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Family of Terrence Coleman sues

Mother files civil rights lawsuit

Karen Morales

Last October, when South End resident Hope Coleman called for an ambulance to take her mentally-ill adult son to the hospital, she had no idea it would set off a chain of events that would end in his death.

Last week, Coleman filed a civil rights lawsuit, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, that challenges the Boston Police Department’s and Suffolk District Attorney’s account of the events on that early Sunday morning that led to the death of her 31-year-old son, Terrance.

According to the lawsuit filed, Coleman is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death against the City of Boston, BPD Commissioner William Evans, Boston Emergency Medical Services Chief Sophia Dyer, the two police officers who shot Terrence, the two EMTs who arrived at the Coleman residence and the 911 dispatcher who received Hope Coleman’s call.

A deadly 911 call

Coleman had called for medical assistance because her son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, had become withdrawn and spent the majority of the day outside in the cold. She told the emergency call operator that she did not want police officers to come, as she feared it might further agitate her son, and only wanted an ambulance to transport Terrence to Tufts Medical Center.

However, the 911 dispatcher entered the call in the emergency services system with the code “EDP2” for emotionally disturbed persons who are violent or pose physical harm to others, and two police officers, Garrett Boyle and Kevin Finn, arrived at the home.

The mother did not allow the officers to enter her home, but she allowed in two EMTs, Kyle MacKinnon and Terrence Mentele, to enter and escort her son to the ambulance.

Upon seeing the police, Terrence Coleman stopped in the communal foyer of the building and refused to go outside. The officers entered the foyer at this moment. A scuffle ensued and both officers shot at him.

Hours after the incident, Evans told press that the officers had responded with deadly force because Coleman had attacked the EMTs with a “large knife.” Hope Coleman denies this and states that although there was a knife at the kitchen table, her son never grabbed it.

The lawsuit states that although defendants Boyle, Finn, Mentele and Mackinnon made similar statements about Coleman brandishing a knife, their statements are inconsistent about where and when Terrence Coleman first allegedly pulled out a knife, where Hope Coleman was standing, and when the EMTs called for assistance.

In addition, according to the lawsuit, police officers obtained a search warrant and seized a kitchen knife from inside the apartment, despite the accounts that claimed the knife was used in the foyer of the apartment building.

Allegations

The suit alleges that the BPD used excessive, unreasonable and deadly force and that the City of Boston systematically and knowingly fails to properly train police officers and EMTs to “provide appropriate services for such persons” with mental health disabilities and lacks a system to categorize and respond to 911 calls involving persons with mental health disabilities.

During the investigation, conducted by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, Boyle and Finn were placed on leave and underwent counseling.

Some critics, such as Sophia Hall, Lawyers’ Committee attorney for the Coleman suit, say that there should have been a more independent investigation.

“The Suffolk DA did complete an investigation in-house,” said Hall. “Even before we had Hope as a client, we sent a letter to the city of Boston saying it was important to have a third-party decision maker on whether the officers should be held liable.”

The shooting of Coleman was seen by many anti-police-brutality activists at the time as further reasoning to implement police-worn body cameras in Boston.

A pilot program for body cameras was implemented by the Boston Police Department in 2017 and on Monday, Mayor Marty Walsh’s office announced that the fiscal year 2019 budget will include a $2 million investment for the permanent adoption of police-worn body cameras.

In addition to greater transparency, Hall told the Banner that the Lawyers’ Committee hopes the city will implement systemic change and better training for law enforcement and medical emergency officials on how to properly respond to persons with mental health disabilities.

A 2016 report released by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization, analyzed nationwide police incidents from 2013 to 2015 and found that disabled individuals make up over one-third of all people killed by law enforcement officers.

“People generally say Boston is progressive and forward-looking and what the Coleman tragedy shows us is that actually, we’re right in that list of cities who have had deaths of black men,” said Hall. “We’re right there with Ferguson, Baton Rouge and Sacramento.”

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