An hour-long police chase that began in Massachusetts and stretched into New Hampshire on Wednesday ended with a sudden burst of violence, as video footage capturing the end of the pursuit showed at least two officers repeatedly punching the driver after he got out of the car.
The brief incident, filmed by a helicopter overhead, has prompted reviews by law enforcement officials in both states, including a criminal probe in New Hampshire, and two officers involved have been relieved of duty.
Joseph Foster, the New Hampshire attorney general, said Thursday that his office had begun a criminal investigation into the arrest. This inquiry will work “to determine what force was used, by whom, and whether it was appropriate under the law,” Jeffrey A. Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general, wrote in an email Thursday.
While multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in the chase, Foster’s office said that the leaders of three departments — the Massachusetts State Police, New Hampshire State Police and Nashua Police Department — had pledged full cooperation with the probe, suggesting that it will focus on those groups.
“Pursuant to protocol, in an effort to protect the investigation, the names of the officers involved in the incident will not be released at this time,” Foster’s office said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Once the investigation has reached a point where the release of the names would not impact the integrity of the investigation, a further press release with the names will be issued.”
Col. Robert L. Quinn, director of the New Hampshire state police, said a trooper involved in the “disturbing” events has been relieved of duty and is not being paid.
“I want to ensure that the public knows that this will be fully investigated and we recognize the importance of the public trust,” Quinn said during a news conference Thursday. “And the unnecessary, unjustified use of force will not be tolerated.”
A Massachusetts state trooper involved in the arrest has also been temporarily relieved of duty, said Col. Richard D. McKeon, head of the Massachusetts State Police. A hearing Friday will determine if the trooper will be suspended or placed on some other form of duty until a state police investigation is concluded, McKeon said.
[UPDATE: The trooper was suspended without pay Friday while the investigation is carried out, the Massachusetts State Police. The 32-year-old trooper, a member of the police since October 2011, is not being identified.]
“The actions taken by a trooper from our department and other officers involved … are, upon initial review, disturbing,” McKeon said in a statement. He said the trooper would not be identified during his agency’s internal investigation, which is separate from the criminal probe launched in New Hampshire.
This video footage emerged at a time of heightened scrutiny on how police officers use force, a debate that has been propelled by high-profile recordings of violent encounters. Not long before the chase in New England, FBI Director James Comey, speaking to reporters in Washington, said he believed police officers may be altering how they police because they are afraid of being captured in a viral video.
The pursuit began shortly after 4 p.m., according to a timeline laid out by the Massachusetts State Police. They said the Holden, Mass., police tried to stop a pickup truck driven by Richard Simone of Worcester, a 50-year-old man who the state police said was the subject of warrants for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, larceny and failure to stop for officers.
Police in Holden said that they first tried to stop the car because it was wanted in connection with a lookout advisory issue by another department on Monday. When Simone refused to stop, the Holden police began to chase him, and a Massachusetts state trooper soon joined them, the state police said.
Authorities said Simone wound through a series of roads and abruptly changed lanes to try to evade authorities, and he wound up crossing the Tyngsboro Bridge and, eventually, heading into Hudson, a town in New Hampshire. At this point, New Hampshire’s state police and local police officers also joined the chase.
The Massachusetts State Police said that Simone continued to drive, at one point crashing near a town hall, but continued on until he came to a stop in a residential neighborhood in nearby Nashua, N.H.
“Simone then taken into custody after existing the pickup,” the Massachusetts State Police said in a statement. “He was taken for booking by Nashua Police.”
Video taken from a helicopter overhead showed the pickup truck, followed by multiple police cars, winding down a tree-lined street before coming to a stop.
More than half a dozen officers, one with a police dog, can be seen in the video approaching the stopped vehicle as a man identified as Simone climbs out, gets down on his knees and begins to lie down on the street. (There is no audio in the clip above, so we cannot hear the instructions from the officers.)
The officers, who are wearing different uniforms and do not appear to all be from the same agency, quickly move close to the man. At least two of them can be seen in this footage repeatedly hitting him as some of the other officers stand nearby.
Eleven seconds elapse between this man opening his door and the first punch being thrown. The footage above is partially obscured by a pole at some point; here is a look at what happened from another angle, recorded from a news station’s live coverage of the episode.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan said Thursday that she supported the criminal investigation opened by her state’s attorney general’s office.
“The footage from yesterday raises serious concerns, and I have been in contact with the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Safety,” Hassan (D) said in a statement Thursday morning. “All New Hampshire public safety officials are held to the highest standards, and it is important and appropriate that the Attorney General’s office has opened an investigation into the incident.”
Hassan added that state officials “must treat this incident with the utmost seriousness without disparaging all of the hard-working police officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.”
The Massachusetts State Police is conducting a review into “the actions of our personnel who were present at the arrest,” McKeon said Thursday, as well as a review into the chase itself to see whether the troopers involved followed the agency’s policies regarding pursuits.
“I also ask the public to recognize that the alleged actions of any one member do not reflect on the rest of the department, the vast majority of whom conduct themselves with honor and courage, and who routinely risk their own safety to protect the public they serve,” McKeon said.
Police in Hudson, N.H., said that they got involved in the chase at about 5 p.m., and that during the pursuit Simone’s vehicle hit a utility pole near a fire station before continuing over another bridge and into Nashua.
“At that time, we ended our involvement with the pursuit,” the Hudson police said in a statement. “No Hudson Police Department officers were involved with the pursuit into Nashua or with the apprehension of the suspect.”
The Nashua police did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday night.
Simone faces charges relating to the pursuit as well as charges stemming from his other warrants, police said.
This story has been updated. First published: Wednesday at 9:28 p.m.