Cambridge Police Reconsidering Charges Against Black Harvard Student

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A screenshot from an onlooker's video of the arrest on Friday night (Courtesy of Cambridge Police)
A screenshot from an onlooker's video of the arrest on Friday night (Courtesy of Cambridge Police)

Cambridge police are reconsidering the charges they filed after they arrested a Harvard student, with force, over the weekend.

Selorm Ohene, 21, who is black, was arrested Friday night and charged with, among others, indecent exposure, resisting arrest and assaulting an EMT worker.

But talking to reporters yesterday, Cambridge police said they may reconsider some of the charges.

Commissioner Branville Bard said if Ohene's face-off with police was linked to mental health issues, it’s possible they drop the charges entirely.

"This department is going through great strides to ensure it is a socially just agency... We recognize there are individuals ... who are better served by means other than the criminal justice system. So the individual is currently being evaluated to see if they fit that set of circumstances," he said.

Ohene is currently in a hospital in police custody.

Bard said part of the reason an arraignment has not been scheduled for Ohene is because the department is evaluating his mental health. The department is now conducting an internal review of Ohene's arrest, because one of the officers punched him five times to force him to comply.

Bard said violence is the last resort, and expressed solidarity with the officers.

"I absolutely do support the officers. I mean, the officers took the actions that they felt necessary at that time. But, once again I am making no determinations prior to completing a thorough investigation."

Ohene's arrest was caught on video, and drew an outcry from Harvard’s Black Law Students Association. The group called it a "brutal instance of police violence,” and questioned the involvement of police at all when they suggest Harvard officials should have dealt with their own student.

Editor's Note: This video contains scenes and explicit language that some may find disturbing.

In an email to Harvard students and faculty Monday afternoon, Harvard President Drew Faust called the incident "profoundly disturbing" and said the school has been in contact with the city. Faust said while information is still being collected, the incident raises questions about policing and health care on campus.

Segun Idowu, a police accountability advocate in Boston, said it’s too early to say whether police overreacted, but he can understand why the use of force resonates with some activists.

"One of the reasons that we righteously get upset is that officers, once they get to the scene and immediately, before even understanding what’s going on around them, they see a black body and they immediately attack. And from what I’ve seen in this particular case, it didn’t happen that way," he said.

Idowu is an advocate for police body cameras, and in Boston, the mayor recently announced he will be rolling out a camera program in the months ahead.

Idowu said all police departments should have body camera programs — and Cambridge does not.

"Body cameras would not have prevented what we saw happen in Cambridge on Friday night," he said. "The only thing body cameras would have done is provide a much clearer understanding of what happened, and maybe would address a lot of questions that we and the public have about what happened.”

In a statement, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern said he will continue working with colleagues to make sure that the "horrific treatment of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement" has no place in the city of Cambridge.

This segment aired on April 17, 2018.


Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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