The day after a deadly police shooting in Boston, officials from the police department showed a surveillance video of the incident to a small group of handpicked community members during a closed-door meeting. Usaama Rahim, 26, died on Tuesday after a Boston police officer and FBI agent opened fire on him outside of a CVS in the Roslindale neighborhood.
During a press conference after yesterday's meeting, Boston police commissioner William Evans said that five members of the FBI and Boston Police Department approached Rahim to question him and were forced to shoot after he came at them with a knife. Evans said Rahim was hit three times.
“The reason we spoke today because there was a lot of misinformation out there,” Evans said. “It was just to sorta calm down the emotions and, again, to explain to all of our community partners that this is what happened.”
Evans was referring to a Facebook post by Rahim's brother Ibrahim, which claimed the man was shot three times in the back while talking on the phone with their father. Ibrahim Rahim, a Boston imam with a history of speaking out against terrorism, made the post about two hours after the shooting, before Usaama Rahim has been publicly identified by police.
Based on the descriptions of the video provided during yesterday's press conference by those who had seen it, the video largely corroborates the police narrative of the shooting. However, the camera was apparently so far away from the incident that the knife Rahim is alleged to have wielded is not visible.
“It certainly makes it clear that the gentleman was not shot in the back, but he was shot in the front. But the camera is at a distance,” said Reverend Arthur Gerald, Jr., president of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston.
Abdullah Faaruuq of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah described the video as “inconclusive.”
“I don't think that he was shot in the back by virtue of that, however, we couldn't see clearly at all... whether he was brandishing a knife or not,” Faaruuq said.
“The weapons aren't clearly visible,” Evans said, but added that the video shows the FBI agents and police officers backing away from Rahim before shooting him.
“I think the video's clear as far as five officers retreating who would never be retreating unless there was an eminent threat. You see them probably retreat a good 15 to 20 yards with a threat coming at them,” Evans said.
Evans also said that witnesses said they heard the FBI agents and police officers ordering Rahim to drop the knife.
Police apparently wanted to question Rahim as part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into an alleged plan to behead police officers.
After Rahim was killed on Tuesday, police arrested David Wright of nearby Everett, who they say was involved in the plot. Wright appeared in federal court yesterday, but has only been charged with obstruction.
According to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent J. Joseph Galietta, Wright was aware of Rahim's plot and told him to destroy his smartphone and wipe his laptop before carrying it out.
The affidavit claims Rahim initially wanted to kill someone out of state and that he and Wright met with a third, unnamed person on a beach in Rhode Island to to discuss the plan. However, the affidavit claims that Rahim changed his mind at the last minute and decided he would “go after” the “boys in blue” during a phone call with Wright on Tuesday, the day he was killed.
The affidavit claims that recorded conversations prove Rahim was plotting to kill police, but many of the conversations used what were supposedly euphemisms. For instance, the affidavit claims Wright “said that something was 'like thinking with your head on your chest,'” which is supposedly a euphemism for beheading. The affidavit also claims the two used the phrase “going on vacation” as a euphemism for “committing violent jihad.”
Evans said during yesterday's press conference that the FBI agents and police “went out there to only question” Rahim, not to arrest him, which suggests the case against him may not have been very strong.
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said that the video of the shooting will not be released to the public at least until Rahim’s family has had a chance to see it.
Boston law enforcement seem to be following a pattern set after a deadly police shooting on March 27. During that incident, Angelo West, the driver of a vehicle pulled over by Boston police, pulled out a gun and shot officer John Moynihan point blank in the face before he was shot to death by police. Moynihan survived the incident.
Two days after the shooting, police showed video of it to several handpicked community members.
On April 10, the police department released a video to the public which depicted Moynihan being shot, but it did not depict West being shot as he had run off camera.
Two other video of the shooting exist and were shown during the private meeting and are said to show much more detail about the shooting, but have not been released to the public yet.
“The video we saw had a better angle… it was a very difficult video to watch,” Boston NAACP president Michael Curry told The Boston Herald. “The video that you saw... was not as tough to see as the video we saw.”
Boston police played a third video of the shooting after West's family said they were concerned that he had not been provided with medical attention after he was shot.
“[T]hat’s the video that shows a man that appears to be Mr. West collapsing with a gun in his hand and then police running up and removing the gun and turning him over onto his back,” Curry told The Herald. “It seems clear from that video that because of the location of the injuries, the police were able to determine that he was deceased by the time he hit the ground.”
Shortly after that shooting, we made a public records request for all video. The Massachusetts records law requires government agencies to comply with all requests within 10 days, but the police department still has not responded more than a month later.
Under state law, police can sometimes withhold information related an ongoing investigation, but must show that releasing the records would compromise the investigation. Given that police were able to show these two additional videos to a small group of community members who are not part of the investigation, it is apparent that releasing them would not hamper their efforts. Furthermore, government agencies are required to provide an explanation in writing if they are withholding records.
We made an administrative appeal to the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, but these appeals typically take months to resolve.
Sharing video with community members in the immediate aftermath of a police shooting and answering questions they may have is an excellent idea, but it would be even better if police also released the video to the general public.
The Boston Police Department deserve some credit for meeting with members of the community in the aftermath of these two shootings, but it's still unacceptable that they do not follow their obligations under the public records law.
Update: Rahim's family held a press conference today outside the CVS where he was shot. You can view the entire video below:
According to The Boston Globe, the family has viewed the video of the shooting since the press conference, but had no comment.