Boston Police Beat, Trampled Protester—Then Tried to Incriminate Her For Filing Complaint
Detectives interviewed Jasmine Huffman shortly after she was assaulted by Boston police at a demonstration last summer—but were more interested in incriminating her
This article was produced in partnership with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
Jasmine Huffman is seen in a Boston Police officer’s body camera a second before he strikes her and knocks her to the ground. Photo: Screenshot
Jasmine Huffman was protesting against police brutality and racism in the streets of Boston on May 31, 2020.
By the end of the night, she had a concussion and other injuries after being knocked over and trampled by Boston police. Huffman attempted to go through official channels to hold police accountable, but instead of focusing on the officers involved, the BPD focused on the complainant.
“I remember how pointless I felt the conversation was,” Huffman told me. “And then it led to nothing.”
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Tale of the tapes
In December 2020, my exclusive reporting for The Appeal, based on more than 66 hours of body cam footage shared with me by attorney Carl Williams, revealed police brutality toward demonstrators in Boston on May 31. The news and accompanying videos sent shockwaves through city politics and beyond, with the clips showing the extent to which officers attacked demonstrators. One cop even bragged about assaulting civilians on camera.
Huffman’s assault was one of the most riveting moments, as the officer who attacked her had a camera on and recording as he shoved her to the ground.
Days after my reporting went public, then-Police Commissioner William Gross issued a statement urging the public to ask the department for help.
“I want to encourage people to bring these matters to our attention so that we can investigate them appropriately,” Gross said.
Huffman’s experience with the department calls that commitment to investigate police misconduct into question.
“It was horrible”
A social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, Huffman had been protesting for hours when she stood, hands raised, in front of a line of riot police at the entrance to the Boston Common on May 31.
Minutes before, she and another protester had intervened between a crowd of demonstrators and an officer, stopping potential violence from erupting.
What happened at the Common was caught on video—an officer, who appears to be at least a head taller than her, slams Huffman across the chest with his nightstick, knocking her to the ground.
Down on her back and stunned, Huffman told me, she was only semi-aware of what was going on as other officers walked over her—and on top of her.
“The officers immediately behind him proceeded to stomp on my body,” Huffman said.
After she was trampled, two officers grabbed her under the arms and moved her to the side as the riot police line of attack marched forward.
“I couldn’t move, it was just terrifying,” Huffman told me. “It was horrible.”
A bystander eventually came to the rescue. Huffman gathered herself, and went home.
She went to the hospital three days later for a wound on her leg, which she said came from the impact of a tear gas canister from earlier in the protest. Getting beaten with a riot stick and trampled caused bruising on Huffman’s sternum and damage to her fingers, as well as problems with depth perception and vision that hadn’t existed before the attack.
On June 5, Huffman reached out to the police. A phone conversation was scheduled between Huffman and two investigating officers, Sgt. Detective Philip Morgan and Sgt. Detective Michael Hanson, for June 23.
During the chat, Morgan and Hanson appeared uninterested in Huffman’s account of her mistreatment and more invested in finding out what illegal activities she and other protesters did while protesting.
“I didn’t feel like I was treated with the empathy or concern that was warranted in that situation,” Huffman said. “The focus was on everything but the topic at hand.”
In the audio of the interview, the detectives repeatedly asked Huffman to incriminate herself and others.
“Were you participating in any civil unrest?” the detectives asked.
“Was there anything else going on in the area you were in?”
“Did you see anyone breaking the store windows or any other damage or any other type of property damage?”
“How many protesters would you say were there?”
The call lasted for a little more than 32 minutes, and left Huffman feeling unheard. Looking back on it, she said the detectives seemed a lot more interested in using her interview to target protesters than uncover the truth.
Questions of accountability
Police across the country are notoriously difficult to hold accountable. The guilty verdict in the case of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, is an extreme rarity; according to Philip Stinson, a professor in Bowling Green State University's Criminal Justice Program, there's only a one in 2,000 chance of a police officer being convicted of murder.
Not that there wasn't ample warning that Chauvin was a danger to the community—it was just ignored. Chauvin was disciplined for only two out of 18 civilian complaints.
In Boston, reforms including the installment of an independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT), which have moved toward implementation over the past year, are reportedly in progress. For Huffman and others beaten by police last May, that’s not soon enough.
Police Sergeant Clifton McHale, who was caught on camera bragging about running down protesters on May 31, is back on desk duty, as I reported last week.
Huffman’s case, like others opened after the demonstrations, is still active, according to BPD spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle. There has not been any disciplinary action taken stemming from the allegations.
“Several complaints were filed and they all remain open, therefore, no disciplinary action has been taken,” Boyle wrote in an email.
When the public complains about the behavior of police, those complaints almost always fall on deaf ears. Huffman’s experience is hardly unique. But the dismissive attitude the police took with respect to her complaint is nonetheless hurtful and offensive, she told me.
“I didn’t feel like I was treated with the empathy or concern that was warranted in that situation, and that the focus was on everything but the topic at hand,” Huffman said.
In other news, read my piece on Biden’s disgraceful decision on refugees from the weekend at Insider (paywalled):
Biden's record thus far in the White House on immigration issues doesn't spark a lot of confidence in the president's ability to handle the refugee crisis with the empathy and care he touted during the campaign.
News reports from the first three months of the administration have hardly shown Biden's policies to be some great departure from the horrors of Trump's. The administration is packing migrants into facilities until the cells are overflowing — one recent report detailed how in at least one facility, 500 children were crammed into plastic pods built to hold 32 people. And video from Sen. Ted Cruz of conditions in detention centers showed dozens of people in cages with foil blankets, a sobering sight not contradicted by the cynicism behind the senator's publicizing of the conditions.
Thanks for reading! See you next week.