Cops accused of abuse in bust gone wrong

April 1, 2011
By

John Ruch

Man: I bought food, not drugs

JACKSON SQ.—A local teacher says that his trip to the supermarket turned into a case of violent and abusive police misconduct on March 5.

Michael Pearlstein-Gluck alleges that plainclothes police officers grabbed him in the Stop & Shop parking lot, then choked him and used a homophobic slur while claiming he bought drugs—even though he had only bought groceries.

“I am interested and curious about why they suspected me,” said Pearlstein-Gluck, a Boston Public Schools teacher and Jamaica Plain resident who was not charged with any crime. But whatever the officers’ motive, “it wouldn’t really excuse what happened,” he said.

“Internal Affairs is reviewing the matter to determine the facts and circumstances of the alleged incident,” said Boston Police Department (BPD) spokesperson Elaine Driscoll in a statement to the Gazette. That investigation may include a review of Stop & Shop security camera footage, said Pearlstein-Gluck, who did not get any identification of the officers involved in the alleged misconduct.

“It did seem like the treatment that he received was wrong,” said Sarah Wunsch, an attorney with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is offering legal advice to Pearlstein-Gluck. “The amount of force [used by police] sounds questionable. There’s nothing to justify the epithets they directed at him.”

Stop & Shop’s regional headquarters did not respond to a Gazette request for comment.

Pearlstein-Gluck said the drama began when he left the Stop & Shop at 301 Centre St. alone with a bag of groceries around 6:15 p.m., when it was already dark. He was on foot and walked across the parking lot toward a bank ATM to deposit his paycheck.

While walking on a strip of sidewalk along the parking lot, he was approached by a man in street clothes who was “moving toward me aggressively and putting his hands on me,” ordering him to stop. At first, he thought the man was a panhandler.

Then an unmarked van pulled up and another man got out and began grabbing him as well. Knowing that Jackson Square is a “high-crime area,” he became afraid that the men were criminals. The men then said they were police officers, but they did not display any badges, and the situation made him not believe them, Pearlstein-Gluck said.

“I thought these guys were going to kidnap me,” Pearlstein-Gluck said. His main thought, he said, was, “I need to do whatever it takes right now to not get into that van.”

He said he began to scream to get attention and tried to wrestle out of the officers’ grip. He said he is about 5-feet-7-inches tall and 120 pounds—far smaller than the officers.

Another plainclothes officer joined the struggle, and then two uniformed officers arrived. At first, Pearlstein-Gluck said, he believed the uniformed officers were going to rescue him. Instead, all of the officers piled onto him, he said.

“I was choked. I was grabbed and shoved by all of them,” he said, adding that he does not recall hitting any of the officers himself.

After he was handcuffed, the officers claimed they had seen him buying drugs, said Pearlstein-Gluck. But, he said, he had not bought drugs or done anything except walk across a parking lot.

“I was buying groceries,” he said. “I don’t use illegal drugs.”

The officers would not tell him exactly what made them think he was buying drugs, Pearlstein-Gluck said.

He consented to be searched, and officers learned about his job by finding his paycheck. He claims that one of the officers then said, “‘We’re going to contact the school and you’re going to lose your job, because they don’t want a junkie teaching our kids.’”

Pearlstein-Gluck said he began to cry. One officer responded by calling him profane and abusive names, including “faggoty” and a “disgrace of a man,” he said.

The officers found no drugs on him or nearby, Pearlstein-Gluck said. “Even after they found nothing, they said, ‘We’ll let you go, but we could arrest you for being disorderly.’”

He said he left the scene without getting names or badge numbers, and does not recall the markings on the uniformed officers’ car. Several people witnessed the incident, he said, but it appears that none of them have come forward.

On March 11, Pearlstein-Gluck saw one of the plainclothes officers again searching someone else inside the Jackson Square T Station, he said, adding that the officer appeared not to recognize him.

Pearlstein-Gluck filed a complaint about the alleged incident and was formally interviewed by BPD Internal Affairs on March 14 at police headquarters.

The BPD’s Driscoll and the ACLU’s Wunsch both said that they are unaware of any recent complaints about police misconduct in the Jackson Square area.

Pearlstein-Gluck said he has no criminal record and has never had any problems with police officers. But, he added, he had a similar incident as a teenager in Brooklyn, when he was briefly chased on the street by a private security guard who was not wearing a uniform.

“I want something positive to come out of this,” Pearlstein-Gluck said of the alleged incident. “[Jackson Square] has a reputation for being dangerous. It seems like these guys are making it more dangerous.”

How to ID a plainclothes cop

Police officers sometimes wear street clothes while on the job. But criminals sometimes impersonate police officers—wearing either regular clothes or fake uniforms. The Boston Police Department offers the following tips on how tell a real police officer from an impersonator:

  • If the person is wearing a uniform, see if it fits well and displays patches saying “Boston Police,” not “Security” or some other term.
  • Look for official police equipment, such as a firearm, handcuffs and police radio.
  • If the person is in plainclothes, ask to see the officer’s badge or identification card.
  • If you are still uncomfortable, ask the officer to call for a uniformed officer in a marked police car to respond to the scene.
  • If the officer refuses, call 911 and report the incident.