shows an officer appearing to stomp repeatedly on the phone in an attempt to break it.
The initial police report said Donovan was pepper sprayed after he approached officers and refused orders to leave, but Donovan's lawyers say the video shows he was more than 20 feet from the scene and standing behind a chain-link fence.
David Milton, Donovan's attorney, says recording police officers is protected by the First Amendment, a right that has been affirmed recently by the federal appeals court in Boston.
"I have the utmost respect for police officers who conduct themselves with integrity, but officers who blatantly disregard the law and are willing to arrest innocent civilians to cover up their own misconduct must be held accountable," Donovan, now a college senior, said in a statement.
His lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Police and university officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
UMass-Amherst initially suspended Donovan for a semester but reversed course after conducting an investigation, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Springfield. The criminal charges also were dismissed.
The university has rolled out a plan to prevent a repeat of last year's "Blarney Blowout" rowdiness, in which more than 50 people were arrested.
This year, UMass students living in dorms will be banned from hosting guests from March 5 until March 9. The university will provide alternate activities such as a concert, and downtown bars will not be doing any advertising for weekend events.
More than 7,000 people registered as guests in UMass dorms during last year's Blowout weekend, which is a series of parties on and off campus. Less than half were UMass students.