Parent demands apology from Amherst police over July 5 encounter

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Monday, November 14, 2022

AMHERST — A Leverett parent who was at the scene of an encounter between Amherst area youths and Amherst Police early on the morning of July 5 is calling out what he terms “incompetence, discrimination, bullying and bad judgment” by the responding officers.

“In order to move forward, the department needs to acknowledge its officers made mistakes, they must apologize for those mistakes, and they must work to ensure similar incidents do not occur,” William Stewart wrote in a letter to the Town Council.

His firsthand account was made public before the council meeting with the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee on Nov. 1.

Stewart describes himself as one of the two adults at the scene and was present for 45 minutes, though he arrived after the 54-second cellphone video in which an officer can be heard telling the teens they have no rights. He is critical of what he saw, though, writing that the Police Department “has denied making mistakes, ignored or omitted information that might put its officers’ behavior in a bad light, and misled the public about what really happened.”

His letter provides insights and new details beyond what was in public reports issued by Amherst police and the town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department. Among the revelations is that the nine teens on scene were at separate locations at the Main Street site until they were brought together by police.

“There were three youths talking quietly outside of one residence, three youths near a separate residence, and one youth outside a third residence, waiting for a tow truck, who was later joined by two of his friends after police arrived,” Stewart writes, adding that the police response would not have happened in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

He also writes that the mother of one of the youths, because she speaks only Spanish, may not have been allowed to bring the teens home, even though she offered to do so.

“When the police report that ‘the officer did not perceive a language barrier,’ that is an example of discrimination compounded by insensitivity and a lack of training,” Stewart writes.

Stewart, who is white, pushes back on the police report that the white youths and the youths from Black, Indigenous and people of color backgrounds were not treated differently. “In truth, they were ALL treated badly because SOME of them were BIPOC,” the letter states.

De-escalation training could, he wrote, lead to meaningful change for officers:

“Change will only begin if there is recognition and acknowledgment that there is a problem. Denial is a terrible way to create change.”