UMass Students Sent to Alternative Program After Arrests During Protests

Police took away students in plastic handcuffs on the UMass Amherst campus after protesters set up camp outside the student union building. Kalina Kornacki, Boston Globe Freelance

Charges against four UMass students will be dismissed after they complete a four-month deferred adjudication program, according to Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan’s office.

Four men were among 130 students, faculty and community members arrested in May at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst while protesting Israel’s war with Hamas.

Sixteen other defendants who had pretrial hearings on Monday asked for more time to consult with their lawyers and their cases were adjourned until Sept. 16.

The cases are before Eastern Hampshire District Court Judge Bruce S. Melikian. He will hear cases in groups of about 20 defendants per day this week and next. According to Boston GlobeMost of the charges are for trespassing and failure to disperse rioters. Some have been charged with resisting arrest.

Prosecutors reviewed hundreds of hours of body-worn camera footage and offered defendants plea agreements based on their behavior at the time of their arrest, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan said in a statement.

“Our office sees no reason to punish defendants who were peacefully protesting, engaging in democracy and exercising their right to free speech,” Sullivan said. “We believe the offer of diversion is fair and just, consistent with the circumstances of each case.”

Chief District Court Judge Michael Russo is working with other Northwestern deputy district attorneys to lead plea negotiations.

The arrests at UMass came amid pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses across the country, including several at prominent universities in Boston. Police also made arrests at Emerson College, Northeastern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

On May 7, the university chancellor sent campus police to clear out a Gaza solidarity camp that students had reestablished after negotiations with the university broke down. The demonstrators had voluntarily removed the tents from the university lawn a week earlier.

The next day, some students described brutal tactics used by police in riot gear. The student government also voted for a no-confidence motion against UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes.

Following protests and arrests, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead withdrew from delivering the commencement address at the undergraduate ceremony, which was held without a guest speaker.