Commonwealth v. Vassell

In February 2008, intoxicated intruders John Bowes and Jonathan Bosse smashed Jason Vassell's dorm window, shouted racial slurs at him, and demanded a fight. Vassell -- fearing for his life -- went to the lobby to meet a friend he had called for help, where Bowes and Bosse found him. The larger of the two men punched Vassell in the face, breaking his nose. During the ensuing fight, Vassell used a pocketknife to defend himself, stabbing both the men before escaping behind a locked door.

Despite overwhelming evidence of an unprovoked and racially motivated attack on a black student by two white non-students, the investigation focused almost immediately on Vassell, with one police officer asserting that Vassel was a drug dealer, without any evidence for this.

As a result, Vassell faced two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon -- charges which carried a maximum penalty of 30 years in state prison. Yet authorities never charged Bosse with anything, and Bowes received probation for disorderly conduct.

Both Bosse and Bowes appear in previous police reports alleging involvement in other violent incidents, a fact which often prompts more aggressive prosecution -- but that did not happen in this case. Instead, prosecutors claimed that Jason Vassell was too dangerous to be released.

ACLU of Massachusetts attorney Bill Newman and legal director John Reinstein joined attorneys David Hoose and Luke Ryan of Northampton in defending Jason Vassell.

On June 4, 2010, the Superior Court ordered the case be continued for dismissal on a not-guilty plea for two and a half years, but made that order retroactive to the date of the arraignment. On August 5, 2010, the indictment was dismissed.

Earlier in the case, a Single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court had affirmed the Superior Court's order that the Northwestern District Attorney's office turn over to the defense discovery regarding race and prosecutions in Hampshire County. That discovery order had been entered as part of the litigation on the defense's Motion to Dismiss the indictment on the basis that the prosecution against Vassell constituted illegal, racially discriminatory selective prosecution. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed that the defense had made a showing of of discriminatory prosecution significant enough for a hearing to be held and the discovery to be ordered. However, that Motion was never finally adjudicated because the Commonwealth agreed that the indictment should be dismissed.


8.10.10's On Liberty blog
Racism and the Need to Set Things Right


Supporters celebrate case finale


Associated Press
Ex-UMass student gets probation in stabbings


Boston Globe
Protests allege injustice in UMass stabbing case


News Release: Vassell Wins in Hampshire Superior Court

Legal Documents

Motion to Dismiss

Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Final Agreement

Dismissal Order