A Ghanaian Harvard University student who was reportedly high on drugs was repeatedly punched by a police officer after running naked into the street, in an incident that was captured on video on Friday night.
The violent altercation between Selorm Ohene, 21, and a half-dozen officers with the Cambridge Police Department has sparked an internal investigation into the use of force by the police.
According to an arrest report, the incident began unfolding at 9.09pm on Friday when officers responded to the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street for a disturbance. Harvard student Selorm Ohene, 21, showed up naked in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge on Saturday night and was confronted by police officers. Police said Ohene refused to comply with their commands and acted in an aggressive manner, which prompted them to take him down.
A woman called 911 saying a man had thrown his clothes in her face. Six other people later called to report a man who appeared completely naked.
Officers who responded to the scene found Ohene standing nude in the middle of a traffic island on Massachusetts Avenue. About 30 bystanders witnessed the spectacle.
Police have learned from talking to his acquaintances that Ohene had ingested narcotics, possibly LSD, which had a hallucinogenic effect.
‘Numerous attempts made by officers to calm the male down were met with opposition and his hostility escalated while officers attempted to speak with him,’ according to the report.
The officer who ended up punching Ohene wrote in an incident report that his behavior from the start was ‘aggressive, hostile, and intimidating.’
He added: ‘Every attempt that was made to calm Ohene down and reason with him was met with opposition.
When Ohene started walking towards the officers with clenched fists, they made ‘the tactical decision’ to grab his legs and pull him to the ground, but the Harvard student continued resisting, stated the report.One officer punched the math major in the stomach five times to get him to stop resisting
‘I perceived this as a threat and thought an attack was imminent,’ wrote the cop. ‘Ohene’s goal was to seriously hurt himself or one of the officers on scene. Ohene absolutely could not be reasoned with.’
It took three officers from the Cambridge Police Department and another officer from the transit police to restrain Ohene and place him in handcuffs ‘to avoid further injury to himself, the responding officers or any on-lookers.’
Cellphone video recorded by a bystander and released by the police shows one of the officers punching Ohene a total of five times while the student is lying on the ground.
The officer who delivered the blows to Ohene’s stomach later wrote in his report that ‘these [punches] seemed ineffective.’
Ohene could be heard exclaiming, ‘Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jesus!’
He was then taken to a local hospital for an evaluation. While in the ambulance, he spat blood and saliva at an EMT, according to the report.
The 21-year-old suspect has been charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on an ambulance personnel.
Two Cambridge police officers were also treated at a hospital for minor injuries and exposure to bodily fluids. As per department policy, the Professional Standards Unit operating within the Cambridge Police Department has launched an internal investigation into the officers’ use of force against Ohene.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard said in a statement that ‘use of force was required’ in order to arrest the suspect who was displaying ‘erratic behavior.’
Bard explained that after Ohene was brought down, he ‘contorted his body’ in a way that pinned his arms beneath his body, thus making it impossible for the officers to handcuff him.
Members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, some of whom witnessed Ohene’s arrest, called into question Bard’s version of events, characterizing the incident as an instance of police brutality.
‘A naked, unarmed Black man stood still on the median at the center of Massachusetts Avenue,’ the group said in a statement. ‘He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground.’
Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern called the video of the arrest showing Ohene being struck ‘disturbing’ and promised that the results of the internal investigation will be made public.
‘Cambridge affirms that Black Lives Matter, but it must be true in practice as well,’ McGovern wrote in the statement released on Sunday. ‘As Mayor, I will continue working with my colleagues to make sure that the horrific treatment of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement has no place in Cambridge.’
Ohene, a native of Ghana, is a mathematics major at the prestigious Ivy League university.