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News :: Human Rights : Organizing : Race
Somerville 5 Jury Returns Mixed Verdict
by Bill Cunningham
23 Jun 2006
Modified: 02:25:08 PM
Boston--After deliberating all day, jurors found Somerville Five defendants Calvin Belfon, Jr and Isaiah Anderson 'not guilty' of all felony charges but 'guilty' of several misdemeanors. Their lawyers immediately filed appeals on their behalf.
A quiet tension greeted the jurors as they filed into the courtroom at 4:15 in the afternoon. Several of the jurors smiled. But the smiles were deceptive, and soon there were tears in the eyes of friends, family members, and supporters as the indictments and verdicts were read out and repeated back one by one, according to a precise ritual ordained by the Commonwealth.
In the end the mostly-white jury decided that on April 20, 2005, both Belfon and Anderson had been disorderly and had resisted arrest. They also found Anderson guilty of two out of three counts of Assault and Battery on police. But they refused to convict on the more serious felony charges, involving "a dangerous weapon... a shod foot." Anderson admitted that he struck one officer, but that he did so in order "to protect myself."
The jury's mixed findings made it unclear whether they supported Anderson and Belfon's right to self-defense. Justice Janet L. Sanders had told the jury that they could consider self-defense, but undermined this by her instruction not to consider whether the actual arrests were false or even illegal. "No one ever has a right to resist arrest," she said.
Defense attorney Mark Shea maintained that Anderson had a legal right to defend himself and his friends against the excessive and unwarranted force used against them by the Medford cops. The defense attorneys said they were appealing, in part, because they see inconsistency in the mixed verdicts. Defense attorney and former U.S. District Court judge Willie Davis said that the appeal process could easily take two years.
In two weeks Justice Sanders will hand down sentences, which will be subject to a separate appeals process. In considering why the jury split their verdicts, it is worth noting that police typically seek indictments on multiple charges knowing that the average jury will try to compromise by giving something to each side. Thus the more charges, the greater likelihood some of them will stick.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: ISAIAH ANDERSON'S TESTIMONY
Isaiah Anderson, who is now 18, testified for around two hours on Wednesday, narrating the events of April 20, 2005, when he and his friends were beaten and arrested by Medford cops.
Anderson testified that his group of around 12 youths was leaving a Store 24 heading away toward Somerville, around twenty minutes after a Medford cop had ordered them to leave the area. Then they noticed that a police cruiser passing them. It made a U-turn, arriving back where they were walking. An officer whom Anderson later learned was Mike Pellegrino got out of the cruiser and approached them, saying, "Who's the tough guy? Who's tough?" and "Who's got something to say?"
He remembered Calvin Belfon held out his hands with the words, "I have nothing to say to you," whereupon he was struck in the face by Pellegrino. Anderson moved to restrain the conflict by placing his hands between Belfon and Pellegrino.
Soon after that, as more police arrived, both Belfon and Anderson were beaten and maced; and they were not the only ones. Anderson admitted that he struck one of the officers, later identified as James Ricciardi—but in self defense.
Anderson's attorney, Mark Shea, asked the jury to consider why the police reports they had were all dated from two to several days after the incident. This implied that the original reports had been replaced, since police officers are required to file reports at the end of each shift.
Attorney Willie Davis, representing Belfon, asked the jurors to consider that the police were armed with guns, mace, and batons while the youths had no type of weapon at all. Davis also quoted Officer Pellegrino's testimony that he punched Belfon in the face "instinctively, in self defense." Officers, he pointed out, are supposed to be screened and trained not to act instinctively, "but in such a way as to minimize force and the likelihood of retaliation."
Prosecuting for the Middlesex District Attorney, John Vener summarized by urging jurors to "use your common sense," common sense being another word for prejudice. In general the prosecution seemed to appeal, however instinctively, to the prejudice that jurors might have in favor of white police officers as opposed to black teenagers.
"These kids were messing around," Vener said. He attributed numerous inconsistencies in police testimony to "human nature."
District Attorney Martha Coakley, whose husband is a Cambridge cop, is a Democrat running unopposed for State Attorney General. She raised the case's profile, and the stakes, by moving it from Somerville District to Middlesex Superior Court.
Friends, family and other supporters of the accused came to court every day. When testimony concluded on Wednesday, every seat was taken.
The jury then heard an hour of instruction from the judge concerning the meaning of assault and battery, assault, disorderly, resisting arrest and assault with a dangerous weapon, as well as the right of self-defense. At this time two of the bailiffs fell sleep.
CALVIN BELFON'S TESTIMONY
Calvin Belfon testified on Tuesday. Now 19, he was also tried as an adult. Belfon's father, a Boston police officer, was among the supporters who listened from the courtroom benches.
Belfon recalled arriving for the Medford carnival to which he and friends had been invited. But when they arrived, they saw that the carnival had been shut down. They were unfamiliar with the area, and did not know why the carnival was closed early. They had hoped to eat at the carnival and were hungry, as teens usually are. Belfon asked a Medford police officer where they might get something to eat in the area. The officer said "Don't be a wise-ass!" and told him to get the f**k out of the area and more words to that effect. After meeting a second officer who answered the same question courteously, the group, all Somerville High students, finally went to a Store 24 and bought some snack food.
As they walked away from the store toward a bus stop, a police cruiser pulled up. Medford police officer Mike Pellegrino got out and shouted angrily at Belfon, struck him in the face, grabbed his chest and pulled him down, at the same time kneeing him in the groin, a detail which also figured in Pellegrino's earlier testimony. Officer Pellegrino then sprayed the group with mace. He straddled Belfron and began smashing at his head, apparently with a large police flashlight.
Over three days the prosecution called ten witnesses, mostly police officers, but also a constable and a fire department employee. in the trial of two of the high school students attacked and arrested last year in West Medford. Defense cross-examination focused on contradictions between the officers' statements at the trial, before the grand jury, and in their written police reports. The D.A has tried to paint a picture of mild-mannered cops beaten bloody by a cursing mob of agitated Blacks. However, reports filed by the officers shortly after the incident lacked references to bloody violence.
One officer, James Ricciardi, required stitches for injuries to his lips sustained during the incident. Defendant Isaiah Anderson says he punched an officer in self-defense, which could partly account for Ricciadi's injuries. However, the officer also testified that he had slipped and fallen while running.
Officer Pellegrino, who made the first arrest, admitted Friday under cross examination that after he told a group of arguing youths to disperse, they walked away quietly toward Somerville. He said that more than twenty minutes later he pulled up to them and got out of his patrol car to chide them for not being respectful to the police. When one of the defendants replied that he had nothing to say to the officer, the latter says he grabbed the young man by the chest and arrested him. This was apparently the beginning of what both sides have referred to as "the melee."
The prosecution's hammering failed to break the testimony of defense witnesses. Justice Sanders declined to dismiss charges of A&B with a deadly weapon, although the police claimed only minor injuries and testimony revealed no deadly weapon.
BACKGROUND OF THE INCIDENT
The incident took place in April 20, 2005 outside the site of a carnival adjacent to the police and fire station in West Medford. By the time the Somerville High School students arrived, the carnival had been closed down by the authorities because of an earlier incident in which none of them was involved.
All five were initially suspended by Somerville's then Superintendant of Schools Albert Argenziano under a provision of the 2003 Bush-Kennedy "No Child Left Behind Act." Isaiah Anderson and Calvin Belfon Jr. remained suspended, depriving Someville of its elected 2005-6 football captains. After being denied transfer by other area schools including Watertown and Cambridge, they entered East Boston High. Their high school graduation took place during their trial, as adults, in Middlesex Superior Court.
Medford Police Chief Leo Sacco Jr has defended the actions of his officers. But at a May 17 public forum on racism sponsored by the city's mayor, Sacco conceded "we have a long way to go," and said he was willing to consider a civilian police review board for his city. At the trial opening on Wednesday the 7th, twenty to thirty supporters picketed outside the courthouse in East Cambridge. The prosecution opened its case on Thursday, June 8th. Eventually the DA called ten witnesses, most of whom were Medford police officers and one of whom was a constable.
The International Action Center and Women's FightBack have led the effort to support the Somerville Five and their families from the beginning of their ordeal. Other supporters have come from Greater Love Tabernacle, the Green-Rainbow Party, and the Nation of Islam.
Two others of the Somerville Five have already been tried as juveniles. The trial of a fifth defendant is still pending.
DISCLAIMER: Article reposted from "The Bridge" with permission from the author. Although we usually don't re-post articles, we thought this issue to be important enough to merit attention from the community. BIMC Editors
Thursday, June 29 - 9:00 am - Pack the court for the sentencing hearing and demand justice. Supporters are urged to immediately write letters of support for Calvin Belfon and Isiah Anderson.
Demand that the judge vacate ALL guilty verdicts. These young men have no prior records and are going to college in the fall. Please send letters to: Judge Janet L. Sanders, Cambridge District Court, 40 Thorndike St, Cambridge, MA 02141 or fax them to 617-494-4357.
This work is in the public domain