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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Neck-grab video grounds Salem cop

Officer on desk duty after You Tube clip shows him pushing man down

Warning: This video contains explicit language.

By Tom Dalton
Staff Writer

SALEM — The Salem Police Department is investigating one of its own officers after a video posted on the Web site YouTube shows the patrolman grabbing a young man by the throat and shoving him to the ground.

The 39-second video is headlined "Bad Salem Cop."

The Police Department identified the officer in the video as Patrolman Larry Puleo.

"The matter is under investigation," police Chief Robert St. Pierre said. "We're doing an internal investigation. (Puleo) is being reassigned to inside duties pending the outcome ..."

The incident happened Friday morning as police were trying to disperse a large crowd that had exited from downtown bars around 1 a.m. In all, four young men were arrested in the latest in a series of problems following Thursday-night bar closings.

Moments before the video was shot, Puleo had been punched in the face and kicked while placing a bar patron under arrest, according to a police report. In that incident, Puleo injured his wrist. He has been out of work since then, police said.

In the video, Puleo can be seen putting a man into a cruiser. He then appears to recognize someone on the sidewalk and walks rapidly toward that man, saying: "Get out of here! Get the (expletive) out of here!" The man appears to be walking away when Puleo grabs him around the neck.

The young man in the video is Travis Markarian, 21, of Swampscott, police said. He was arrested on charges of failing to disperse and disorderly conduct, according to court records.

Before being arrested, Markarian can been seen talking to a Salem police sergeant. He was asking her why his friend had been arrested, according to Ayanda Williams of Lynn, a witness.

All of the incidents happened near Townhouse Square, which is at the corner of Washington and Essex streets.

The Salem News was not able to reach Puleo nor Markarian.

Willing to pay for more police

Meanwhile, the owners of several of the downtown bars have offered to pay for extra police officers at closing time on Thursday nights, when the bars are allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. The police would work outside in the street and not inside the bars. The department has a policy prohibiting details inside bars.

Those same bars and restaurants also have agreed to post no-trespass orders for any individuals who are arrested, placed into protective custody or involved in disturbances inside or outside of the bars. The orders effectively would ban the troublemakers from all the participating establishments for six months, police said.

"It's kind of drastic, but it's needed to take control up there," the chief said. "We need to restore order, and we need the cooperation of the license holders. ... What I think is significant is the license holders are actually working with us. They're the key to this."

Those agreements were reached yesterday in a meeting organized by the Salem Chamber of Commerce and attended by representatives from the bars, Chief St. Pierre and a top aide to Mayor Kim Driscoll.

"I already have five (bars) who said they will participate, and I'll get more," said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber. "We have to show there is a zero-tolerance (policy). ... Everybody wants this to stop ... because everybody wants Salem to be the fun city everybody knows it is."

The five restaurants that have agreed to take part are O'Neill's, Rockafella's, Fresh Taste of Asia, The Lobster Shanty and Edgewater Cafe.

Some of the same bars met with police earlier this month to discuss ways to get the crowds under control.

St. Pierre said the problem seems to be isolated to Thursday nights, when large crowds of young people pack the bars.

The early-Friday-morning incidents have put a strain on the department, he said.

Last week, police were not able to respond to a 911 call and to an accident because officers were occupied with the bar incidents. The Fire Department and an ambulance handled the 911 call and police had to delay responding to the accident, which was not serious, the chief said.

Staff writer Bruno Matarazzo Jr. contributed to this report.