Police commander is said to fire at crowd
Among four officers with pepper pellets
The police commander in charge of the Kenmore Square area, including Fenway Park, when a 21-year-old college student was shot and killed was one of four officers who fired pepper pellets into the raucous crowds celebrating the Red Sox American League pennant victory, according to two people familiar with the investigation of the shootings.
Deputy Superintendent Robert E. O'Toole commands the Boston Police Department's Special Operations Unit, which includes the tactical team that used new high-force pepper-pellet guns early Thursday for the first time outside training. In addition, on this night, he was in charge of the massive deployment of all officers surrounding the ballpark, according to deployment records.
Shots from the pepper-pellet guns killed Victoria E. Snelgrove and tore a hole in the
cheek of 24-year-old Cambridge resident Paul Gately. Pepper pellets fired by officers that night also pierced the skull of 19-year-old Boston University student Kapila Bhamidipati.
At a press conference Thursday night, Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole said two people other than Snelgrove ''sustained less serious injuries," but did not provide details.
Gately came forward last weekend to say he was one of those people. In an interview with the Globe yesterday, Bhamidipati said he, too, was seriously injured when a marble-size pellet blew through the bone in his forehead and into his sinus cavity. The website for FN Herstal, the gun manufacturer, says, ''For safety reasons, never aim towards face, throat or neck."
Bhamidipati said doctors performed surgery Friday to remove deeply lodged pellet fragments and to fasten metal plates over the hole in his skull until his bone grows back. He was released from the hospital on Saturday.
Kathleen O'Toole, who is not related to the special operations commander, declined to comment yesterday about Robert O'Toole's role in dispersing crowds, saying she would not discuss the department's investigation until it is complete in one or two months.
She also would not say whether O'Toole had been trained to use the rifle or whether an officer in a commanding role for a major event like security after the deciding game in the Red Sox-Yankees series would also perform street-level crowd control with the officers he's supervising.
''The commissioner again would like to reaffirm that she wants a thorough investigation," said a spokesman, Lieutenant Kevin Foley. ''Let the truth take us where it may."
Reached at his home last night, Robert O'Toole declined to comment.
As crowds surged to what police have estimated was 80,000 strong, officers began firing the pepper pellets at 1:15 a.m. into a crowd of revelers on Lansdowne Street and on the Green Monster supports. Some of the revelers threw bottles and other objects at officers on horseback, witnesses said. Four officers fired pepper guns, according to a police officer who has been briefed on the investigation. One of those was Robert O'Toole, said the officer and another person who is involved in the police investigation.
Robert O'Toole was one of three deputy superintendents reporting to overall incident commander Superintendent James M. Claiborne, who was overseeing the department's entire post-game operations from a command center at police headquarters in Roxbury, according to deployment plans obtained by the Globe. One deputy superintendent was assigned to assist Claiborne, and another was in charge of the Fenway and Brighton residential neighborhoods. Two captains and two sergeants were assigned to assist Robert O'Toole in his command.
Robert O'Toole was also commander of special operations during the 1986 World Series and was overseeing security at Fenway Park when a television news crew filmed him as he slapped a handcuffed prisoner. O'Toole was demoted by Commissioner Francis M. Roache the following year and spent the next 17 years on different assignments until Kathleen O'Toole named him deputy superintendent of special operations in April.
Bhamidipati, a BU sophomore from Bridgewater, N.J., said he went to the ballpark with a group of friends after the game, but soon lost them in the throngs celebrating the Red Sox victory. A resident of the 15th floor of BU's Warren Towers dormitory, Bhamidipati said one of his friends was carrying a plastic water bottle filled with vodka. ''I had two sips real quick," he said. ''I wasn't drunk at all, just the two sips."
Bhamidipati said that while on Lansdowne Street he noticed people climbing the metal structure of the stadium and that he decided to do the same so he could use the height as a vantage point to locate his friends. ''There was a lot of people up there," he said.
He said he shimmied up a vertical I-beam and then onto a horizontal metal beam about 10 to 12 feet above the ground, joining others who were already sitting on the horizontal beam joyously denouncing the Yankees. He said he was on the beam for less than 2 minutes, waving his arms around, hoping to attract the attention of his friends, whom he thought he had spotted in the crowd.
At the time, he said, Boston police officers were on horseback, and riot police were on the sidewalk across Lansdowne near the Cask 'N' Flagon bar, but none were deployed on the sidewalk below him. After asking someone how he could get down, Bhamidipati said he grabbed onto the I-beam and began to descend. ''I looked down to make sure I wasn't going to fall down and hit anybody, and I got shot," he said, adding that he heard no warnings from police beforehand. ''I thought it was a paintball."
Stunned by the impact, Bhamidipati made it to the sidewalk.
He said he felt woozy, but wasn't overly worried. He said he was walking among the crowd when a passing student stopped him and told him he needed immediate medical attention. Bhamidipati said he told the student he would take care of the problem at his dorm room.
''No," Bhamidipati recalled the student telling him. ''You are losing a lot of blood. . . . You have to go to the ambulance. You have something protruding from your head. You must go to an ambulance."
The student helped Bhamidipati and one of his friends onto Brookline Avenue where Boston police made him lie down, handing him a gauze bandage to hold against his bleeding forehead. Bhamidipati said he was put on a stretcher and transported to Brigham and Women's Hospital in the same ambulance that carried Gately.
Bhamidipati said doctors in the emergency room removed small pieces of plastic from his forehead and then found one large piece embedded under the skin. A CAT scan showed even more fragments inside his skull and in his sinus cavity. Doctors told him that if the pellet had penetrated a little farther into his skull, it would have hit his brain and he might have died, he said.
Bhamidipati was interviewed at the office of his Boston attorney, Jeffrey A. Denner, who said his firm is investigating and may file suit against the city and the makers of the pellet guns.
''The defendants in this case are not just in Boston," he said. ''There has to be some looking into . . . the manufacturers of these so-called nonlethal weapons."
Lawyer Thomas Drechsler of Boston, who represents the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said the department's homicide unit interviewed more than 20 officers over the weekend as part of the investigation into the shootings. Drechsler said the officers who fired the weapons that night had been trained to use them by someone outside the department who, he said, purportedly was well-trained by the manufacturer.
''No officer who utilized the weapons ever attempted or intended to strike anyone in the head," Drechsler said, adding that he and others have raised questions during the investigation about the accuracy of the weapons and whether pellets ricocheted.
Drechsler also said that officers who were dispatched to Fenway Park that night said it was the most unruly mob they had ever encountered. He said the tactical team was sent to Lansdowne Street after a man and woman were attacked in their car as they pulled out of a garage. The crowd surrounded the car and jumped on top of the vehicle, smashing its windows, Dreschler said.
''I think any officer that was there was traumatized by the violence and the aggressiveness of the crowd and are mystified to some degree as to how an occasion for celebration turned into an occasion for throwing bottles, bricks, and other projectiles at police officers and others," Drechsler said. ''It's easy for academics to say why didn't the police control the crowd, but it's easier said than done."
Shelley Murphy and Brian MacQuarrie of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Heather Allen contributed to this report.Donovan Slack can be reached at email@example.com.