BOSTON, Dec.16, 2013—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today concluded his review of the fatal shooting last summer of Burrell Ramsey-White by a Boston Police officer after Ramsey-White pointed a loaded handgun at the officer’s head. The review of more than 1,000 pages of documentary evidence, numerous civilian witness statements, surveillance imagery, and the relevant statutes and case law showed that the officer acted in self-defense against a deadly threat.
Prior to making those findings public, Conley met with independent community stakeholders under his own voluntary policy to explain the evidence and his decision. Those stakeholders included representatives of the Nation of Islam, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Bowdoin Street Health Center, the Boston Re-Entry Initiative, the Teen Center at St. Peter’s Church, the City of Boston Street Worker Program, and the Boston Foundation StreetSafe program. Representatives of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and additional clerical and community groups were invited but were unable to attend.
Prior to the meeting, Conley notified Acting Boston Police Commissioner William Evans of his decision and met personally with members of White’s family and their attorney.
The investigation, summarized in a letter from Conley to Evans stating that prosecutors would not seek criminal charges against the officer, revealed that two Boston Police officers on patrol in Boston’s South End encountered a tan Cadillac DeVille with tinted windows on the evening of Aug. 21, 2012. They queried the plate and learned from their mobile data terminal that the car was registered to Jurrell Laronal and that Laronal was wanted on an active warrant out of Suffolk Superior Court in a case charging aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Unbeknownst to the officers, however, the car was actually being operated by White.
The officers followed the car briefly before stopping it on Rutland Square, with both vehicles pointed toward Columbus Avenue. They then approached it on foot. Officer Mathew Pieroway requested the driver’s license and registration. White was initially evasive and then produced his license with his left hand while reaching behind the car’s center console with his right. Pieroway placed the license on the roof and, based on the operator’s actions and his own belief that the operator was wanted for a violent felony, asked White to exit the vehicle.
Instead, the evidence showed, White put the car in drive and accelerated away toward Columbus Avenue, where it turned left onto West Newton Street. Pieroway and his partner gave chase, notified the Boston Police Operations Division, and were ordered to discontinue the pursuit. The officers did so and continued to travel in the direction the Cadillac had been headed. On Harcourt Street, they saw the car and watched it slow down. They also saw the driver jump out and begin running along the Southwest Corridor toward Dartmouth Street. The officers followed him on foot.
Statements by Pieroway, his partner, and multiple civilian witnesses showed that Pieroway repeatedly identified himself as a police officer and ordered White to stop running. White ignored those orders. The chase continued to the area of Carlton and Yarmouth streets, where a civilian witness watched as White began reaching for his midsection. The witness also heard Pieroway ordering him to stop.
Another civilian witness in the area of Yarmouth Place then heard Pieorway ordering White to “Put your hands where I can see them” and telling him “If you don’t stop I will shoot.” An additional civilian witness heard the officer shout “Stop reaching, if you reach I will shoot, stop reaching or I’ll shoot.” This witness saw White at the top of a set of steps near 5 Yarmouth Pl. reaching toward his pocket, with Pieroway about five to 10 feet behind him.
Ramsey-White turned counter-clockwise to face Pieroway. In his right hand, he held a black firearm. Pieroway twice ordered him to drop it. White was at the top of the stairs and Pieroway was at the bottom. White’s gun was pointed at Pieroway’s head. Pieroway fired, hitting White in the left front of the torso.
White fell forward with his right hand hitting a handrail. His firearm fell into a Dumpster adjacent to the stairway. It was later recovered and found to be a Bersa Thunder .380 caliber semiautomatic handgun with five live rounds in the magazine and one live round in the chamber. Additional responding officers rendered first aid to White, as did emergency medical technicians who rushed him to Boston Medical Center, where he died of his injury.
Pursuant to Boston Police policy, Pieroway’s weapon and his partner’s weapon were secured at the scene. Subsequent ballistics testing showed that Pieroway’s weapon had been fired once and his partner’s had not been fired. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found that White had suffered one gunshot wound during the incident, with that injury from a bullet that travelled upward from front to back, consistent with Pieroway’s position facing White from the foot of the stairs. Pathologists also found an additional projectile, apparently from a gunshot injury sustained on an undetermined earlier date; they could not determine the path of that projectile because the injury had healed over. Ballistics experts determined that this projectile could not have come from Pieroway’s or his partner’s weapons.
“Officer Mathew Pieroway acted reasonably and lawfully in self-defense,” Conley wrote to Evans. “The officer fired only when Mr. White drew his .380 and pointed it at Officer Pieroway’s head. After White had ignored repeated commands to stop and drop his weapon, Officer Pieroway reasonably believed that Mr. White was going to fire at him. Accordingly, I conclude that criminal charges are not warranted.”
Prosecutors made preliminary findings in the case earlier this year but withheld them after a request by counsel for White’s family to interview additional civilian witnesses. Prosecutors fulfilled that request and included the statements from those witnesses who could be located in their overall assessment of the evidence. As with all investigations into police-involved shootings, Conley’s office will allow representatives of independent news media to review the investigative file after a copy has been provided to counsel for the family of the deceased.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.