In October of last year, UMass Lowell student Brendan Brown was threatened by a campus police officer for video-recording a group of police officers who were responding to a fight that had taken place outside an apartment. Brown was approached by UMass Lowell Police Officer Noberto Melendez who told him to “Shut that fucking thing off before I slap you.” Brown decided he’d rather not be arrested, so he left the area, but he did upload his video to YouTube and later shared it on my Facebook wall.
After I saw the video, I brought it to the attention of Police Chief Randolph Brashears. Chief Brashears subsequently launched an investigation which resulted allegations of misconduct being sustained against Officer Melendez. As you may remember, I was able to get the University to agree to disclose their investigation report by making a public records request, however, the University told me I needed to pay a $235 fee to have a copy made. Luckily, some generous Cop Block readers donated the money.
After I sent in the money to the University, they engaged in a long and unlawful delay before sending the documents out to me. On January 6, about 3 weeks after the University received my payment, I still had not received the report, so I called to complain. I contacted Jack Giarusso, the head of Human Resources at UMass Lowell, and asked him why it was taking so long for the documents to be mailed to me. He told me that he was just about to send them out. I pointed out to him that he was violating the law because the Massachusetts Public Records Law requires that records custodians comply with requests within 10 days without any unreasonable delays and it had already been more than a month. Giarusso gave me an excuse about how he hadn’t been able to mail the records on time because he had to move to a different office, but I told him that the Public Records Law does not mention this as a legitimate reason for taking so long to comply with a request.
I finally received a copy of the investigation about a week later. Unfortunately, I’ve been having problems with my scanner, so I wasn’t able to scan the report until several days ago when I found time to go to the local public library. You can find a copy of the report at the bottom of this post.
I don’t want to discuss everything about the report in detail. After all, you can read the entire thing yourself. But there are a few aspects of the report that I wanted to draw some attention to.
One of the first sections of the report describes how Chief Brashears interviewed Officer Noberto Melendez, the police officer who threatened Brendan Brown. Chief Brashears describes how he called Officer Melendez to his office and advised him that he could have a union representative there to officer guidance. Melendez returned with an Officer Soucey. According to the report:
Officer Soucy asked if there were any criminal charges being considered against Officer Melendez and if so would “Garrity Rights” be used. I advised both of them that there criminal charges are not being considered in this incident but to ease their concern I advised that nothing said during this process could be used against Officer Melendez in any criminal proceedings.
So, we learn here that criminal charges were never considered against Officer Melendez. It didn’t matter that Officer Melendez threatened to physically assault Brendan Brown. It didn’t matter that he deprived Brown of his constitutional right to observe and record police activity. Criminal charges were just never even on the table. But what do you expect when cops are “investigated” by other cops?
Next, Chief Brashears informed Melendez that he watched Brown’s YouTube video and asked him to describe what happened that night from his own perspective. Officer Melendez told Brashears that he was responding to a call from other officers. When he arrived at the scene, he witnessed a large crowd.
Officer Melendez states that when he got out of his cruiser he immediately tried to move the crowds by giving commands to leave the area. Officer Melendez stated that he could hear the sirens of the Lowell police department’s cruisers that were responding to this incident.
Officer Melendez stated that it was at this point that “I became very frustrated” because of the lack of response from the crowd. I observed the subject videotaping the event; he was standing on the sidewalk. I went over to him and stated, “Turn that fucking thing off before I slap you”, he further states that “I never had any intention to strike the person but was only trying to get this persons attention; I then immediately went over to another crowd down the street to disperse them”.
The above quote is where Melendez offers a ridiculous explanation for his thuggish behavior. Melended was just trying to get Brown’s attention, so he threatened to assault him? Huh? Usually when I’m trying to get a stranger’s attention, I opt for an “excuse me, sir” or something along those lines. If the roles were reversed — if Brown had threatened to assault Melendez — would he buy the “I was just trying to get his attention” excuse?
And if Officer Melendez was trying to get Brown’s attention, why did he walk away “immediately” (his own word choice) after threatening him without saying anything else? What was he trying to get Brown’s attention for? Apparently nothing.
Let’s read on:
Officer Melendez stated that he regrets saying what he said to the student and knows that some type of discipline will result from this incident. He further said that this is not at all like him, that he always treats the students and public with respect. Officer Melendez further stated that he remembers the Chief either talking about this type of issue or remembers an email from the Chief. Officer Melendez realizes that the public has the right to videotape police activity and that he has no excuse for his behavior, but didn’t remember if this was covered in in-service training.
The above passage is worth taking notice of because it shows that Officer Melendez was already aware that people have the right to video-record the police. There was no confusion about the law on his part. He was not only acting unlawfully, he knew damn well that he was acting unlawfully.
And yet, even though Officer Melendez admitted to knowingly breaking the law, he expects us to believe “this is not at all like him, that he always treats the students and public with respect.” Officer Melendez will have have to forgive me for being skeptical.
At the end of the investigation, Deputy Police Chief Dickerson writes that he sustained all the allegations against Officer Melendez. This means Melendez was found to have used profane and abusive language, engaged in conduct unbecoming of an officer, and violated the civil rights of Brendan Brown.
Unfortunately, we still do not know what punishment Melendez has been subjected to for his behavior. As I explained in an earlier post, the University claims that information is confidential and has refused to disclose it to me. I have exchanged several emails with Deirdre Heatwole, the lawyer who represents the University of Massachusetts system, but I have been unable to convince her to release the information and do not think that I will ever be able to.
In any case, I want to again thank the donors who helped get this report released. I think it’s important that information like this is available to the public and I think it’s a crime that the government makes us jump through so many hoops to get it.