The family of Denis Reynoso, the military veteran who was fatally shot by a Lynn police officer last year, has filed a complaint with the US Department of Justice's civil rights division asking for an outside investigation of the shooting, according to The Boston Globe. The complaint was made Thursday, just a day after Governor Deval Patrick presented the three officers involved in the killing with Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Awards for Bravery, which they were nominated for by Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger.
“They made our family relive the whole thing,” Yessenia Reynoso, Denis Reynoso's sister, told the Globe. “You deserve an award when you save lives, not when you kill.”
Jessica Spinney, Reynoso's fiancée, told DigBoston that she thought it was "disgusting" that police received awards for killing him.
Denis Reynoso was a veteran of the Iraq war who defused roadside bombs in Iraq and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He worked as a postal clerk and had passed the exam to become a firefighter shortly before his death. He was fatally shot by Lynn police officer Joshua Hilton in his apartment in front of his five-year-old son on September 5, 2013. Lynn police officers John Bernard and Paul Scali were also involved in the incident.
According to the Globe, the complaint filed by Reynoso's family states, "The actions leading to his death seem to be caused by the lack of education and understanding by officers of the law and mentally ill."
The shooting was previously ruled justified by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, who explained his decision to clear the three officers involved in the shooting of criminal wrongdoing in a four-and-a-half page report released in January.
According to Blodgett’s report, police were dispatched to the apartment complex where Reynoso lived after receiving a call that he had been outside yelling at people and behaving erratically. Reynoso went back into his apartment before the police arrived, but they were directed there by several witnesses, including a postal worker who informed the police that Reynoso was a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress. The police entered the home, but said Reynoso grabbed one of their guns and managed to fire off two shots before one of the officers fired a fatal shot into his chest.
Despite the district attorney's determination, the shooting of Reynoso was highly controversial. A number of protests were held, including one that attracted over a hundred family members, friends, and other supporters. The most recent protest, which was attended by several dozen people, was held on the one year anniversary of Reynoso's death.
There was no physical evidence linking Reynoso to the gun he allegedly fired. The DNA test performed on the gun was inconclusive and investigators did not find any gunshot residue on Reynoso’s hands.
Furthermore, the police reports and interviews with the three officers, which were obtained by The Bay State Examiner earlier this year by making a public records request, contained several contradictions.
Shortly after the shooting, family members petitioned the police department for an independent investigation, but the investigation was handled by the local district attorney's office, which is standard for fatal police shooting cases in Massachusetts.
Records obtained by The Bay State Examiner show that the three officers involved in the shooting have worked with the district attorney's office on hundreds of cases, showing a clear conflict of interest.
Since at least 2002, district attorneys in Massachusetts have never prosecuted police officers for fatal shootings, no matter what the circumstances of the shooting were.
After the shooting Chief Coppinger did not propose any policy changes for defusing confrontations with people suffering from mental illness. The only action he proposed was buying new holsters for his officers. The district attorney's report stated that Reynoso was able to easily disarm an officer because his holster was worn out and missing a screw.
Update (11/24/14): The Daily Item reports on the police chief's reaction to the call for a federal investigation:
Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger said Sunday the department would fully cooperate with any federal investigation into what he called “a tragic event,” but said the officers prevented further deaths.
“The officers were put into a very dangerous situation last year, and it is very tragic that there was a loss of life and my sympathies go out to the family,” Coppinger said. “I do believe the actions taken by the officers prevented what could have been additional lives lost.”
“If the Department of Justice wants to come in and do an investigation, we will cooperate 100 percent,” Coppinger said. “I said that last year and will say it again, we will cooperate 100 percent.”
Watch our video about the one year memorial march for Denis Reynoso here: