Boston police robocall for peace

An Occupy Boston protester being choked by a police officer. (Credit: OccupyBoston.org) The Boston police have been urging calm and peace in the days leading up to the expected announcement of the grand jury decision in the Mike Brown police shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri. The police have been sending out mass emails and even making robocalls asking people not to riot when the decision is announced.

The anticipated protests that seem likely to follow the grand jury decision are a key opportunity for the Boston Police Department to live up to Commissioner William Evans' vision. Evans recently claimed in an interview with WBUR that the Boston police have changed their violent crowd control tactics in the decade since a Boston police officer killed Victoria Snelgrove, a bystander at the riotous celebration that followed the Red Sox eliminating the Yankees and making it into the World Series in 2004.

Evans Told WBUR that the Boston police no longer wear riot gear at crowd events and that instead of violently dispersing crowds, they nicely ask protesters to move along and offer them high fives. Despite Evans' claims that these changes to the department's culture have already taken place, they have yet to be seen in action. It's unsurprising that they haven't when you consider that Officer Rochefort Milien, who killed Snelgrove, faced no significant repercussions for his actions, still works for the department, and took home $142,711.36 in taxpayer money last year.

These protests will also be a test for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who has also called for peace in the aftermath of the grand jury announcement. Walsh expressed a troubling view on the First Amendment earlier this year to The Boston Herald. After an inflammatory incident that occurred shortly before the Boston Marathon, Walsh called on the Boston police to arrest anyone wearing a backpack and shouting "Boston Strong" as soon as possible, not even allowing them to travel two blocks in the city.

The Boston police are the only group likely to show up to the protests who have specifically trained to perpetrate organized violence against crowds. The last major street protest movement, Occupy Boston, was “successfully” policed according to Evans, despite Boston police officers who choked multiple people and threw others to the ground on camera.

If the Boston police want to send emails and make robocalls to try to head off violence in the streets, they should be to their own officers.

Lynn police block complaints with threats of arrest

While I was covering the one year memorial march for Denis Reynoso on September 5, I saw Lynn police officers, some in plainclothes, monitoring the protesters. Reynoso’s family have staged about half a dozen rallies in the year since a Lynn police officers ended Reynoso’s life under questionable circumstances and I have attended all but one of them. I have not seen any violence or criminality (or any calls for such) at any of these gatherings.

As we marched, I spotted an undercover police officer shadowing us in a beat-up Camry. I wondered why police were monitoring a peaceful protest, so I approached the officer’s vehicle and asked him for his ID. I intended to include his presence in my story about the march and I wanted to follow up with the department about why police had been assigned to monitor the protest.

I cannot speak to the officer’s intent when he drove into me but I can say that he was very clearly aware of my location in proximity to his vehicle when he began driving and when he hit me with his mirror. Just before the officer began to drive, he waved to me and then he stared at me as he drove. He hit me with enough force that the side mirror folded back. I was not injured.

The officer stopped after he hit me and got on his radio, but at no time did he check on me, identify himself, or offer any aid. I left at that point because it was clear that the officer, who had not even rolled down his window, had no desire to speak with me. The officer drove past me a short while later without any attempt to get my attention as he returned to the police station.

The Lynn police know how serious an incident can be when a car is driven at anyone. Police in Lynn shot and killed a driver, Brandon Payne, for endangering officers in 2012 after Payne reportedly rammed a police car. Last year, in the neighboring town of Saugus, police shot a man after they allege he drove at them in a Camry which, by coincidence, is the same type of vehicle that the Lynn officer hit me with.

The incident I was involved in wasn't quite as serious as those two incidents were described. It was a low speed issue and did not cause me to fear for my life. Nevertheless, I thought the police officer who drove into me was careless at best and should be held accountable for his actions.

On September 8, I entered the Lynn police station to try to sort the problem out. I requested public documents, asked for a comment (or a no comment), and asked for a criminal investigation regarding the incident. The Lynn police took my records request while telling me they were not likely to follow the Massachusetts public records law.

Lynn Police Lieutenant James Shorten took an initial report of the car hitting me and informed me that there was no record or log of the incident. Unbelievably, the officer who hit me had obviously not made a log or report and whoever he radioed to after hitting me had likewise failed to make any report or log of any kind. The lack of a report was surprising to me considering that the incident resulted in damage to the police vehicle.

After giving a basic report to Shorten, I went out to the Lynn police station’s back parking lot. I found the Camry and noticed that the car had been repaired in a DIY fashion. The mirror was reattached to the vehicle with a screw. Given the lack of any report, whoever repaired the car had obviously done so without making any documentation and may have tampered with the evidence.

While in the back lot, I was approached by a Lynn police officer. The officer refused to identify himself, including refusing to show his police ID card upon request (which he claimed not to have) which he is required to show under state law. Any municipal police officer must carry and present a police ID card upon lawful request under Massachusetts law. That officer claimed that the only way to learn a Lynn police officer’s name is to speak with the chief.

The unidentified officer asked what I was doing in the back lot and I reported to him that the car I was looking at had been driven into me. At that point, I had just reported a potentially serious incident to an on-duty, uniformed Lynn police officer who responded by ordering me to leave the “private property” belonging to the City of Lynn Police. The officer even refused to radio in the license plate number to the Shorten, who had asked me for it when I made the initial report.

I left the lot and returned to the front desk to tell Shorten that the car had been tampered with and that it was out back – two important pieces of information that he needed to know as soon as possible so that he could make sure that the incident was looked into fully and so that the tampering could be investigated as well. This was important because the Shorten needed to act immediately to preserve the evidence. Lastly, I wanted to make a complaint about the officer who did not present his ID card and who claimed that the police station was “private property.”

When I reached the main desk, the unidentified officer from the back lot came out front to suppress my attempt to report what was going on. That officer was quickly joined by a second officer who told me he was “tasked with seeing that [I] leave.” That officer gave a badge number but did not present an ID card upon request. I was not allowed to speak with Shorten, though I was told he knew I was present and at one point Shorten popped his head out, then left as I tried to speak with him.

During the course of the interaction, two other Lynn police officers and Sergeant Thomas McDermott joined us. McDermott first addressed me by telling me I was subject to arrest then asked what I needed. This was a very intimidating way to begin an interaction.

I tried to explain to McDermott the car that had hit me was in the back lot, had been tampered with, and the evidence needed to be preserved, but he was not interested in listening to me.

McDermott reiterated that the Lynn police station is “private property,” kept claiming I had “no legitimate business” in the Lynn police department, and then claimed that my attempt to report the issues was “creating a disturbance.” One of the other officers present claimed that our interaction created a disturbance because people were unable to conduct business at main desk. I agree that there was a disturbance going on, but it was caused by McDermott yelling at me, not my attempt to make my complaints.

Ultimately, McDermott placed me under threat of arrest for “trespassing” and “creating a disturbance” in the public main lobby of the Lynn police station. I left at that point, afraid for my safety and well-being. The Lynn police had managed to successfully intimidate me into not finishing the complaint process.

In two follow-up emails, another sergeant with the Lynn police would not say if I am still under threat of arrest.

I emailed Police Chief Kevin Coppinger on September 24 to ask him for an independent investigation of his entire department since the default response many of his officers have to complaints seems to be to threaten people who try to make them. My experience left me with a total lack of confidence in their ability to handle complaints themselves. I have not heard back from Coppinger yet.

Since September 8, I received a response to my records request. The department did not mail out a reply until 11 days later even though the public records law requires a response within 10 days. The department has asked for $500.54 in fees for the records. I plan to challenge the fees, which I consider to be excessive.

Sergeant Timothy McDermott (second from the right) threatened to arrest me for trying to make a complaint.