A clip from the dash cam of a police cruiser showing the stop of Aaron Chappell last Wednesday.
ADAMS, Mass. — Using dash cam footage, Police Chief Richard Tarsa challenged allegations of racial profiling during a vehicle stop in connection with last week's shooting.
Tarsa presented his report to the Selectmen on Wednesday night, offering footage from both cruisers involved in the vehicle stop of Aaron Chappell and deconstructing statements made in a recent Berkshire Eagle article claiming the Police Department was racially profiling.
"The Adams Police Department is providing an open and transparent account of the stop that involved Mr. Chappell," Tarsa said. "Not only am I able to explain this to you, but also by being able to provide cruiser video and audio documentation of the stop showing that the events did not occur as portrayed by The Berkshire Eagle, or others."
Police responded last week to a shooting at 30 North Summer St. that left one man severely injured. The victim told police Gage Sherman, a 20-year-old white man, had come to his home along with two black men. Tarsa said the victim did not know the identity the black men but told police one had lighter skin and facial hair and was wearing a red baseball hat and a red sweat shirt. The other man was wearing a black sweat shirt.
The police were initially told that the suspects left on foot.
Tarsa said during the initial investigation, police performed a vehicle stop on Chappell, who drove by the scene and generally matched one of the descriptions given to police.
"Investigative detentions such as this based upon reasonable suspicion have been upheld by the [Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court], and that the courts recognize the need for officers to briefly detain possible suspects while responding to crimes," Tarsa read from his statement. "Proximity to crime scene, descriptions, race when it matches description are all recognized as factors that contribute to reasonable suspicion."
Tarsa first walked through the vehicle stop that he said lasted less than 5 minutes and disputed many of the statements Chappell made in the article.
"The article contained what they reported to be facts as they relate to the stop and how Mr. Chappell was treated," the police chief said. "At this time, I can clearly state that not only are these alleged facts inconsistent, they are wrong."
Tarsa noted the article stated Chappell was spoken to through a loudspeaker and was forced to the ground face down with a gun to his head.
Tarsa said the officer did not use a loudspeaker and only provided Chappell with clear statements guiding him out of his vehicle and toward the cruiser.
He noted that the officers' guns were drawn because it was a "high risk" situation but Chappell was not cuffed face down with a gun to his head.
"During this time the officer did maintain a covering position with his weapon drawn because it was a high-risk stop," Tarsa said. "Keep in mind that there was still an ongoing investigation for suspects in a confirmed shooting."
The video shows Chappell being directed backward by an officer and being told to get on his knees.
Tarsa also said that the article stated that the stop took 20 minutes. This also was untrue and Chappell was in the cruiser less than two minutes.
"Mr. Chappell was placed inside the cruiser at 4:04:47 pm and removed from the cruiser at 4:06:27 pm," he said. "Mr. Chappell was inside the cruiser for a total of 1:40 [minutes]. The vehicle stop was completed at 4:07:29 pm with the entire time of the stop being 4:43."
Tarsa went on to say that The Eagle's report of Chappell's account stated that while he was detained, he was left in silence with no explanation.
Tarsa provided footage from inside the cruiser where the officer clearly explained to Chappell the situation and said although his clothes did not specifically match the description, it is possible to change clothes quickly.
"An officer explained to him that he was not being stopped based on his race, but because of the similarities in appearance and that it is easy for a person to change clothes," Tarsa said. "Mr. Chappell was treated with respect and given every courtesy provided including an explanation regarding the event, the stop, and what was going on. He was also clearly provided with an apology."
Officers told Chappell that "you are probably not the guy ... but we need to make sure you are not the guy" and then asked if he knew suspect Sherman, of Clarksburg, who was arrested in Connecticut over the weekend. Chappell replied in the negative.
Once the officer was sure Chappell was not a suspect, he told him "I am going to get you out of those handcuffs and get you out of here I am sorry for the inconvenience and having to point a gun at you."
Tarsa added that police even stopped traffic so Chappell could drive off. Chappell told police he was driving his mother's car and was on his way to air for her tires.
In the article, Chappell said he planned to file an civil complaint against the Adams Police Department and has posted a picture on his Facebook page taken by a motorist at the scene that shows him in handcuffs.
Tarsa said witnesses later told officers that the suspects arrived and left North Summer Street in a beige colored four-door vehicle, possibly a Toyota with a loud exhaust. Officers became aware of this after the stop and a BOLO, or "be on the lookout," was broadcast at 4:38 pm.
The Selectmen thanked Tarsa for the provided information and said the investigation is continuing and they will not comment yet.
Sherman, of Clarksburg, was arrested in Bristol, Conn., with a Juan E. Ocasio, also 20, and possibly from Springfield, in relation to a shooting there on Friday. Police say they are still looking for the two other men, one thin, standing 5-foot-6 with a possible neck tattoo and last seen wearing a red hooded windbreaker with a red baseball cap and the second with a medium to heavy build, standing 5-foot-7 with moderate facial hair, short curly black hair and last seen wearing black sweat pants and black fleece jacket.
The victim in the shooting, whose name has still not been confirmed by police, had to undergo surgery for three gunshot wounds and remains hospitalized. The motive in the shooting has also not been released but one officer in the video said the victim had been shot and robbed.
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