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Blarney Blowout Arrest Leads to Federal Lawsuit Against Amherst Police

This Saturday, March 7th, will see thousands of UMass students gather in the annual "Blarney Blowout," a pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration. This notorious college celebration is not sanctioned by the university, but that doesn't stop students from hitting the bars in the morning, and continuing to celebrate through the night, which often results in encounters with the police. This year, the university is hosting a free concert featuring a performance by Ke$ha, to deter students from participating in the drunken revelry. Last year, police made 55 related arrests, and now one of those arrested may come back to haunt Amherst police officers.

Thousands of people gather around the North Amherst apartment complexes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day a week early, as the official date usually falls on Spring Break. During the 2014 Blarney Blowout, more than 7,000 young people gathered, with a number of them allegedly non-UMass students. In response to the gathering crowds, police donned riot gear to break up the party. Police also used pepper spray against people who were allegedly interfering with police operations. One person who was pepper-sprayed and arrested is now taking his fight against the police to court, and has video evidence on his side.

According to the police report, Donovan approached the officers, refused to leave after police asked, and was sprayed "as he began to close the distance between himself and the officers." Donovan has a different version of the story, and has his phone's video recording to back up his version.

Thomas Donovan, a University of Massachusetts senior filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging assault and unlawful arrest during the 2014 blowout, for recording video of the police. Donovan saw what appeared to be multiple officers using excessive force while making an arrest, and pulled out his iPhone to document the incident. At the time, Donovan was at least 20 feet away, and behind a small fence. The police took notice, and approached Donovan, to demand he stop recording. The legal studies student refused to stop videotaping, then another officer allegedly sprayed Donovan with pepper spray.

According to the lawsuit, one officer sprayed Donovan while another officer swung at him, forcing him face-down to the ground, which knocked the phone out of his hand. While he was being handcuffed, another officer repeatedly stomped on the phone to attempt to destroy it. However, while the camera appeared smashed, the phone was intact. The video evidence appears to corroborate Donovan's version of the incident, and counter the police report that Donovan was closing in on the officers. According to David Milton, Donovan's lawyer, the right to record police has recently been affirmed by the federal appeals court.

The charges against Donovan were later dropped. He was also to be suspended by UMass, but that was later lifted after a university investigation. The lawsuit names officers Jesus Arocho and Andrew Hulse and other unnamed officers as defendants. It also seeks unspecified money damages. Donovan's video recording can be seen here.

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