District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said yesterday the shooting of Eveline Barros-Cepeda, which sparked widespread community outrage, was tragic but justified because Officer Thomas Taylor Jr. believed his partner's life was in danger when he fired five rounds at the back of the fleeing car on Sept. 8. A single bullet passed through the car's trunk and struck Barros-Cepeda in the back.
Taylor's partner, Michael Paillant, was hit by the car before the shooting but suffered only minor injuries.
"Officer Taylor was faced with a momentous decision," Conley said yesterday. "Take the only action available to him to stop the car, firing his weapon, or do nothing while his partner risked being killed. He chose to act, and that action was within the law."
The fatal shooting was the eighth by Boston police officers in a 22-month period between November 2000 and September 2002. Criminal charges were not brought against officers in any of the shootings.
Conley said investigators based their findings on interviews with three civilian eyewitnesses, two of the car's occupants, ballistics evidence, an accident reconstruction report, and medical records. In addition, Conley said investigators canvassed 125 apartments and homes around the shooting scene for witnesses.
Yesterday at a news conference in his downtown office, Conley said the fatal leg of Barros-Cepeda's ride began at about 1:15 a.m., when front-seat passenger Carlos Fernandes allegedly got out of the car on Cushing Avenue and fired several shots at a group of young men.
By the time police began pursuing the white Ford Taurus, the driver of which was later identified as 23-year-old Brima Wurie, the passengers in the car, including Barros-Cepeda, had crouched down and out of view.
Police followed the Taurus to Dunkeld and Fayston streets, where Officers Taylor and Paillant were conducting an unrelated investigation.
When Paillant saw the Ford Taurus, he waved for the car to pull over. It hit him, knocking him down, Conley said.
Taylor, who was standing on the other side of the street, saw his partner fall and disappear. "The investigation determined that Officer Taylor reasonably feared that Officer Paillant was being run over, dragged by the car or crushed against a parked car," Conley said yesterday. "In reasonable fear for his partner's life, and in an attempt to stop the car from crushing or dragging his partner, Officer Taylor fired."
Barros-Cepeda, the 25-year-old mother of a 2-year-old son, was hit once. After the car stopped a few blocks later, the four other occupants fled. Barros-Cepeda, who Conley said had drugs in her possession when she was found, was taken to Boston Medical Center, where she died.
Yesterday, attorneys for Barros-Cepeda's family blasted Conley for his findings, saying Taylor should never have fired at the car.
"The family's position is that for the Suffolk County district attorney's office to call the police officer's conduct in this matter `justified' is outrageous," attorney Andrew Stockwell-Alpert said in a prepared statement. "Whether or not criminal charges or indictments are brought against this officer have nothing to do with whether or not his conduct was justified. There is no justification for a back-seat passenger of a fleeing vehicle to be shot and killed because of the conduct of the driver in this case."
Stockwell-Alpert said his team of three attorneys won't decide whether to file a civil lawsuit until it completes its own investigation.
A community leader, who was outraged after the shooting, said he was mollified by Conley's presentation. Leonard C. Alkins, president of the NAACP's Boston branch, who had called for an independent investigation of the shooting and a review of all cases in the past two years in which police used deadly force, said he wanted to review the investigation himself but conceded that at first glance it appeared fair and impartial. Conley said the report would be made available to the public.
Police Commissioner Paul Evans, who attended the news conference, said he agreed with Conley's finding and placed blame on Wurie. "The death of Eveline Cepeda is indeed tragic," Evans said. "It is the result of reckless and unlawful actions of Brima Wurie."
Wurie was indicted in December on charges stemming in part from his alleged decision to not stop for police and for hitting Paillant with the car. He is being held on $35,000 cash bail and is due in Suffolk Superior Court next month for a hearing, Conley said.
Fernandes has not been charged in the Cushing Avenue shooting because there is insufficient admissible evidence to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Conley said.
Another passenger, Luis A. Carvalho, 22, whose mother posted $10,000 cash bail after he was arrested in May on a federal charge of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, allegedly fired three shots from a 9mm handgun at six uniformed Boston police officers last week. No one was injured. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on $100,000 cash bail.
In the days after the shooting, Evans announced a revision of the department's deadly force rules to prohibit officers from shooting at a vehicle except when they are being shot at by someone in the vehicle. That, in turn, led the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association to call for Evans to resign. It was the first such vote of no confidence in a commissioner since the union was founded in 1968.
Asked yesterday if relations between the union and management had improved since the vote, Evans smiled and sidestepped the question. He said he felt the entire department is being trained to avoid similar situations, though he declined to speculate how the new rules might have affected the shooting the night it occurred.
"Officer Taylor's action in discharging his firearm was justified under the circumstances in the rules applicable at the time of this incident," Evans said.
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