Police body cams: ‘It’s just beneficial for finding out the truth of the matter’

Equipment played a role in Jeremy Torres’ courtroom experience
Jeremy Torres

Jeremy Torres was calm and composed as he stood in the 9th Circuit Court in Manchester on Feb. 8, 2022, wearing a suit and tie, to plead guilty to a disorderly conduct violation for the September incident. (Photo by Pat Grossmith)

Six months ago, Jeremy Torres was an emotional wreck after his face was plastered all over social media being arrested at the scene of a fatal accident at the intersection of Valley and Union streets.

On the night of Aug. 19, 2021, Torres, 40, was among a group of people police describe as in a near-riot state. On the pavement, covered by a tarp, was 67-year-old Beverly Avery, a Hispanic woman who was struck and killed by a motorist. (The identity of that driver still has not been released by police, who only will say he is 22-years-old and from Bedford. Chief Allen D. Aldenberg said the results of the investigation are with the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office who will decide how to proceed.)

A few weeks after his arrest, Torres met with a reporter in an Elm Street restaurant to tell his side of the story. As he spoke about his encounters with Manchester police over the past year Torres’ voice was shaky, his body trembled and he choked back tears. In January of 2021 an officer tased him twice with a stun gun – after Torres had already informed him that he suffered from epilepsy (which is known to trigger seizures in some people). Another officer, he says, threw him to the pavement, slammed his face into the pavement and punched him in the head.

In April of 2021, Torres was a bystander at a motor vehicle crash on Chestnut Street for which police had been called. In the second incident, he was stopped while on his way walking home in the vicinity of a crime that had happened hours earlier. In both those instances, Torres believes police arrested him without just cause.

Torres said he didn’t feel heard by police, despite being vocal about his medical condition and his rights. The public needs to know what is happening, Torres said.

“I want everyone to see and understand that this is uncalled for, that those police officers are doing their job in a seriously wrong direction,” he said.

Torres has been on the wrong side of the law before.

He came to Manchester 17 years ago from the Bronx in New York, where he was born and where he was imprisoned for 1-½ years for violating parole on a drug-related charge.

He came to Manchester with the intent of continuing the drug life but decided, instead, that it was an opportunity for him to start over in a new city.

Things were going well until 2009 when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Various things can trigger seizures, including flashing lights and stress. Because of that, his work options are limited and he receives Social Security disability benefits.

His third arrest in 2021 was following the fatal accident on Union Street. He admits emotions overcame him that night. What he and others in the crowd that gathered were being vocal about was what they viewed as the injustice of the situation: the driver was standing off to the side and not in handcuffs, while a Hispanic woman lay dead in the street.

It was very different from what Torres says he experienced when arrested by police on three separate occasions in the past 1½ years, including that August night. So that night, in that emotional mindset, he said he was loud, yelling and screaming, and was promptly arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal mischief, for allegedly breaking an officer’s glasses.

Since that night, Torres has undergone months of counseling for what he says his therapist diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition brought on by his negative interactions with police.

But on Feb. 8, 2022, Torres was calm and composed as he stood in the 9th Circuit Court in Manchester, wearing a suit and tie, to plead guilty to a disorderly conduct violation for the September incident.

He looks like a different man, and says he feels like one, too.

He was given a $300 suspended fine. Michael T. Hamman, a public defender in the Manchester office who represented Torres, said the criminal mischief charge was dismissed because it couldn’t be determined how the officer’s glasses were broken.

Torres now says he knows he was wrong to insert himself into that situation in August and that is why he agreed to plead guilty to the violation, with the understanding that all the charges – including two others from an April 2021 incident in an alley directly behind his Lake Street home — were dropped. He could have faced a jail sentence of 12 months and a fine up to $2,000 on each misdemeanor offense.

City prosecutor Jeremy Harmon wouldn’t comment on why he nol-prossed the charges other than to say it was part of a settlement of two cases.

April 15, 2021: “I just want to go home”

Torres was charged with the same two offenses for an April 15, 2021 incident that took place early in the morning in an alley directly behind his Lake Avenue apartment. He said he was walking home, carrying leftovers packaged by his “lady friend” when police stopped him. They asked for his ID saying they were looking for someone connected to an incident at a nearby club.

The police body camera is rolling.

Torres told them he had nothing to do with that incident, that he was just walking home, “minding my own business” and he wanted nothing to do with Manchester police. Police persisted in asking for identification and Torres pulls out his cell phone and tells them he is calling his lawyer.

His voice gets louder as the encounter continues but he, as recorded on the police cam, is shaking and can be heard pleading with officers to let him go home. He asks for a supervisor. Another view of the incident shows an officer walking through the alley as another group of officers extract details of the fight from the victim, who says he was assaulted by three men.

Back in the alley, Torres continues to plead with the officers.

Ultimately, Torres is surrounded by six police officers, forced to the ground and arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He says it is while he is on the ground that officers punch him in the head and slam his face into the pavement. By the time he is led to the transport wagon, there are at least a dozen police officers on the scene.

According to the ACLU, police can never compel anyone to identify themself without reasonable suspicion to believe the person is involved in illegal activity.

Hamman said police knew early on that Torres was not who they were seeking. He said police had no description of the man’s assailant (s), but the victim told them that the incident happened hours earlier.

Hamman said while it’s possible the assailant could have returned to the scene of the crime, that is “highly unlikely”.

Those charges were dropped.

Had the case gone to trial, Hamman said the defense would have contended that Torres committed no crime and that the situation was escalated by police. In the April video one officer tells Torres to, “Shut the fuck up” a few times, and tells him “can you not act like you’re 5 years old,” and “talk like a grown man,” as Torres makes repeated pleas for police to leave him alone. That officer, Torres said, later turned off the audio on his body cam.

Chief Aldenberg said police are allowed to turn off the audio when they are conferring with each other. Asked if the officer’s conduct was investigated, Aldenberg said it was not, because Torres never filed a complaint against any of them. Torres said he believes he needs an attorney to guide him through that process and that he can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

Chief: Torres’ arrest ‘absolutely appropriate’

Anthony Harris, the decarceration organizer for the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire program, contends the only crime Torres committed in the alley was “walking while black” or in Torres’ case, while being Hispanic.

Harris believes police have targeted Torres because he is someone speaking out about the injustice endured by people of color in the city.

Aldenberg, however, said Torres was arrested multiple times because he “has broken the law multiple times by failing to comply with reasonable and lawful requests and that is the only reason he was arrested. Manchester police officers are expected by the residents of this city to enforce the law, and to keep the peace regardless of a person’s race, or nationality.”

Aldenberg viewed video of the incident in the alley and said it was “absolutely appropriate” to arrest Torres.

“Torres decided that he was not going to identify himself and refused to cooperate, while being loud and disorderly. Just because he is being shown leniency in the court does not mean that there were not grounds for arrest,” Aldenberg said.

Hamman said the difficult charge in both cases is “resisting arrest/detention.” The way the law is written, he said, an individual doesn’t actually have to commit a crime. Resisting, he said, runs the gamut of someone tensing their arm to an actual struggle.

In the past, it was not unusual for a person charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest to also face a third charge: assault on a police officer. The trio of charges are what defense attorneys refer to as the “Holy Trinity” of charges.

According to Hamman, of late, fewer people are charged with assault.

“What’s changed?” Hamman asks.

The answer, likely the addition of body-worn cameras, which Manchester Police officers have been wearing for about two years.

Hamman says police, prosecutors and defense attorneys all like the body cams. He estimates that 50 percent of the time the recordings favor police and the other 50 percent, the defense.

While the prosecutor won’t say why he dismissed the charges in the cases against Torres, it is likely that footage from the officer’s body cams were factors.

Sometimes, Hamman says, the cameras record the crime. “It’s just beneficial for finding out the truth of the matter,” he says.

Jan. 7, 2021: Tussle, taser, arrest

In another incident on Jan. 7, 2021, Torres was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at an accident scene outside the Cadillac Motel on Chestnut Street. At the time, Torres was living at the motel.

On that day, an SUV crashed into his friend’s parked car. Torres took out his cell phone and began recording the scene while walking in the road. He caught the attention of Officer Justin Hood when he questioned why the officer was asking his friend for his license and registration. His friend’s car was parked when it was struck by another vehicle.

Officer Hood told Torres to get out of the street. Torres can be seen continuing to video record Hood while walking away from the scene. Hood then walks toward Torres and demands his ID – seven times.

Torres tells Hood he has nothing to do with the accident, as he continues to back up toward the sidewalk and, 12 seconds later, Hood can be seen holding onto Torres, attempting to place him under arrest.

Ultimately, Hood tussles with Torres as at least one more officer assists, forcing Torres to the ground. Although Torres told Hood he suffers from epilepsy, Hood twice zaps him on the stomach with his stun gun as they have difficulty getting Torres to put his hands behind his back.

Those charges were dropped as well.

Aldenberg says the case was nol-prossed by the City Solicitor’s office due to the difficulty in issuing Officer Hood a subpoena after he resigned from the department.

“The case was not nol-prossed because it was a weak case or wrongful arrest, this was a very solid case,” he said.

Hood, he said, was not terminated or disciplined in connection to Torres’ arrest. He resigned “on his own to pursue a different career path for personal reasons,” according to the chief.

There are two additional arrests on Torres’ New Hampshire record: in April 2016 in connection with a brawl at the now-closed Fire & Ice hookah lounge, where Torres was a bouncer, and in a case from 2018 on a criminal threatening charge. All charges in both those cases were dismissed as well.

Hamman said he doesn’t know if police targeted Torres because he was known to them. He said off the top of his head, he does not know of another case where a client was arrested five times and never convicted of a misdemeanor offense or crime. However, he said he doesn’t see those cases where people are arrested but the charges are not brought because a prosecutor decides not to bring the charge.

“I’m sure there are more people like Jeremy out there but I don’t know who they are because lots of times those cases don’t hit our desks,” he said.

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