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Victim of police chase car crash still seeks settlement

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO

Emanuelle Ancoin doesn’t remember standing at Tremont Street and Columbus Avenue on a Saturday in January of 1997, waiting to cross the street.
She has no recollection of the police chase that changed her life — neither the sirens of the pursuing police car, nor the screeching of tires that came before the fleeing vehicle jumped the sidewalk and knocked her 15 feet into the air.

But her mother, Mireille, remembers the morning well.

She remembers when Emanuelle’s younger sister burst through the door of her Roxbury apartment and cried, “Mommy, my sister’s dying!”

Mireille ran from her house and found her 9-year-old daughter’s body, broken from the impact of a car that police estimate was traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour before it struck her.

She remembers how Mayor Thomas M. Menino visited her at Boston Medical Center the next day and reassured her.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be OK,’” Mireille recalls.

But everything was not OK. Emanuelle sustained nerve damage in her brain. It has left her forever changed.

While Mireille navigated the health care system, seeking the best help for her daughter, her attorneys sought legal redress from the city. Although Emanuelle was not struck by a police cruiser, the officers who engaged in the pursuit did so in clear violation of Boston Police Department policy.

Yet after 11 years of legal claims, the Ancoins and their attorneys have been unable to obtain compensation from the department for Emanuelle’s injuries. Their suits failed first in state court, then in federal court.

“Police officers involved in high-speed chases are given almost complete immunity,” says their attorney, Tom Collins, noting that plaintiffs have to prove that officers involved in a chase knew a pedestrian would be a likely victim.

This, despite the fact that police department regulations prohibit officers from engaging in high-speed chases in thickly settled areas unless the officers have reason to believe the suspect has committed or is committing a felony crime.

Collins contends the officers had no reason to believe the suspect had done anything more than steal a car, an offense far below the felony threshold.

After unsuccessful attempts to hold liable the driver of the car and the owners’ insurance company, Collins tried political influence, persuading then-outgoing U.S. Attorney Donald Stern to petition Menino on Emanuelle’s behalf.

Collins says Stern received no reply from the city.

“We got nothing. Absolutely nothing,” he says.

Collins compares the Ancoins’ case to the more highly publicized case of Victoria Snelgrove, an Emerson University student killed by a police projectile fired into a crowd celebrating the Boston Red Sox’ 2004 American League Championship Series victory over the New York Yankees.

In May 2005, the City of Boston paid a $5.1 million settlement to Snelgrove’s family.

“There’s a tremendous sense of frustration all of us who worked on this case feel,” Collins says. “The policy was clear. The policy was put in place to prevent this very kind of thing from happening.”

Emanuelle has made a life for herself despite her disability. She is pursuing a nursing degree at Salem State College. But from time to time, her disability gets in the way.

“It’s left me with a condition where I’m disabled,” she says. “A lot of things I did in the past I can’t do. I can’t walk long distances. I walk with a limp. I have pains in my legs and arms.”

Recently, she tried for a job as a certified nursing assistant — a job many of her classmates have taken to help defray the costs of college. But because Ancoin does not have the strength to lift patients, she was unable to secure a license.

Emanuelle was in tears. But the setback — the latest of many — may have hurt her mother just as much.

“I don’t know what to do,” Mireille says. “All the time I look at my daughter and I know she wasn’t born like this.”