Student: I was pepper-sprayed for being in wrong place
AMHERST — Among the 73 people arrested in connection with the so-called “Blarney Blowout” on Saturday was Ivan Rudovol, who claims police brutalized him in a way that could permanently damage his vision by directing pepper spray directly into his eyes after he was already in handcuffs and on the ground.
Rudovol said he arrived at the Brandywine Apartments in North Amherst at about 12:45 p.m. unaware that police had ordered a crowd to disperse a few minutes earlier. “I had come to see a friend and was walking to his apartment,” said Rudovol, who asserts that he was completely sober and wasn’t participating in the Blarney Blowout activities.
He had stepped over a light pole that had been torn down earlier in the day and as he was nearing his destination in building No. 6, he said, Officer Michael Barone, who has been on the Amherst police force for just over a year, yelled at him, “I thought I told you to leave.”
“I was cornered with a snowbank on one side and the fallen light pole blocked my exit,” Rudovol said. “The next thing I know I’m being punched in the ear and I fall on the ground.”
Two police officers put him in handcuffs without any kind of warning, according to Rudovol, and at that point Barone pointed a can of pepper spray at his eyes. “I was wearing sunglasses at the time. He aimed the pepper spray so that it got in my eye. He was purposely trying to bypass my sunglasses.”
Rudovol, 21, a computer science major originally from Russia, faces charges of disorderly conduct and failure to disperse from a riot.
Because he wears contact lenses and couldn’t reach his eyes with his hands, Rudovol said he was completely blinded for the entire hour it took to drag him to a police van and transport him to the police station. Only then, he said, was he given 30 seconds to wash out his eyes.
Rudovol said he asked Barone why he sprayed him in the eyes and said he was told the action was taken on orders from his supervisor, whom he did not name.
Several attempts to reach Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone for comment before press time Sunday were unsuccessful.
Rudovol said he took himself to the emergency room at Cooley Dickinson Hospital after his girlfriend bailed him out four hours after police took him into custody. A physician’s assistant who treated him said he should have been given at least five minutes to irrigate his eyes and that, because he was wearing contact lenses, he risked long-term damage to his vision, according to Rudovol.
On Sunday morning, Rudovol retained Amherst attorney Stephen Phillips of Dunn & Phillips.
“Our position is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Phillips said. “He is looking forward to his day in court.”
In terms of making allegations of misconduct against the Amherst Police Department, Phillips said, “we will take appropriate action at the appropriate time.”
Rudovol, who is on the dean’s list and is scheduled to graduate in December, said he thinks he was targeted because he happened to be wearing a green jacket, even though he doesn’t drink. “Sometimes I try a craft beer but I don’t get drunk,” he said.
On his way to his friend’s apartment he passed the parked police van that would transport him to the station house a short while later. He was given no indication that he was going to an area he shouldn’t be in, he said.
Rudovol was visibly shaken when he emerged from the Amherst Police headquarters late Saturday afternoon after he was booked.
“This is police brutality in its finest form, I had my rights violated in a way I would never expect,” he said.
He was holding back tears because he is afraid the arrest might disrupt the U.S. citizenship ceremony he is due to celebrate in two weeks.