Prompted by the recent clearing of Boston police officers in the brutal, videotaped arrest of a juvenile at Roxbury Community College, Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey renewed calls for “a truly independent” civilian review board.
In a prepared statement, Yancey described the arrest as a “beating” and said that it “cries out for a system that will gain public trust in the Boston Police Department as well as in its Internal Affairs Division.”
“A civilian review board could ensure an objective review of facts and it could also guarantee a process to hold any police officers involved in civil rights violations accountable for their actions,” Yancey stated.
Though Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said he too was “disturbed” by the video clips of the arrest, he still concluded earlier this month that the police officers did not use excessive force and would not face criminal charges.
Cell phone footage of the arrest inside the lobby of the college shot by civilians captured several officers restraining and striking the 6-foot-1-inch, 165-pound youth on the floor of a campus building.
“Context is everything,” Conley said at a recent press conference, explaining that the 16-year-old suspect was wanted on warrants for assault charges and exhibited “assaultive behavior’’ when police tried to apprehend him.
But during the struggle, Officer Michael McManus hit the youth about 17 times, including six “hammer type’’ strikes with the fleshy portion of his fist instead of his knuckles, according to Conley.
Last week, scores of community actvists demonstrated in front of Roxbury Community College.
“It is unfortunate that this incident occurred in our community and on our campus,” said Dr. Stephanie C. Janey, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at RCC. “Violence in any form is antithetical to the value that guides this institution of higher learning.”
The arrest was captured on the cell phone of a first-year RCC student at the time, and then posted onto YouTube. The footage, which has since been viewed by more than a million users, shows five BPD officers punching, jabbing and even kneeing the youth.
Connelly explained in his report that “the arrest of a violently resistant suspect is by its nature chaotic and can be disturbing to observers.”
But during the rally former state Sen. Bill Owens asked, “If there was a man subdued by five or six other people and I hit him seventeen times with my fist and, allegedly, with the fleshy part of my hand, would I be charged? I think you know the answer,” he concluded. “It is criminal, and I don’t care who says it is not.”
The minor received a cut on his forehead, a bump above his eyes, and an abrasion beneath his head as a result of the arrest. The results of the investigation serve as a crippling blow to the already weak relationship between the Boston Police Department and the people of the city of Boston.
“The foundation to the community is trust,” said at-large city councilor William Dorcena. “Trust between the neighborhood and the Boston Police Department. The way you get to trust is through honesty. I don’t know any parent that would watch that video and see the knees being delivered upon that kid and say that it’s OK, including me, and that’s honesty.”
Jamarhl Crawford, a community activist who organized the rally and who also publishes The Blackstonian, a web-based newspaper, said that the next step for the community is to petition the governor for a state commission on police misconduct, beginning with a civilian review board.
Civil Rights lawyer Howard Freidman said the fact that District Attorney Connelly decided not to bring criminal charges against any Boston Police officers is outrageous, and is certainly not new.
“In his nine and a half years as district attorney, Connelly has never brought criminal charges against a Boston Police officer for use of force against a citizen while on duty,” Friedman explained.
The calls for a more independent civilian review board have been around for years.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced plans to create the panel in August 2006, but it wasn’t officially established until March 2007, when the mayor signed an executive order bringing the newly named Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP) to life.
“It is in the best interest of the City of Boston and the Boston Police Department to have an oversight mechanism to build trust and confidence within the community,” Menino wrote in the order.
In the order, Menino laid out the panel’s responsibilities — to review complaints alleging serious misconduct that are dismissed by the department’s Internal Affairs Division (IAD), as well as a random sampling of other dismissed complaints; to request additional investigation by police if IAD case files are found to be lacking; to recommend action to the police commissioner if any is warranted; and to make an annual report to the mayor.
But it also set forth what some have called the board’s crippling limitations. CO-OP lacks both the power to conduct independent investigations and the ability to issue subpoenas, and any recommendations the ombudsmen do make will be non-binding.