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Video shows police punching black Harvard student during arrest

"The video speaks for itself," said attorneys representing Selorm Ohene, the student.
Image: Cambridge Police tackle Harvard Student
In a screen grab from a cellphone video, Cambridge police tackle Selorm Ohene, a Harvard student, on Friday.Cambridge Police Department

The arrest of a black Harvard student by an officer seen repeatedly punching him in the stomach during an arrest has prompted an investigation and raised questions over the use of police force.

Selorm Ohene, 21, was arrested Friday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after police were called about a disturbance shortly after 9 p.m. Officers who arrived found him completely nude in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue and acting irrationally, police said in an arrest report and a statement. They said attempts to calm him down were met with opposition and hostility.

A cellphone video taken by a bystander shows one officer tackle Ohene to the ground, then punch him several times as he appears to resist.

The police report said officers learned from Ohene's acquaintances that he had taken hallucinogenic drugs, possibly LSD or morning glory, whose seeds are psychoactive.

Ohene was charged with disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, resisting arrest, assault and battery on ambulance personnel and assault, police said.

Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern said in a statement Sunday that the police department has assured him that the altercation captured on the video is being investigated. McGovern said, "Cambridge affirms that Black Lives Matter, but it must be true in practice as well."

Ohene is a Harvard student studying mathematics. His attorneys with Harvard Law School said in a statement, "The video speaks for itself."

"He is currently recovering from injuries sustained during his encounter with the Cambridge Police Department," the statement says. "This has been and continues to be a trying ordeal for Selorm and for his family."

A police officer said in an arrest report that the officers tried to calm Ohene down, but his fists clenched, his hostility escalated and he "started to take steps towards officers in a an aggressive manner."

"I perceived this as a threat and thought an attack was imminent," the officer said in the report.

Another officer delivered five strikes with a closed fist to Ohene's stomach, but "these seemed ineffective," the officer writing the report said.

Police have said the use of force was required to make Ohene comply. "It was for his safety, the safety of the officers and the safety of everybody else," Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard has said.

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, many Americans have questioned what they see as an excessive police use of force, particularly against black men and other minorities, that continues despite years of protests and media attention.

Some students expressed skepticism that the Cambridge police investigation would lead to changes. "I think we’ve seen in each one of these situations the police investigations come back and there hasn’t been any wrongdoing — so, I’m not impressed by that," Harvard student Leighton Watson told NBC Boston.

The Harvard Black Law Students Association said in a statement that some of its members witnessed the arrest and said Ohene was surrounded by at least four officers, who, "without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground."

"The university has ample resources that could have, and should have, been mobilized to come to the student’s aid prior to CPD getting involved," the association said.