Lawrence, MA — A terrifying encounter with police was caught on a cell phone camera this week. Lawrence police officer Luis Olivo was exposed for escalating a simple vehicle stop into a dangerous, and potentially deadly situation, as he is revealed to have threatened the use of potentially deadly force rather than identify himself, as required under Massachusetts law.
“You’re going to see people drawing their guns, all pointing their guns into my car,” Steven Cepeda said, recalling the brutal attack. “Then a police officer on the right-hand side—he starts bashing my window with a baton, trying to break in. That’s when I noticed they might kill me.”
Officers then violently arrested Cepeda, refusing to provide medical aid to the man they had just beaten and whose phone they had smashed in an attempt to destroy the recording of the interaction between police and Cepeda — which he had just recorded.
The incident began when Cepeda pulled into a parking lot of a local pizzeria as a police van pulled into the lot behind him with its lights on. Prior to police exiting their vehicle, Cepeda began recording the encounter, with all but the end of the interaction being captured by him. Another individual captured the portion that Cepeda was unable to record, leaving a very minimal segment of the incident unrecorded.
According to a report by The Bay State Examiner:
The video Cepeda shot shows that he requested several times for Olivo to identify himself, and that Olivo refused. This in turn led to Cepeda refusing to provide Olivo with his license despite a different law requiring him to do so. After both men reissued their demands to see ID, Olivo threatened to arrest Cepeda for failure to produce identification, so Cepeda asked to speak with a supervisor. Olivo’s report leaves out that his refusal to identify himself led to Cepeda’s refusal to provide his ID, and also omits Cepeda’s request for a supervisor.
While it may seem strange that a police officer would file a demonstrably false report that they know will be contradicted by video evidence, it makes some sense in this case because Lawrence police officers smashed Cepeda’s phone. If the smashing of his phone had destroyed the video—it didn’t—the police report would be left practically uncontestable. Plus it’s Lawrence, where the police chief has already suggested that he doesn’t care what misconduct a video shows. This isn’t the first time we have broken news about cops in that city attacking people who record them; the last time, Chief James Fitzpatrick lied outright about the incident despite the video.
In this instance, instead of getting to see a supervisor like Cepeda requested, the motorist was surrounded by police officers with guns drawn. (It is dangerous for police to stand in a circle around a vehicle and point their weapons toward the center because this puts the officers in each other’s lines of fire). They tried, and failed, to smash their way into his car while yelling contradictory instructions. One officer (with gun out) can be heard shouting, “Keep your hands in the air,” while another cop tells Cepeda to roll down his window. When Cepeda turned on his car so he could roll down his window, the police report claims that the cops thought he was attempting to flee and were afraid for officer safety—which is often grounds for killing unarmed motorists with impunity. The report also includes a description about how the officers couldn’t tell what he was doing with one of his hands, an excuse that in other cases has been used to justify the decision to use lethal force.
Incredibly, after Cepeda’s phone was smashed by police, and he then attempted to allow police to remove him from the vehicle, he was slammed to the ground – without resisting – injuring his face and leg. After paramedics were finally called, and Cepeda taken to Lawrence General Hospital, the hospital allegedly refused to examine his visible injuries and refused to treat him – but he was given a drug test. The police report notes that he vigorously refused to provide a urine sample, then miraculously changed his mind and gave a sample.
Reached for comment by The Bay State Examiner, Cepeda filled in the missing details, “Yes, I told [Lawrence General Hospital staff] I was injured and they didn’t treat me. They just wanted to force me to piss. I had to go to Holy Family to get treated. I refused to give urine they said if I didn’t they would force it out of me with a tube in my penis … They surrounded my bed with, like, seven hospital cops and the [Lawrence police] cop and said if I didn’t give them urine, they will force me. So I gave in.”
Remember this is all in an effort by police to justify their illicit actions during this incident by pinning their hopes on the potential claim that Cepeda was intoxicated, thus precipitating the violent encounter during the stop. Also recall that they believed they had destroyed the recorded evidence of what had actually taken place as to legitimize their own version of events.
Regardless of Cepeda’s guilt or innocence, or whether he was impolite in his requests for a supervisor, the conduct of the officer in question is never appropriate for a person granted the state’s monopoly on the use of force. The easiest way to diffuse the situation would have been to give his name and badge number and call for a supervisor as required by the law.