On Oct. 22, 2010, Boston Police and Department of Youth Services officers arrested a 16-year-old male wanted for escaping DYS custody and other unrelated offenses. That arrest took place on the campus of Roxbury Community College, and portions of it were recorded by civilians. As each of you is well aware, those video clips were uploaded to the internet and distributed online and in the news media.
After viewing those clips, I directed senior prosecutors within my office to investigate the level of force used by police during that arrest to determine whether it was excessive and subject to criminal prosecution. Toward that end, we reviewed not only the video clips themselves but also the statements of some 30 civilian and police witnesses; all of the reports and transmissions associated with the arrest; the juvenile arrestee’s medical records; Boston Police rules, regulations, and training materials; and the findings of the Boston Police Internal Investigations Unit.
We took the additional step of consulting with an independent expert in the use of force by law enforcement officials. That expert, Professor Gregory Connor, helped create the federal use of force model in use in jurisdictions across America and was the lead instructor for a United Nations police training group. As an expert witness, he has testified in court both for and against police officers accused of using excessive force, and he has no ties to my office or the Boston Police Department.
Based upon our objective review of the facts, the evidence, and the circumstances in this case, including our consultation with Professor Connor, I have determined that criminal charges are not warranted against any of the officers who took part in the arrest at Roxbury Community College. The suspect – whom I cannot name because he was a juvenile at the time – resisted a lawful arrest and became assaultive when officers tried to take him into custody. He would not relinquish his backpack and he would not show his hands, creating a very reasonable fear that he might be armed with a weapon. The officers on scene used a level of force appropriate to those circumstances. In fact, as our investigation revealed, they confined their efforts to the use of their hands and knees when they and their counterparts nationwide are trained and authorized to use implements such as baton strikes under similar circumstances.
We reviewed every witness statement. We compared each of them to one another, to the video footage, to the suspect’s medical records, and to the training materials supplied to us by Boston Police. The facts are plain: The officers used a series of unarmed techniques to bring the suspect to the ground, take control of his hands and arms, and place his wrists in handcuffs behind his back. These techniques are taught at the Boston Police Academy and they are routinely used by police across the country.
With the investigation complete, I can provide you with some context for the Oct. 22 arrest and the officers’ actions during that arrest.
The juvenile escaped from DYS custody on Oct. 18. On Oct. 22, with specific information on his location and current clothing, two Boston Police officers and a DYS apprehension officer were patrolling the area of Roxbury Crossing in an effort to find and arrest him for the escape and on warrants charging him with assaulting a probation officer with a wooden chair.
At about 2:30 that afternoon, the three officers spotted the juvenile entering the RCC campus. As he passed through an administration building and into a vestibule, they caught up with him and told him he was being placed under arrest. The officers instructed him to turn and place his hands behind his back. As they attempted to handcuff him and remove the backpack he was wearing, the juvenile suddenly became resistant. He refused to be handcuffed and in fact grabbed one end of the cuffs while an officer held the other end. A violent struggle ensued during which the juvenile struck one officer in the face.
The officers took the suspect to the ground. Both his hands and his backpack were beneath his chest. At that point, the officers had not been able to search him or his bag, which remained within his reach for much of the incident. It was reasonable for them to fear that he had a weapon available to him.
The three initial officers called for assistance and enlisted the aid of an RCC security guard. For a little over two minutes, the juvenile resisted the combined efforts of seven Boston Police officers, one DYS officer, and one RCC security guard to gain control of his hands. In that span of time, two officers used a series of unarmed distraction and compliance techniques that can be seen in the video clips. They included knee strikes to the juvenile’s rib area and closed-hand strikes to the armpit area, lower left leg, lower back, and left side. The most visible blows – the ones in which an officer lower on the juvenile’s body can be seen raising his fist in the air – are known as hammer strikes. They use the soft and fleshy part of the hand rather than the knuckles, and their purpose is to distract a suspect and thereby gain control of him.
Throughout the recorded portion of the incident, the officers can be heard telling him to stop resisting and put his hands behind his back. The juvenile can be heard swearing at officers and telling them to get off of him. At one point, he can be seen kicking an officer so violently that the officer is knocked off his legs. In all, one officer sustained a bruise above his right eye from a strike to his face, another sustained a bruise to her right knee, and a third sustained a laceration to his right hand.
Only one officer employed strikes or blows at a time. No officer kicked the juvenile or used a baton or any other implement to strike him. In fact, the only use of a baton was a single unsuccessful attempt to pry the juvenile’s arm out from under him. For obvious reasons, the enclosed vestibule was not an appropriate location for the use of department-issued pepper spray. When the juvenile was finally handcuffed, the officers climbed off and stepped away from him. There were no strikes or blows past this point.
As part of our investigation, we considered the various strikes used by the officers. In gauging their severity, the juvenile’s privileged medical records – which were finally provided to us on June 29 of this year – were extremely valuable. To the medical professionals who treated him, he was a patient, and their observations were neutral and impartial.
Boston EMS reported three injuries, all sustained when the suspect struck his forehead on the grated floor of the RCC vestibule. They included a small cut to his forehead, a bump above his eye, and a non-bleeding abrasion beneath his hair. Doctors at Boston Medical Center were most concerned with the laceration, which they treated with just four stitches. They released him back to DYS custody the same day with ice, Motrin, and a Tetanus booster shot.
The juvenile never lost consciousness. He was alert and oriented at all times, and he was led from the scene on his own feet and under his own power. He did not complain of a headache or tenderness to his chest, abdomen, or back. He did not complain about any injuries from strikes or blows by the officers during his arrest.
All of the strikes were delivered with empty hands or the knee. To further evaluate them, we looked at the officers’ training and whether they were instructed to use such strikes under such circumstances. They were.
Boston Police officers, like most municipal police across the country, are trained to use varying levels of force depending on a suspect’s level of compliance, resistance, or assaultive behavior along a five-step continuum. A suspect who refuses to show his hands and resists being handcuffed is considered to be in “active resistance” – the third step on the continuum. A suspect who adopts a combative stance or who punches, kicks, or otherwise assaults officers is considered “assaultive,” the fourth step on the continuum.
Each tactic used by the officers in the Oct. 22 arrest is taught at the Boston Police Academy as an appropriate technique with a resistant or assaultive suspect. Under the Municipal Police Training Committee guidelines, an officer who has been swung on by a suspect – as one of the three initial officers was – is justified in using closed fists, baton strikes, or even a TASER to subdue that suspect. This point needs to be crystal clear: By using their hands and knees as compliance and distraction techniques, these officers used less force than they could have given the suspect’s behavior.
This is not to say that the execution of the arrest was flawless. In fact, it was not, and in this respect our findings were significantly informed by Professor Connor’s expert review. Foremost, Professor Connor indicated to us that he did not see any strikes that he found excessive. He noted that no officer struck the juvenile once he was handcuffed, and that the officers appeared to use force in a good-faith effort to gain the juvenile’s compliance, not punish him or inflict injury out of malice.
Instead, Professor Connor indicated, the flaws in the Oct. 22 arrest came from a lack of coordination rather than a lack of restraint. Many of the strikes proved to be completely ineffective, and the evidence is in the two-plus minutes it took nine public safety officers to achieve the suspect’s compliance. Moreover, the use of multiple strikes and blows in the context of a college campus arrest was almost bound to inflame public opinion and was not as effective as targeting nerve centers for pain compliance using a baton or other implement. I have supplied Commissioner Davis with a series of Professor Connor’s recommendations in this regard.
Like many others who saw them, I was initially disturbed by the video clips of the Oct. 22 arrest. But here as elsewhere, context is everything: The juvenile suspect was wanted for escaping incarceration for a violent offense. He reacted with disproportionately assaultive behavior when officers tried to remove his backpack and take him into custody. And he refused to take his hands out from beneath his body even after repeated orders and efforts to do so. Based on training, experience, and common sense, a reasonable officer could believe that he had or was attempting to use a weapon.
The officers who arrested the juvenile used a series of techniques taught not only at the Boston Police Academy but in most major American cities. They used a level of force appropriate to the circumstances and proportionate to the juvenile’s resistance and aggression. They stopped using force when their objective was achieved and the suspect was in handcuffs.
The Oct. 22 arrest at Roxbury Community College has been reviewed and investigated with an objective eye. The arrest of a violently resisting suspect is by its nature chaotic, and it can even be disturbing. Legally and factually, however, the evidence we’ve assembled and scrutinized does not support criminal charges against any of the officers involved.
Click here to read DA Conley’s official letter to Boston Police Department Commissioner Edward Davis reporting his findings.