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A clerk magistrate ruled on Friday that a former Lynn police officer will face criminal charges next month for allegedly assaulting a Black man in custody last June.
Matthew Coppinger, 35, is accused of assaulting Victor White, who was arrested on his front stoop last June after officers were called for a noise complaint and found him and two friends hanging out.
The assistant clerk magistrate, Paul Burns, reviewed 90 seconds of silent video footage from a police holding cell that Coppinger and White were in, ruling that Coppinger will be tried on assault and battery charges. The video showed Coppinger and another officer standing over White, who is sitting on a bench in the holding cell. Suddenly, both are on the floor, and Coppinger is seen repeatedly striking White.
Patrick Gioia, White's attorney, spoke to his client about the decision.
"I know he feels validated by the first magistrate's ruling...the video speaks for itself," said Gioia. "...Victor looks forward to this matter moving to criminal court."
The footage was first viewed in Salem District Court on Thursday.
Coppinger and his attorney, Ken Anderson, say that the officer was trying to remove White's mask, but White went to stop him and hit the officer's arm.
White and the special prosecutor brought on to investigate, former state public safety head Daniel Bennett, however, dispute those claims. They say Coppinger, unprovoked, struck White in the face. He then dragged White onto the floor, they say, where he was hit repeatedly.
“This is unreasonable force,” Bennett said. “Mr. White is in a cell. He’s been searched two or three times. He doesn’t have any weapons. There’s two officers and one Mr. White. He’s not in a situation where he can flee. … That doesn’t give Officer Coppinger the right to smash him in the face with his forearm.”
Anderson, the defense attorney, said White was obnoxious, drunk and belligerent. Coppinger wasn’t involved in the actual arrest, Anderson said, but only helped with White’s booking. Coppinger needed to remove the mask from White, he said, because he could use it to hurt himself. That’s when White reached up and pushed the officer, the attorney alleged.
Anderson also said Coppinger thought White was going for his gun or a knife the officer had in his pocket. Video stills from the holding cell recording show that White at one point had his arm around the officer’s thigh.
“Officer Coppinger has the legal right and duty to protect himself and make sure those weapons aren’t taken,” Anderson said.
Initially, Coppinger was put on leave by the Lynn Police Department four days after the incident occurred and the video footage was seen by both the prosecutor's office and his supervisors. He resigned 10 days after the incident, but later tried to get his job back, saying he was pressured into resigning. The civil service commission denied that appeal.
Coppinger is an Army veteran and served in both Afghanistan and Serbia. He is also the nephew of Kevin Coppinger, the former Lynn police chief and current Essex County Sheriff.
He did not testify at the magistrate’s hearing on Thursday.
The case was initially reported by The Boston Globe last July. Clerk magistrate’s hearings, which decide whether there is probable cause for a criminal charge, are typically secret. But the Globe appealed and Burns opted to open the hearing to the media. No recording or photography was allowed.
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