Sunday, May 19, 2024

Middlesex County district attorney Marian Ryan speaks at a Jan. 12 meeting in Cambridge about the death of Arif Sayed Faisal. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Demonstrators protesting the police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal have called repeatedly for the officer who shot him to be charged with murder. If previous cases are any guide, that is unlikely. Prosecutors in Middlesex County have investigated 12 police shootings in the past nine years and have filed criminal charges against an officer only once, records provided by Middlesex County district attorney Marian Ryan show.

And in that case, Reading police officer Erik Drauschke went to trial for manslaughter and was acquitted.

Ryan is unusual in posting records online of all the police-involved shootings her office has investigated since 2014, making the documents available easily to the public. In December 2018 she also began sending fatal police shooting cases to an inquest, allowing a district court judge to examine her investigation and other evidence, and even to call witnesses, to decide whether police are criminally responsible for a death. It’s still up to the district attorney whether to charge an officer.

Ryan said at a Cambridge meeting Jan. 12 that the case will go to an inquest after her investigation of Faisal’s death, and that she has already asked the court system to assign a judge.

Facts differ in each police shooting case investigated by Ryan, but some patterns emerge from the records. Like Faisal, the person who was shot was carrying a knife or knives in seven of the 12 cases. Like Faisal, half the victims showed signs of mental illness. Five were drunk or impaired by drugs, including four cases in which substances and mental illness were both present, records show.

Faisal, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, was seen jumping through a first-floor window with a large knife and cutting his wrists with broken glass and the knife, called a kukri, according to the account from Cambridge police. He fled when officers arrived and they chased him through his Cambridgeport neighborhood, cornering him in a Chestnut St. backyard. An officer shot him after he would not drop the knife, wasn’t affected when shot with a foam-tipped projectile and was moving toward officers holding the knife, police said. Faisal died at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Boston attorney Harold Friedman, who specializes in representing people who claim they’re victims of police brutality, said he commended Ryan for sending police shooting cases to an inquest. Still, he said, “the system is biased in favor of police.”

“They are rarely charged criminally,” Friedman said. “When they are charged, they are likely to be found not guilty. When they are found guilty they are likely to be given a light sentence.”

If convicted and sentenced to prison, police officers “are likely to win an appeal,” Friedman said. “At every stage, officers are likely to do better than anyone else.”

The Alan Greenough case

Reading police officer Erik Drauschke, right, on trial in 2020 in a screen capture from CBS Boston via YouTube.

In the Middlesex County case in which a police officer faced charges, it was an inquest judge who decided Drauschke was criminally negligent in the death of Alan Greenough on Feb. 3, 2018. Police went to Greenough’s apartment building to talk to him after his roommates complained he had assaulted them the day before.

Greenough, who was known to have mental illness and bellicose behavior, flew into a rage when police arrived, broke furniture in the apartment, threatened to hit officers and wouldn’t come out, according to the inquest report. Greenough’s brother entered through a different door and discovered the back door to the apartment was open and he wasn’t there, the inquest report said.

Drauschke walked to a side lot of the building by himself and discovered Greenough sitting in a Hummer SUV, the report said. Greenough got out eventually when ordered, but refused to remove his hands from his sweatshirt and walked toward Drauschke saying “Shoot me,” the report said. When he wouldn’t stop or show his hands, the officer shot him.

Lowell District Court judge Stacey Fortes, now chief justice of the district court, found that the officer was not justified; she said in an additional report that Drauschke could have waited for other officers to help him and could have used a lower level of force. “The court does not find that Officer Drauschke acted with malice, but based on evidence presented, took an unnecessary risk,” the judge wrote. “His actions were wanton and reckless and amounted to criminal negligence.”

Drauschke was indicted for manslaughter in 2020. A jury acquitted him after deliberating for two days.

Other inquest cases

Two other shooting cases went to an inquest where, in both incidents, a judge ruled that the officers acted reasonably when they used lethal force; Ryan accepted the decisions. One of the cases, in Newton, was notable in that a police officer persuaded the person who was killed, Michael Conlon, 23, to drop his knife but another officer decided that police needed to fire a beanbag to subdue him.

That backfired tragically when the beanbag malfunctioned, Conlon realized what police were doing, picked up his knife and charged toward one officer. Two other officers, including the one who had persuaded Conlon to drop his knife, shot him. At the time, a Newton Police Department social worker was waiting outside the house where the incident unfolded; she was not asked to come inside to talk to Conlon, because police believed it was too unsafe. A negotiator from a regional police agency had also just arrived at the scene when the shots were fired.

“Had police waited for … a trained negotiator or had the [beanbag] deployed properly, Conlon might be alive,” Quincy District Court judge Jeanmarie Carroll wrote in the inquest report. But the actions and decisions of the police officers “cannot be judged with 20/20 hindsight,” she said. That caution, included in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said police must often make split-second decisions, is cited often in exonerating police. An expert witness at the inquest also testified that in a deadly situation “where a person is resisting, even though they drop a knife, the ongoing nature of the event would make the use of less-than-lethal force [of the beanbag] reasonable,” the report said.

Shooting cases

The police-involved shooting cases also describe horrific situations in which police officers encountered sudden and ferocious attacks.

Police checking on a report of a missing woman in Wakefield on Jan. 19, 2021, discovered her body lying at the foot of basement stairs. One detective remained on the stairs while other officers began searching each floor of the home looking for anyone else there, an investigation report said.

As the first detective was joined by three others reaching the cluttered basement – the last floor of the search – Timothy Martin, the son of the dead woman, appeared suddenly and rushed toward them, holding a knife and shouting, “You’ll never take me alive!” the report said. The two officers at the front could scarcely move because of the basement clutter and layout; both shot Martin, one while falling backward, the report said. Martin survived and was charged with murder, improper disposition of a body and three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon.

In Chelmsford, police responded to a 911 call of domestic assault on July 23, 2017. The first officer was alone when he knocked on a bedroom door and was greeted with a barrage of blows from William Omar Santiago, hard enough to draw blood on his face, an investigation report said. Santiago closed and opened the door several times, continuing to attack the first officer and three others who arrived to back him up. Santiago could also be heard assaulting a woman in the room, the report said.

When Santiago opened the door he also threw a hammer and large pieces and shards of glass at the officers. “The large pieces of glass were wielded like a spear and the smaller ones wielded like martial arts fighting stars, and a sharp, pointed piece of wood, all as the female was screaming and yelling for help,” the report said.

Two attempts to use tasers didn’t work, and finally an officer shot Santiago, stopping the attack and allowing police to free the woman, the report said. Santiago survived and later assaulted three law enforcement agents in an unsuccessful escape attempt from the hospital, the report said.

The Eurie Stamps case

Those cases appear to be open-and-shut instances of justifiable force. At the other end of the spectrum is a case in Framingham in 2011 in which an officer shot and killed Cambridge native Eurie Stamps, 68, while Stamps was lying on his stomach on the floor with his hands up, as police had ordered him to do.

The officer, Paul Duncan, said he lost his balance as he approached Stamps. As he fell, his rifle, with the safety lock off, fired and killed Stamps, he said. Duncan said he was worried that Stamps might be armed because he had not been searched. Stamps was killed during a SWAT raid on his home to look for drugs, despite Stamps not being accused of being involved in any drug activity.

The Middlesex District Attorney at the time, Gerry Leone, concluded that Stamps’ death was an accident and took no action against the officer, but Framingham later paid his family $3.8 million in a settlement. Ryan said in 2020 she was reinvestigating the case and posted reports and evidence on her website; a year later she said she had asked for help from the FBI. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a question Thursday about the status of the review.

Stamps grew up in Cambridge, and a demonstration organized by a group called Justice for Eurie was held here Aug. 1, 2020, with participants marching to Hoyt Field. The organization had pressed Ryan to reopen the investigation. The City Council requested Jan. 11, 2021, that a street marker in Stamps’ honor be installed on Brookline Street in Cambridgeport. A summer youth basketball league is named after Stamps.