Earlier this week, former Springfield cop Jeffrey Asher was convicted of assault and battery, resulting from his beating, with a flashlight, of Melvin Jones III during a 2009 traffic stop. Asher and his supporters, including the police union, say he was acting in self-defense after Jones, a man with a lengthy criminal record, tried to grab an officer’s gun.
Later this month, Asher will be back in court for sentencing—and the Springfield NAACP is urging the judge to take into consideration Asher’s extremely troubled history, and its effects on residents, when she decides just what kind of punishment to hand down.
In a Feb. 29 letter to Judge Maureen Walsh of the Holyoke District Court, the Rev. Talbert Swan II, president of Springfield’s NAACP branch, called Asher “a scourge on our community.”
“Our community has known Jeffrey Asher as an abuser of police power for well over a decade,” Swan wrote. “While he has not been criminally charged for his antics in the past, his name has become synonymous with police brutality and misconduct. … The fact that many of the victims of his abuse throughout the years have been black and Latino has only exacerbated an already tenuous relationship between communities of color and the police department.”
Swan also noted that Asher’s “conduct as a rogue police officer has cost the city of Springfield hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements, not counting legal fees.”
Asher first came to public attention in 1997, when he was caught on videotape kicking a black suspect named Roy Parker. Asher was charged with assault and battery in that case; while he was eventually cleared of the criminal charges, he was suspended for one year by the Police Commission and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training.” Asher’s suspension was reduced to six months by a labor arbitrator, with Asher receiving $20,000 in back pay.
In 2004, Asher was among a group of cops accused of beating another black man, Douglas Greer, after finding him apparently unconscious in his car after suffering what Greer said was a diabetic seizure. While the officers were cleared by the Police Commission, Greer, the principal at a Springfield charter school, went on to sue the city and won an $180,000 settlement.
Swan began his letter to Walsh with praise for “the excellent job that most Springfield Police Department officers do,” but noted that “too many Springfield citizens have experience unjust targeting, humiliation, loss of physical freedom, and even physical harm at the hands of a relatively few Springfield Police officers.”
Asher’s conviction, Swan wrote, creates an important opportunity to restore the faith many have lost in the SPD. “His conviction provides a glimmer of hope regarding a criminal justice system that has, far too often, meted out justice in a manner that has neither been fair nor equitable. His sentencing may well determine whether or not that glimmer of hope is extinguished.”