An MBTA surveillance video released by the Law Offices of Howard Friedman shows that the MBTA Transit Police Department covered up a beating last May. The video shows MBTA police detective Sean Conway grab Anthony Ferrier from the edge of the Red Line track at Park Street Station after the intoxicated man seemingly tried to jump on the tracks, then throw him to the ground, and beat him. Ferrier suffered multiple facial fractures due to the beating.
After the beating, MBTA Police Chief Paul MacMillan called Conway's behavior “tremendous.” The MBTA released an edited version of the video that did not include the beating. The MBTA also released the following statement under the title "Transit Police detective's quick action saves a life":
On May 7, 2014 at approximately 2:10PM at the MBTA's Park Street station a Transit Police detective happened upon a suicidal male. As the video depicts the male was about to jump into the "pit" area when the quick acting detective was able to grab the male, practically in mid air, and prevent him from harming himself.
Conway claimed at the time that Ferrier thanked him, but Ferrier said that wasn't true. “The complete video shows the truth about what happened; the police officer brutally beat me,” he said in a press release.
David Milton, one of Ferrier's attorneys, told us by email that the MBTA made up the suicide narrative:
[N]ot only did MBTA edit the video at the end, by cutting it off right after Conway pulled him from the edge, but it also edited it before the time when Conway arrived, to make it look like Ferrier was spontaneously jumping and Conway caught him (this fit the MBTA’s suicide narrative, which seems to have been something they made up). In fact, the full video shows Ferrrier standing around for a few minutes, wobbling around. He only lurches over the edge when Conway comes charging at him...
This editing of what occurred on the part the MBTA actually released (as opposed to the aftermath) shows a clear intent to deceive, in my opinion.
In order to get the video released, Milton made a public records request for a copy of the unedited video shortly after the incident occurred. The MBTA denied the request, saying that releasing it would reveal confidential law enforcement techniques as well as the MBTA’s internal deliberations. Milton sued the MBTA, who continued to fight its release, even hiring the law firm Seyfarth Shaw to defend them. The MBTA eventually agreed to release the video.
“Government agencies cannot disclose only records that they believe reflect positively on the agency. The MBTA’s attempt to mislead the public by refusing to provide the complete video shows the need for a strong public records law. Agencies now suffer no penalty when they violate the law. Under our current law we had to file a lawsuit and wait nearly a year to force the agency to provide records that should have been available to the public on request,” Milton said.
Under the Massachusetts public records, plaintiffs in lawsuits related to public records cannot be awarded attorney's fees by a judge even when they are successful. This discourages lawsuits when government agencies wrongfully deny public records. However, a proposed bill to update the public records law could change that, requiring courts to award reasonable attorney's fees to successful litigants.
Howard Friedman, another of Ferrier's attorneys, told The Boston Globe that he will likely pursue an excessive force lawsuit against Conway, and possibly the MBTA as well, over the beating.
The MBTA is standing behind Conway's actions as well as their handling of it. Here is a full statement from MBTA Lieutenant Detective Richard Sullivan:
Although we respect Attorney’s [sic] Friedman right to his opinion we disagree with his assessment of the incident in its totality. Detective Conway’s quick and decisive actions saved a man’s life. After careful review of the incident by our Use of Force Committee it was concluded Detective Conway acted appropriately. Detective Conway documented his actions via a Use of Force report and the implication the Transit Police or the MBTA attempted to mislead or deceive the public is simply incorrect. Based on potential and/or pending litigation on this matter it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.
Take note, Detective Conway is a 13 year veteran of the Department who is held in high regard for his professionalism and work ethic.
We asked Sullivan why the video was edited when it was first released, but he did not provide an answer.
"The MBTA misled the public and clearly intended to do so," Milton told WCVB. "If they truly believe the officer's actions were appropriate beginning to end, they should have released the entire video and let the public decide."
We have filed a public records request for more information about this incident.
Update (same day as original post): We have added more information to this story several times since it was first posted.