State Trooper Stephen Kavol justifies repeatedly punching "pope" Alexander Serra

The Massachusetts State Police Trooper Stephen Kavol, who repeatedly punched "Pope" Alexander Serra, was the same officer who first encountered Serra in the South End of Boston. Trooper Kavol was one of the two officers who first cornered Serra on foot on I90. From WBZ:

Video from WBZ's helicopter showed Serra running away from his car on the highway shirtless. Moments later, he dropped to the ground. One trooper pulled his gun, while a second punched him repeatedly. link

Police said everything about the pursuit and arrest will be reviewed, including the use of force.

Do we have reason to believe the MA state police can provide an impartial review that would hold officers accountable for violations of state police policy or civil rights? In fact, isn't the US Attorney responsible for reviewing civil rights violations by policemen in the Commonwealth? From WBZ:

"Police generally do not pursue individuals who are wanted for misdemeanor crimes," [criminologist Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer] said.

Watching the video, Nolan said the driver, 29-year-old Alejandro Serra, was not wanted on a felony as he jumped out and started to run, only to be stopped by troopers, one of them punching him several times.

"Unless this individual is determined, without doubt, to be an extremely dangerous individual, there's no real reason to have 10 or 12 police officers for, at best, a misdemeanor crime."

State Police are being criticized for the hot pursuit.

Officer Stephen Kavol is being criticized for punching the suspect repeatedly when it appears the suspect had surrendered.

Serra was arrested by Officer Kavol for "fail to stop". Here's the arrest report PDF.

"I struck him with a closed fist to overcome his resistance to arrest." - Trooper Stephen Kavol

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Comments

We're training and hiring

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We're training and hiring police officers who have been soldiers who've returned from Desert Storm, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc...and they often have PTSD and are compressed angry triggers ready to go off at a moment's notice or irritation. That said, all police should be commended for the dangers they have to face, and the protection they need to enforce, everyday..none of them, or their families, deserve to be hurt or killed.

I have a difficult time

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I have a difficult time finding any sympathy for the "victim" of this police brutality. The guy attempted to run down two people in a crosswalk and then led police on a high speed chase endangering the public. It says something about this state when the criminals are getting more favorable treatment by the press than the police.

My thoughts as an

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My thoughts as an uber-liberal but also someone who knows a cop and tries to understand their position: The cops don't know what they are running towards in something like this; if they stopped to be gentle, what if he had a gun or knife? Until that moment, this guy had proven himself to be willing to kill people, including cops, to get away - think of his vehilce like a weapon he was waving around. Also, he was not 'giving up' until about 1.5 seconds before the cop reached him, he had finally crashed and was still fleeing... He 'sort of' started to lie down, but who knows what he was going to do, as you are a cop running at him, trying to see where his hands are. A couple punches are not the end of the world, they actually seem like a non-lethal way to stun a lunatic and get submission, rather than risk that this proven risk is going to keep fighting like he had for miles and miles. And what if they hadn't persued him and caused him to crash, and this guy had killed a family? Why do I feel that people would be saying "why didn't the police do everything in their power to stop him?" Frustrating.

Police Beat-down

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As I think Pete Nice mentioned, one criticism of the "first thing to reach the perpetrator was my fist" approach is that once the officer tumbled on top of the guy raining blows on him you really can't tell what he's doing. At that point the perpetrator could be reaching into his belt for a knife, a gun, or given this guy's grip on reality, his penis. The trooper that comes in from the bottom of the screen seems much more in control of the situation -- he's pointing a gun at the guy from a near but safe distance as the guy is apparently (allegedly?) beginning to lie down on the ground.

Initiating an immediate fracas of a dozen cops on one guy doesn't really help things. From the pictures of the guy in the paper today he doesn't seem any worse off, so what the hell. But if I ever found myself in the position of having to lie down on the ground for the troopers, I would hope they would just cuff me and throw me in the cruiser, and not first beat the shit out of me.

As far as them being returning vets with PTSD, might very well be, but that's a real generalization. Suffice it to say that police work attracts people with an interest in justice, people with a desire to serve the public, as well as people with a desire for unearned respect and power and simply sadists who want a gun. Hopefully most of that second group gets weeded out before they get a badge. I just wish there were a few more that had hair. Roving bands of jackbooted, white skinheads is just a PR nightmare.

How many punches in the face and chest

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are warranted after tackling Serra and turning him onto his back, after he was prone? At what point does it become excessive force and a violation of Serra's rights? If you think Officer Koval knows the answer, you'd be wrong. If you think the MA State Police review board will assert the answer, you'd be wrong.

Officer Koval and The MA State Police review board

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It's funny that the only blog I can find about this all around crazy incident is here @ U.H. whats that all about? The two recording barely made the tv news. But this is a good way not to have too do much of a review of the facts.

i could care less

I could care less about the perpetrator. As a civilian I can say he probably deserved it. I hope he rots wherever he ends up. But cops are trained to be restrained and not be thugs and abuse their power. The cop has a gun, there's not necessarily the need to go in and beat the crap out of him. It's not a streetfight. Just screams of brownshirts to me.

Assault w/ deadly weapon

"Nolan said the driver, 29-year-old Alejandro Serra, was not wanted on a felony as he jumped out and started to run

I wonder how Nolan came to that conclusion. Assaulting a police officer: felony. Assault with a dangerous weapon (to wit, a Mazda sedan): felony.

Also, dispatchers probably notified the troopers that Serra has a past record of assaulting police officers. Add in Serra's obvious mental instability, and I'm sure the troopers were prepared for the worst when he jumped out of the car.

The initial reason for pulling him over was a misdemanor.

Disturbing the peace (loud music), disorderly (swearing in front of the kid) seemed to be the initial reasons for the stop. Once the suspect tries to ram the officer it becomes a felony. Also, assulting a police officer is not a felony. But at the time Serra jumps out of the car he had committed a few felonies.

The key with the last few punches is that the arresting officer at least stated that the guy was reaching in his pockets as he went to the ground. I can't really tell if it is clear or not that he was starting to reach or not into his pocket when he put his hands up and went to the ground. He didn't simply submit though either.

Pursuit policies are different for each department. If you notice California always has chases because most policies out there allow officers to pursue. Often times in MA you can only pursue for certain things under certain situations.

Oops

Sorry my bad, I had been told by someone that simple assault on a police officer is a felony. But I didn't double-check it. Is there a separate charge of "assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon" or does that just fall under "assault with a dangerous weapon?" And if you ram the cruiser, does that count as battery even though the weapon (i.e. the Mazda) didn't actually touch the officer?

Many years ago I spent 3 months on a grand jury and we had a case like this where a suspect intentionally rammed an officer's cruiser at high speed. The ADA gave us a mini-tutorial on the case law for such events, but I don't quite remember it anymore.

But yeah my point in my earlier post was that, as you mentioned, at the time Serra jumped out of his car, he had committed several felonies that day. And that seems to be at odds with what Mr. Nolan is claiming. Maybe Nolan was referring to the initial reason for the stop, and he just got misquoted/misinterpreted.

As for the level of force used: my first impression upon seeing the video was that the trooper went a bit overboard with the 4 or 5 punches. I am not one of those people that thinks that criminals "deserve" some pavement-justice. However, given the totality of the situation, I think the trooper could well have been justified. I think I'll just sit back and withhold judgment for now.

"4 or 5 punches" = "pavement justice"

I am not one of those people that thinks that criminals "deserve" some pavement-justice.

I agree, and I think you characterize the "4 or 5 punches" well with these words "pavement justice"

Despite any impression that Trooper Kavol's dispassionate arrest report might leave on a reader, I believe Trooper Kavol is in an exited state of agitation at the time of the arrest. There are indications Koval was outraged by Serra's driving in the South End, jeopardizing the welfare of a man and a child, refusing to comply with Officer Koval's directive to stop, and a subsequent high speed chase on Interstate 90 that escalated and included collisions.

After Serra leaves his vehicle, he begins to flee, realizes he has nowhere to go, and then submits to police demands by making himself prone on the pavement. Trooper Koval responds to the suspect Alexander Serra as though the suspect did not submit to police demands by making himself prone on the pavement. This change in response, happened in a very short period of time and Officer Koval did not recognize that his suspect had submitted.

Koval uses force he feels is necessary to "tackle" Serra, when he is already prone and face-down, and then punches him 4 or 5 times, not always connecting thank god, as Serra uses his arms and hands to cover his face and torso.

It would be refreshing, and a step toward accountability for a police officer's duty to protect the health and welfare of a suspect in custody, if the state police review were to identify a preferred way for Office Koval to have responded to the situation.

Not exactly what I saw.

The guy was far from "submiting from police demands" at that point. No one can say what he is doing. I've been in dozens of situations where the suspect plays the old "I give up game here are my hands" and then once you let your guard down, there goes the suspects hand in his pocket for a knive, needle, gun or another attempt at escape for the suspect.

And Serra was punched before he even got the chance to get proned and placed face-down. I cannot tell if Serra is reaching into his pockets or not though.

Yea tough to tell.

Tackling the guy would have been an appropriate response in my opinion. And it did kind of look from the air that the guy was still trying to look for an escape until the trooper was a few feet from him.

I mean, if you think you are in fear of a suspect grabbing a weapon, you can punch him. That isn't what it looked like from the air here though.

This guy is responsible for a

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This guy is responsible for a 20+ mile chase on congested city streets and a major interstate highway.

I'd like to give this guy a few punches for putting THOUSANDS of people at risk. It is a miracle that there were only minor injuries.