The Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed multiple convictions against a disgraced former police officer. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Asher.
Jeffrey Asher was an on-duty Springfield cop on November 27, 2009. Another police officer stopped a vehicle that was carrying two occupants. The victim was sitting in the passenger seat, and the first two officers on the scene saw him slide toward the floor and stuff an object into his waistband. The officers were concerned that the victim might have had a weapon, so they requested backup. The defendant and his partner responded. All four of the police officers were white and the victim was black.
Once the defendant was present, he and the other three officers approached the car. They asked the victim to get out of the car so they could patfrisk him for weapons. The victim followed the officers’ instructions and placed his hands on the car. One of the defendant’s fellow officers began patting down the victim and felt a small hard object in his pocket. After the officer felt the object, which he conceded could not have been a gun, he pulled the victim toward him. The victim then threw his elbow into the officer’s chest and tried to flee. Two of the officers detained the victim, with one putting him in a choke hold. As the victim was bent over the hood of the car with his legs spread open, the defendant began to repeatedly hit around the victim’s head with his flashlight. The defendant swung his flashlight at least 14 times and struck the victim’s head and upper body at least three times. The defendant then began beating the victim’s legs with his flashlight, hitting him three times in the upper leg and then behind knee, which caused the victim to collapse with the officers on top of him. The defendant continued to beat the victim’s upper body and feet while the victim laid on the ground. The victim was finally handcuffed and the police found a small bag containing crack cocaine and marijuana in his pocket.
The defendant was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery. A jury convicted him and the judge sentenced him to serve 18 months in the House of Correction. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial judge committed error by refusing to tell the jury that police officers are entitled to use reasonable force in effecting an arrest. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed that such an instruction should have been given. The Court also said the trial judge should have told the jury to consider whether the defendant had reasonable options that did not involve the use of force. Despite these errors, the SJC held that they were not prejudicial because the case against the defendant was strong and the correct instructions would not have changed the verdict.
The defendant was probably only prosecuted because a nearby neighbor videotaped the beating and the media published the video. According to multiple news outlets, the defendant was fired from the police force and the city paid $575,000 to the victim to avoid a lawsuit. The victim was seriously injured by the beating, suffering broken bones in his face and permanent vision damage.
There are a lot of hardworking, honest police officers. But there are also some abusive bullies like the defendant who beat up suspects because they believe they will not be held accountable. According to a news report, the defendant had previously been suspended on an allegation of excessive force and he had been named in five civil lawsuits. Hopefully police officers will realize that in today’s society, where virtually everyone owns a smart phone, there is the possibility that they are being video recorded at any time. Maybe this will reduce the instances of despicable police brutality.