Witnesses urged to come forward in Boston murder cases; mayoral candidates stress public safety

Boston mayoral candidates, John R. Connolly, at left, and Martin J. Walsh.
Boston mayoral candidates, John R. Connolly, at left, and Martin J. Walsh.

A top Boston police official on Monday urged witnesses in homicide cases to come forward to help authorities take killers off the streets, a call that was met with skepticism during a public safety forum in Dorchester.

“We need witnesses,” Daniel Linskey, police superintendent-in-chief told a packed room at the Salvation Army Kroc Center during a forum to discuss ways to combat gun violence and help victims’ families. He said detectives also work tirelessly to gather physical evidence in murder cases.

Organizers said they held the forum in response to the fatal shooting last week of Leroy Carvalho, a father and nephew of a prominent peace activist, outside his Dorchester home on the night of his birthday.

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Among the attendees were mayoral candidates John R. Connolly and Martin J. Walsh. Neither candidate addressed the crowd, but in brief interviews outside, both said public safety was of paramount importance.

“I think this is a great first step ... by allowing people to express themselves and talk about their concerns,” Walsh said. “A lot of times people don’t [go through] the grieving process, and that’s what’s happening here tonight.”

Connolly tied public safety to improving the city’s public schools and creating better jobs for city residents.

“I think it starts with education, but that's directly connected to safe and healthy streets,” he said.

During the meeting, Joao Depina, 34, who last week helped organize a memorial gathering for Carvalho, questioned Linskey’s call for witnesses to come forward. Depina said young men have asked him why they should help the police “if we don’t have protection.”

And, Depina said, he once witnessed a stabbing and came to the victim’s aid, only to be “treated so bad” by responding officers.

Linskey said in response that the Police Department has made strides in recent years to build trust with residents with initiatives such as foot patrols, and that residents can file complaints about the treatment they receive. He also said residents can call him personally to discuss concerns about the complaint process.

As for witnesses, he said authorities have a number of ways to protect them, including relocation.

Linskey and others also touted services available for relatives of crime victims, but one woman, Carla Sheffield, 48, said law enforcement officials have kept her in the dark about the fatal shooting last year of her son by Boston police.

“I don’t have an officer’s name and I deserve better,” said an emotional Sheffield, whose son, Burrell Ramsey-White, 26, was shot by police in August 2012 in the South End after a foot chase in which he allegedly refused to drop a gun.

Linskey said the investigation into the shooting is ongoing and that authorities are currently speaking to witnesses whose names were provided by an attorney for Ramsey-White’s family. And, he said, Suffolk prosecutors will make the final report on the shooting publicly available.

“There is no way that I can ever make up [for] the loss of your son,” Linskey said, adding that the investigation into his death is “fair and thorough.”

State Representative Carlos Henriquez, of Dorchester, one of the meeting organizers, spoke at length about Carvalho, who he said was a close friend.

Henriquez said the first text message that he received last week informing him of Carvalho’s death was “paralyzing. I couldn’t move. ... I was angry that someone had taken my friend’s life.”

Carvalho’s aunt, Isaura Mendes, who has lost two sons and four nephews to violence, also delivered an impassioned speech during the forum, in which she urged attendees and city leaders to find ways to help youths.

“What can we do for our young children when their dad died?” she asked. “What can the people who are [running] for mayor, what are they going to do for our young children?”