SWAMPSCOTT — Members of the town's police union have posted an open letter saying that they are upset by suggestions they were unfair in their handling of the arrest of a Black Lives Matter activist protesting near the governor's home last month. 

"It is disheartening that the tone of the aforementioned document from the Office of the Select Board suggests that the officers of the Swampscott Police Department acted in any way unlawfully, unprofessionally, or unethically in regard to race," read the letter, posted Saturday on a newly-created Facebook page for the union's Local 417. 

Last week, police Chief Ron Madigan, members of the select board and the town manager put out a joint statement in which Madigan announced an independent investigation into the arrest of Ernst Jean-Jacques of Haverhill, a Black Lives Matter activist taking part in a counter-protest to a weekly group of pro-Trump protesters on Dec. 12. 

An 80-year-old woman who was part of the pro-Trump group told officers that Jean-Jacques punched her. 

A lawyer for Jean-Jacques says his client denies punching the woman, saying he only tried to take away a bottle of water she had splashed on him, Jean-Jacques believes intentionally. 

Madigan said in the statement that he has viewed videos of the encounter and aftermath, and he has decided to have an investigator review how his officers handled the call. 

The union, in their letter, says its members "have held themselves to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism through a challenging political climate over the past several months. Volatility has increased dramatically over the course of weekly protests occurring in Swampscott since April, 2020."

The union says officers "worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of members of the public who are exercising their right to participate in peaceful protest," and have used de-escalation to minimize interactions and arrests. 

"We respectfully implore the citizens of Swampscott and those visiting our community to appreciate that a police officer’s role is not that of judge or jury," they wrote. "When probable cause for a crime occurs, it is our obligation, under the oath we swore as officers of the law, to act in accordance with the judicial process, regardless of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, or political beliefs."

Madigan acknowledged the union's concerns but believes an independent investigation is still warranted. 

"The Swampscott Police Union is correct in pointing out the many challenges we’ve faced managing protests over the last many months," Madigan said Monday in response to the letter. "I recognize, value, and support their professionalism and their dedication."

Jean-Jacques' attorney, Murat Erkan, said last week he does not believe that there was probable cause for the charge against his client after viewing video of the encounter, and said the 80-year-old woman was the first aggressor in the incident. He also pointed to a judge's decision to deny a request by the district attorney's office to detain his client, who has no prior record, without bail after he was also shown videos. 

The protests, which have been occurring weekly since last spring, have led to some tensions in town, with some residents expressing concern over the type of language that is being used during the events. 

Gov. Charlie Baker alluded to the protests at his own home during a press conference on Friday after he was asked about the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Baker told reporters that the protesters have one thing in common, "they're either there to peacefully protest or to pick a fight." 

"What I see going on outside my own house ... people who want to protest peacefully and people who want to cause trouble," the governor said. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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