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Somerville Police Union Head Charged With Assault For Pepper Spraying Handcuffed Man

The head of Somerville’s police union is facing charges of assault and battery for pepper spraying a handcuffed man during an arrest last year, prosecutors say.

The city says the officer, Michael McGrath, was also placed on unpaid leave following this week's criminal charges.

"Although this is nothing — certainly like on the other end of the spectrum of police misconduct, when you consider someone being publicly lynched, like George Floyd was, he was murdered — it's still troubling because we need to make sure this type of conduct isn't prevalent in police culture," Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone told WBUR Friday.

A video from the police transport vehicle, obtained and reviewed by WBUR, shows McGrath and two other officers leading a detained man into the back of the vehicle. There is no audio, but the officers and the man appear to exchange words. McGrath then deploys what appears to be pepper spray inches away from the man’s face while he is handcuffed before pushing him inside.

The identity of the detained man has not been released.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is charging McGrath with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. He’s scheduled to be arraigned in Somerville District Court on Nov. 13.

A spokesperson for the DA’s office says McGrath pepper sprayed the man after he was already in custody, and “allegedly posed no threat to the officer.”

The Somerville Police Department placed McGrath on paid leave last October. At the time, the department said McGrath made “untruthful statements” about the incident while they were investigating whether he used excessive force.

McGrath did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Somerville Police Employees Association still lists him as its president, but could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

McGrath is not the first Somerville police union official to face criminal charges. In March, officer Shaun Clark, the union’s treasurer, was convicted of stealing more than $83,000 from the police union.

Both McGrath and Clark’s names are flagged on Middlesex DA Marian Ryan’s “Brady” list, which tracks officers whose past conduct may disqualify them from testifying in court.

McGrath also serves as the vice president of the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition. The president of the police coalition did not return a request for comment.

This article was originally published on October 09, 2020.

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