On Friday, September 5, family members, friends, and other supporters of Denis Reynoso marked the one year anniversary of the Iraq War veteran's sudden and violent death at the young age of 29. Reynoso was shot to death by Lynn Police Officer Joshua Hilton in his apartment in front of his five-year-old son.
Reynoso was an Iraq War veteran who served with a unit that located and disarmed roadside bombs. After returning to the United States, he worked as a clerk for the Salem Post Office until his resignation at the end of 2012. He hoped to get a job as a firefighter and had passed the exam shortly before his death. He left behind a fiancée, two children, and an extended family.
“Today marks one year that the Lynn police took my fiancé, Denis Reynoso, a war veteran who was suffering from severe PTSD,” said Jessica Spinney. “I just want to try to make everybody aware that it could happen to anybody because he was the nicest man that has ever walked into my life.”
Friday was a mix of angry protest and solemn, sometimes tearful, mourning. Family members and supporters first gathered at the gates of the Pine Grove Cemetery, where Reynoso's body was laid to rest, then marched on the Lynn police station where they paused for a short demonstration.
The day was sweltering, but a good Samaritan in a white pickup truck approached the cemetery gate shortly before the march began and offered the group cold, bottled water as a gesture of good will.
Matthew Krawitz, a supporter who helped organize the demonstration, led the marchers with a bullhorn. Others waved signs and chanted slogans like “No justice, no peace.”
Police officers driving unmarked vehicles monitored the group throughout the protest. We spotted several in a parking lot across the street from the cemetery before the march began. Police also followed the demonstrators as they marched to the police station.
After the march, the group walked back to the cemetery. Several family members paid their respects at Reynoso's grave, which was decorated with flags, flowers, and photographs. One family member recited a prayer in Spanish.
Later that evening, the family held a private gathering, where they socialized and ate snacks and a cake that read “Forever in Our Hearts” and “Justice for Denis.”
The shooting of Denis Reynoso was 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. 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.
People at the rally expressed skepticism about the district attorney's report, which left many lingering questions.
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.
Matthew Krawitz said he thought Reynoso's military training and experience made the story seem implausible. “Someone who defuses bombs lunged for a gun in a holster? That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard,” he said during the march.
Ultimately, there will probably never be definitive answers about what happened during the shooting and that uncertainty has worsened the grief experienced by Reynoso's family and friends.
Jessica Spinney said that a year after the shooting, she still feels like she has “no answers” about what happened.
“My whole life has gone down, but I'm getting back up there. We're all in counseling. That's pretty much what our schedule consisted of for the last six months. I'm getting back together, back at work. But as far as the DA or the Lynn police, there has been no other communication,” she said.
Peter Alvarez, who just graduated from Boston University School of Law, said he only met Reynoso once, but became concerned about the shooting after hearing about it from his sister-in-law, who was Reynoso's cousin.
Alvarez said he didn't think the police should have entered Reynoso's apartment in the first place. “There was no warrant to enter, there was no probable cause, and there was no emergency taking place,” he said.
Alvarez spoke with us at length about reforms he believes are necessary for police to be held accountable and for families to get answers.
He said that families of people killed by the police should be provided with basic documents such as incident reports within 48 hours. He also said the government should maintain a database of police killings so that it can be analyzed for trends.
Alvarez also said there needs to be a system of independent investigations for killings by police.
“I don't think the police officers should be the investigators and the evidence gatherers,” he said. “Municipalities should be able to pay the cost of a private investigator to do the investigation for the family.”
Alvarez and other family members had petitioned the police department early on for an independent investigation of the Reynoso shooting, but the investigation was handled by the local district attorney's office, which is standard for fatal police shooting cases in Massachusetts.
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.
Alvarez also said he supports the creation of citizen review boards with the power to control police department policies.
“The people should be the ones to say when police discretion has went outside the bounds of what they're comfortable with. We have constitutional bounds, but we still should also have citizen bounds, what the community wants,” he said.
Alvarez also spoke about the need for police departments to record officers with cameras.
“I think body cameras would be great,” he said. “When you're being watched and when you're being monitored, you're gonna be more likely to stay within the constitutional bounds.”
No major policy changes have been announced by the Lynn Police Department during the year since the Reynoso shooting.
The only action proposed by Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger 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.
While the Lynn police do not seem very reform-minded, the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri that were catalyzed by the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown have given rise to a national conversation about police violence and accountability that hasn't been paralleled in decades.
The Worcester Police Department recently announced that it was exploring the issue of body cameras, likely making it the first police department in Massachusetts to do so.
With discussions about body cameras and other reforms mentioned by Alvarez becoming commonplace, we are inching closer to a world where the tragedy of losing a loved one to police violence will no longer be compounded by the pain of not knowing the truth about what happened.