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MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard defended his officer’s use of force while restraining a 21-year-old Harvard University student Friday night, documented in a video posted to social media.
Officer Steven Burke punched Selorm Ohene “five times” in the stomach, according to his account written in a police report. Officers had been called to the scene at about 10 p.m. Friday for reports of a naked man standing on Massachusetts Avenue.
“Ideally, we use the least amount of force possible,” Bard said to reporters gathered at the Cambridge police headquarters Monday afternoon. “As the situation escalates, as it often does out of our control, we have a force continuum. use different degrees of force.”
The video shows Ohene standing in the middle of a circle of officer when Burke grabbed his legs knocking him to the ground.
In the incident report Burke says Ohene continued to resist “with all his strength.” He also notes that Ohene is 6-feet-tall and muscular. The 21-year-old is also black.
In the video, shared by Cambridge police, Ohene falls to his stomach and starts yelling, “Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jesus!” as the officers swarm and climb on top of him.
Asked if he “stood by” the three Cambridge officers involved Bard said: “absolutely I support them.”
The police have committed to a thorough, internal review of the incident to ensure police followed proper protocol. No disciplinary action had been taken against the officers as of Monday afternoon.
Burke, who threw the punches, hurt his leg in the scuffle and remains out of work, police said. The two other officers are back on duty.
Bard, who has been on the job for about a year, said he is working with local communities of color to maintain trust in the wake of the incident.
He said he had spoken to students from Harvard University concerned about the actions police took against the black student.
“In order for me to build trust and legitimacy I’m going to tell you what I think my officers did wrong,” Bard said. “And I’m going to come and tell you what they did right.”
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