June 8, 2015, Remarks of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley on the Release of Video in the Fatal Shooting of Usaamah Rahim

BOSTON, June 8, 2015–Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today delivered the following remarks prior to releasing surveillance footage from a Roslindale business near the scene of last week’s fatal shooting of Usaamah Rahim by members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force:

“Good morning. I’m Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. I’m joined by Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and Vincent Lisi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI here in Boston.

“Before we begin, I’ll offer a brief overview of how we investigate police-involved shootings in Boston and Suffolk County and what the public can expect moving forward. I should be clear up front that our narrowly-defined role in these cases is to determine whether criminal charges are warranted in connection with a fatality. That investigation is separate and distinct from the ongoing federal probe that led to last week’s fatal encounter.

“Massachusetts law places the responsibility for all death investigations with the district attorney. But especially after events in other jurisdictions, there’s a growing public interest in transparency and accountability when local, state, or federal law enforcement use lethal force. As a result, we in Suffolk County have put in place a series of policies that far exceed what’s required by law. Few of them are in place in other major cities, and in fact I’d put them up against any other jurisdiction in the country.

“I’ve assigned this case to First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan, who will work closely with Assistant District Attorney Edmond Zabin, chief of our Homicide Unit, in directing the investigation. Together, they will work with the Boston Police Firearms Discharge Investigation Team, which draws senior investigators from BPD Homicide and other specialized units, and an FBI shooting team with similar specialized training.

“All the exacting steps we take in a traditional homicide investigation are brought to bear when police in Boston and Suffolk County use lethal force. Every scene is processed carefully and canvassed repeatedly. Every piece of evidence is documented and analyzed. Every witness is interviewed. Every interview is recorded. Every step investigators take is memorialized. If, at the end of an investigation, we or the family of the deceased believe more needs to be done, they’ll go out and do it.

“The result is an investigative file that usually runs to more than a thousand pages, with hours of recorded interviews, radio transmissions, and video evidence. As prosecutors, we then apply the relevant statutes and case law to that evidence and I determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

“This determination is impartial and based solely on the facts and the law. I’ve got nothing but respect for Commissioner Evans and Special Agent in Charge Lisi, but they are not a part of my charging decision, in this case or any other. My office is independent, the investigation is independent, and the decision is independent.

“In every fatal police shooting for more than a decade, I’ve met with the family of the deceased to explain my charging decision and released the entire investigative file to them and their civil counsel. I will take that step in this case as well.

“In addition, I’ve met in the past with Boston’s clergy, youth workers, civil rights advocates, and community leaders to explain the facts and evidence behind my charging decisions. Again, I expect to take that step in this case.

“And finally, I’ve opened the entire investigative file in every case to review by the news media. I’ll take that step in this case as well when the investigation has concluded. Every report, every recorded interview, every second of relevant video, will be open to media inspection. This policy of transparency is almost unparalleled elsewhere in the country.

“As those of you from Boston know, we’ve traditionally released the evidence at the end of the investigation, rather than doing so piecemeal. But media and technology have made communication to an unprecedented degree. It’s become easier than ever for rumor, speculation, and inaccurate information to fill the vacuum if reliable facts aren’t put out rapidly.

“For this reason, we’ve agreed to release certain video evidence earlier when it can help illuminate the facts, and when doing so won’t compromise the integrity of the investigation. Procedurally, we’ve screened it for a limited audience first for a reason: We prioritize accuracy in the interviews of witnesses and involved officers, and we want their accounts to reflect their direct observations. We also want to allow the family of the deceased the opportunity to view the footage at the time of their choosing, not suddenly and without warning on TV.

“In this case, the critical first interviews are complete. We’ve met with Mr. Rahim’s family and their counsel, and we are able to release the video publicly today after allowing them the chance to process the loss they’ve suffered.

“This sort of evidence may not be available in every case. And even when it is available, its release may not be appropriate if critical witnesses haven’t been interviewed yet, if identification is a live issue, or if there’s a strong likelihood that the evidence will go to a grand jury.

“But making video evidence public is something we’ve done in every police-involved fatality for more than a decade, and releasing it earlier reflects our intention to make best practices even better. When it can inform the public as to what happened and why, it’s in everyone’s best interest to share it as soon as possible in order to tamp down rumors and bad information.

“Finally, I want to make this very clear. This video is simply one piece of evidence among many, and the investigation is still very active. I haven’t made any findings yet or come to any legal conclusions. This is an exacting process and it requires a careful analysis of all the evidence in light of state and federal case law. A great deal of work still needs to be done, and this process is too important to rush.

“I know Commissioner Evans and Special Agent Lisi agree on that point, and I’ll ask them to say a few words. We’ll then play the video and afterward we’ll provide you with a link where you can retrieve it online.”