Nov 16 2013

Student charged with wiretapping for recording Boston police

Dr. Q

It’s been more than a year since the City of Boston paid out over $200,000 in settlements to people who were falsely arrested and charged with felony wiretapping for video-recording cops, but Boston police still haven’t learned their lesson.

The wiretapping law makes it illegal to secretly record conversations, however, Boston police have arrested a number of people over the years for openly recording and charged them with wiretapping.

Last year, the taxpayers of Boston were forced to pay $170,000 to Simon Glik and $33,000 to Maury Paulino. Both men were arrested — Glik in 2007 and Paulino in 2009 — by Boston police officers for openly video-recording cops making arrests in public.

Last month, Boston police again used the wiretapping law as their excuse for arresting someone who was recording them. This time the victim was a Northeastern student who used his cellphone to record the police during the celebration after the Red Sox won the World Series. Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The Huntington News, a Northeastern student paper, reported the following information about the case:

I was able to catch up with the student charged with wire-tapping, Tyler Welsh, to hear what he did in the confrontation to deserve that charge. He said he and the officer got into an argument after Welsh questioned why he couldn’t go past the barricades the police had set up to contain students near Fenway Park.

“It was like the situation was getting to the point where I thought he wasn’t doing the right thing,” Welsh said. “He was lacking that professionalism and I thought, ‘I’m going to catch this on camera so at least I can go back and have it and be able to see if what he said was okay, was it not okay or was what I was doing okay?”

Welsh described the confrontation with the officer in an all too familiar way for anyone who ever been in the same situation. He described feeling nervous, afraid and losing control of the entire situation. So he put his phone in front of his chest and began to record a video.

It wasn’t the first time the student felt the need to do so.

Two weekends ago, Welsh was outside a party Boston Police shut down in Mission Hill. He encountered five police officers surrounding and pushing one second-year business student, Michael Kerr, and once again felt the need to document the incident.

“I exited the building after asking a cop inside if I could retrieve my jacket, who replied by grabbing me by my collar and yelling at me to leave immediately,” Kerr said. “I asked another officer outside the same, at which point I was surrounded by 5 of them pushing me and calling me a ‘tough guy’ and to ‘stop with all the questions.’”

An October 31 press release from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office confirms that Welsh was arrested for recording the police:

A dozen people arrested in Boston after last night’s World Series win appeared in a Boston courtroom today, with 10 of them being arraigned today on charges related to their alleged conduct, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.

Of the 12 people arrested by Boston, State, and MBTA Transit police, Roxbury District Court Judge Tracy-Lee Lyons dismissed one case for lack of probable cause and continued a second man’s case for arraignment at a later date. Those two men were a 23-year-old Allston man arrested by Transit Police for trespassing into the tunnel leading from the Blandford Street MBTA stop toward Kenmore Square and a 20-year-old Northeastern University student who allegedly refused to follow Boston Police officers’ orders to leave the area of Kenmore Square and recorded the confrontation on his cell phone. (emphasis added)

Nov 6 2013

Boston police hope to acquire more semiautomatic weapons

Dr. Q

Yesterday, The Boston Globe announced the parting gift of Ed Davis, who recently stepped down as Commissioner of the Boston Police Department: more police militarization. According to the Globe, the Boston police plan to acquire more military-style, semiautomatic weapons to be used by patrol officers.

Four years after Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed concerns about arming more Boston police with military-style rifles, the department is quietly preparing to train 99 patrol officers to use such semiautomatic rifles, a dramatic boost in firepower that some officials say is excessive.

Under the plan, 22 uniformed officers on every shift — two for each of the city’s 11 districts — would have routine access to the weapons in their cruisers after they are trained. It represents a substantial increase from the current complement of four to eight specialized officers who patrol the city in “gun cars” equipped with an M4 semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun.

It is one of the final policy changes instituted by Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who left the department Friday after nearly seven years at the helm.

“It’s standard operating procedure across the nation, and the officers have to be able to protect themselves,” Davis said in an interview last week. “I think it’s a practical and appropriate plan.”

Davis said officials had been planning the change months before the April 15 Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, but the tragedy underscored the need for a greater number of more powerful weapons.

“An incident like that reinforces the need for equipment that’s necessary to defend the community,” he said.

It’s interesting that Davis would choose the Boston Marathon bombing to justify increasing the firepower of the Boston police because that incident actually shows precisely why the police shouldn’t be trusted with more powerful weapons.

During the manhunt for Marathon Bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, police became involved in a gun fight with the Tsarnaevs on Laurel Street. During the fight, police recklessly fired countless rounds in an attempt to hit the Tsarnaevs, perforating nearby homes with bullets and putting residents in mortal danger. According to WGBH:

Watertown resident Mike Doucette looked out from his house on Laurel Street just a few feet from where police were exchanging gunfire with the suspects on the night of April 19. He said officers that night saved lives.

“They’re heroes in my mind,” he said.

But now, six months later Doucette wonders if the gunfight could have played out differently.

“The whole shoot out was pretty wild,” he said. “Bullets were flying everywhere. Every one of these houses was hit by something. I mean, they could have had more control over what they were shooting at, maybe.”

Among the many unanswered questions: Why were so many bullets fired into homes — and should this have been avoided? At least a dozen homes were hit by bullets in Watertown that night, including that of Andy Fehlner and his wife, Michelle Smith, who woke up to the sound of explosions and gunfire.

“Something was dropping in the house and it was something I never heard before,” Fehlner said. “And then we picked these items up that were flying in our house and we realized pretty quickly that they’re bullets. And all of them were coming from that side of the house, so we ran and grabbed the kids because the bullets were coming very close to their bed.”

Fehlner said one bullet came within 12 inches of his toddler’s bed.

Many of the bullets that struck homes were fired by police — most from departments outside Watertown, according to confidential law enforcement sources. The intended target: the stolen SUV driven by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he tried to escape.

Police argue the circumstances in Watertown necessitated extreme action, but we wondered whether proper police protocol was followed. Boston Police policy states: “Officers who find it necessary, under the provisions of this rule, to discharge firearms shall exercise due care for the safety of persons and property in the area and shall fire only when reasonably certain that there is no substantial risk to bystanders.” Similar policies apply to Watertown, Cambridge and the Massachusetts State Police

Kitzenberg said his roommate got up from his chair just moments before a bullet came through the wall of his apartment.

“It had penetrated the wall and the desk chair clean through,” he said.

Police didn’t just endanger members of the public with their wild, reckless shootout. The police were a danger to themselves as well. Two police officers were hit by “friendly fire” during the shootout, one of whom almost died. Police also mistakenly shot up one of their own vehicles, although no one was injured in this case. The Boston Globe reports:

Eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard H. Donohue Jr. was shot and nearly killed by a fellow officer in Watertown April 19 during the hail of gunfire unleashed on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the suspected terrorist made a getaway in a carjacked sport utility vehicle.

Donohue went down in the early-morning darkness during an extraordinary gunfight in which at least a dozen police ­officers from four departments exchanged up to 300 rounds of gunfire with Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The Tsarnaevs also allegedly set off explosives, including a pressure cooker bomb similar to the ones used in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Jane Dyson, who lives 140 feet from where Donohue was shot on Dexter Avenue, said she saw the police officer collapse and fall to the ground near the end of the gunfight as 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sped away. She said the officer ­appeared to be a victim of “friendly fire.”

“A black SUV appeared, and rapid gun fire was focused on the vehicle,” Dyson wrote in a statement provided to the Globe, referring to the vehicle Tsarnaev allegedly drove in his escape. “It appeared to me that an individual at the corner [of the street] fell to the ground and had probably been hit in the gunfire.”

“I later learned that the individual who had been shot was Officer Richard Donohue,” she wrote.

It would later become ­apparent that the suspects were no longer armed when Dyson saw Donohue fall, suggesting that the shot that wounded him came from police. Two witnesses support Dyson’s account that Donohue appeared to be wounded in the final volley of shots fired at the fleeing younger suspect.

Donohue and his partner were among the first officers to arrive at the intersection of Dexter Avenue and Laurel Street, moments after the ­Tsarnaev brothers pulled over in the SUV they had allegedly carjacked in Allston.

In the ensuing 10 minutes, police officers fired what may be an unprecedented number of rounds in a single police incident in recent state history. They apparently wounded both suspects, but also sprayed the neighborhood. Shots fired in the battle left at least a dozen nearby houses pockmarked with dozens of bullet holes, includ­ing a second-floor bedroom where two children slept.

Donohue suffered a three-quarter inch bullet wound to the top of his right thigh and nearly bled to death at the scene; “he was deceased,” as one emergency medical provider described him. Besides that shooting, authorities are also investigating an incident in which another MBTA Transit Police officer was grazed in the buttocks by gunfire. The identity of that officer and the circumstances of his shooting have not been disclosed.

In a third potential friendly-fire incident, a state trooper fired at an unmarked Boston police SUV, en route to the scene, the Globe ­reported April 22. No one was hurt when the trooper, apparently thinking the SUV was the one stolen by the Tsarnaevs, fired multiple rounds at the ­vehicle, blowing out the back window.

After Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in the shootout, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped and managed to hide from police until a Watertown resident discovered him hiding out in the boat in his backyard and alerted the police. Tsarnaev was unarmed and injured from the shootout, but that didn’t stop police from continuing to recklessly shoot countless rounds at him. According to The Boston Globe:

Some neighbors, whose homes were also taken over by police and strafed by automatic weapons, are also coping with the lingering impact of what happened here six months ago.

Olga Ciuc, who lives two doors down on Franklin Street, refuses to sleep in her old bedroom, which overlooks their backyard, and remains too afraid to walk her dog at night.

“What happened here was crazy,” she said.

Her husband, Dumitru, said he and other neighbors are now more vigilant.

“There’s a greater sense of insecurity,” he said, showing the bullet holes in the back of their house, in their fence, and in their grill. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen; you don’t know who’s a friend and who’s an enemy.”

WBUR reports that “Ciuc’s house was hit by seven bullets that night. Their neighbor’s house was riddled with 27.”

Giving police greater access to weapons does not automatically translate into greater public safety. If police had access to even more powerful weaponry during the manhunt, they would have caused even more property damage and the chances of them injuring or even killing Watertown residents with their weapons would have increased.

BPD Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey told the Globe that “The department wants to add 33 semiautomatic rifles to supplement the more than 60 SWAT team officers who use M4 rifles.” The new guns “could cost about $2,500 each, plus $500 for ammunition.” That adds up to an initial cost of almost $100,000 worth of taxpayer money.

This isn’t a done deal yet. The funding request will first have to be approved by Marty Walsh, who was just elected mayor of Boston. Hopefully Walsh will reject this attempt to further militarize the Boston Police Department.

Instead of spending $100,000 on more powerful weapons for the police, perhaps the money could be spent on making the police more transparent and accountable. A recent and very promising idea is having police attach wearable cameras to their clothing so that they are always on camera. In Rialto, California, police recently began using wearable cameras. “In the first year after the cameras were introduced [in Rialto] in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period,” according to The New York Times. According to the Times, these cameras can cost up to $900 which means the Boston police could afford at least 110 of them for the same price as the semiautomatic weapons and ammunition they are seeking.

Greater police accountability would do much more to keep the residents of Boston safe than greater police firepower.

Nov 1 2013

Boston police block access to public spaces during Obama visit

Dr. Q

On October 30, 2013, President Obama visited the city of Boston to promote his healthcare law, the so-called “Affordable Care Act” more commonly known as “Obamacare.” During the visit, police suspended the right of everyone but themselves to access public spaces for Obama’s convenience.

Oct 12 2013

Three Boston police detectives reprimanded over Edwin Alemany case

Dr. Q

Earlier this year, a Boston police detective was demoted after it was discovered that he hadn’t arrested Edwin Alemany, who later went on to become the suspect in the Amy Lord murder.

Now, three more detectives have been subjected to disciplinary action for their roles in the case. The Boston Globe reports:

Boston police reprimanded three supervisors Friday involved in a prior case tied to the accused assailant in the slaying of a 24-year-old South Boston woman this summer, in a move that drew immediate fire from a minority officers advocacy group.

The supervisors were disciplined for their role in a 2012 case that led to the demotion of Boston police Detective Jerome Hall-Brewster because of his reported failure to follow up on evidence possibly linking suspect Edwin Alemany to an alleged assault. In July, about 10 months later, Alemany was arrested and charged with kidnapping Amy Lord in South Boston, killing her, and dumping her body in Hyde Park, sparking questions about why he was not held in the prior case.

The decision to issue a written reprimand to Lieutenant Detective Patrick Cullity and oral reprimands to Timothy Horan and Thomas O’Leary, both sergeant detectives, was met with anger from the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.

Larry Ellison, president of the association, pointed out in a phone interview Friday that the three supervisors are white, but Hall-Brewster, who was demoted to patrol officer as a result of the 2012 case, is black.

“I’m beyond outraged,” said Ellison. “It’s a double standard here.” He added: “The supervisors got a slap on the wrist, and Detective Hall-Brewster lost his rating. The supervisors were supposed to be supervising. Why didn’t they lose their rating?”

The president of the detectives’ union could not be reached for comment.

Cheryl Fiandaca, a Police Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the reprimands are documented in the supervisors’ internal affairs files. Those histories are “always part of any review for promotion and [are] taken into account for all future discipline,” Fiandaca said.

She referred a reporter to a department statement announcing the reprimands when asked about Ellison’s claim of a double standard.

That statement indicated that while Hall-Brewster was the subject of a “previous internal affairs matter where similarly he failed to properly ensure a thorough investigation,” his three supervisors have no “prior disciplinary histories with the department.”

At issue is a September 2012 case in which a woman was choked on a Roxbury street until she passed out. She regained consciousness holding a wallet with an identification card belonging to Alemany. Police also recovered a bottle and hat at the crime scene, which were sent for DNA testing.

Commissioner Edward F. Davis has said that Hall-Brewster was demoted for failing to properly follow up on the case. Davis said Alemany was never arrested because Hall-Brewster decided there was not enough probable cause to bring the case to a clerk magistrate.

Hall-Brewster is fighting his demotion, and a preliminary hearing with the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals is scheduled for Friday, said his attorney, Raffi Yessayan.

Oct 11 2013

Former Boston FBI chief pleads guilty in ethics case

Dr. Q

Last week, the Associated Press reported this story:

A retired FBI official who once supervised all of the agency’s U.S. criminal probes and ran its Boston office pleaded guilty to an ethics charge Thursday following an agreement that recommends a $15,000 fine but no prison time.

Kenneth Kaiser Jr. faces sentencing in December in federal court in Boston, where a judge released him on his own recognizance following his plea to the misdemeanor charge of trying to influence FBI agents investigating the private company he was working for within a year of his 2009 retirement from the agency.

An ethics law prohibits senior executive branch personnel from professional contact with the agency they were employed by for one year after leaving government service.

Prosecutors have said that Kaiser took a consulting job with LocatePlus Holdings Corp. on the day he retired from the FBI to conduct an internal probe into misconduct by two former company executives and to help sell the company’s products and services to the government.

Authorities said the FBI was investigating a securities fraud case involving the two executives. They said Kaiser tried to expedite the agency’s investigation, lobbied for the indictment of the two executives and encouraged the FBI to investigate potential wrongdoing by a third party.

Prosecutors also said Kaiser made improper contact with the Boston FBI office after a Gloucester businessman hired him to investigate a threatening letter he’d received.

Read the rest of this story here.

Sep 13 2013

Copwatching at No War With Syria rally & march in Boston

Dr. Q

Last Saturday, I participated in a rally and march in Boston to protest the United States federal government’s plan to bomb Syria. I arrived at the protest around 1 pm and stayed until the end. I spent the majority of the time taking photographs.

The first part of the protest was a rally with a number of speakers. After the rally ended, protesters began marching through the city, chanting slogans like “Don’t bomb Syria.” During the course of the march, the Boston police took notice. Naturally, I recorded them.

At one point during the protest, I witnessed part of an incident in which some hecklers told a bike cop that a protester had a knife. The cop frisked the man, but didn’t find a knife. Later, the police told the hecklers to leave the scene. After the march was over, I met up with Rich Fu, a witness to the incident, who explained to me what he saw.

Later during the march, I spotted the same bike cop who frisked the protester and I started recording him again. After a short period of time, he took out his phone and started recording me back. I flashed him a peace sign.

After the march was over, I noticed a Boston police sergeant observing the protest and talking with the bike cop I had seen earlier and a second bike cop. I recorded them for more than 10 minutes until they finally left. Unfortunately, the audio did not turn out very well, but the gist of what happened is that the police were trying to find out who had organized the protest. They asked several people who the “leader” was and who had been using a bullhorn during the protest. They also wrote down the names of groups that had participated. Seeing these cops documenting the protest was not surprising since the Boston Police Department was revealed to have been surveilling antiwar groups thanks to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

I wish I had been able to publish these videos sooner, but I’ve been dealing with some personal issues over the past week and didn’t have any time to edit them.