Kin cite officers' delay in their report on death

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Shelley Murphy and Christopher Baxter
Globe Staff And Globe Correspondent / July 2, 2008

A lawyer representing the family of David Woodman questioned yesterday why all nine Boston police officers who were present when the 22-year-old was arrested and stopped breathing while in custody during the Celtics title celebration immediately went to the hospital for stress, leaving a superior who arrived at the scene later to write the incident report.

"Was that a way for them to have some time before they spoke to their superiors about what happened?" asked Howard Friedman, a Boston lawyer who represents the parents of Woodman, a former Emmanuel College student who died in the hospital Sunday, 11 days after the confrontation with police. "To have nine officers, including a sergeant, and they were all suffering that badly from stress, is unusual."

While Friedman is calling for a probe by the FBI and the US attorney's office into Woodman's death, another man arrested during the celebration says that police roughed him up and that he had done nothing to provoke them, allegations that police deny. Andre Walter Reed, a criminal justice major at Bridgewater State College who lives in Mattapan, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Friedman said the nine officers involved in the Woodman arrest should have been interviewed immediately because they were the only witnesses with him on Brookline Avenue when he stopped breathing June 18. He said that the officers were interviewed a day later and that the initial incident report was written by a superior officer who arrived after the incident and filed an account later contradicted by police officials.

"The sooner you can interview witnesses the better their memory is going to be," said Friedman, adding that the officers' memories could have been influenced by talking to friends, a lawyer, or a union representative. All the officers were interviewed within 48 hours of the confrontation and have since returned to work, police officials say.

During a telephone interview yesterday, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis defended the officers' right to receive stress treatment immediately after the incident, saying: "I don't see a conspiracy there. I just see a kind of a common-sense way of dealing with an event. From what I've seen, it doesn't hurt an investigation."

There's a national trend for officers involved in serious incidents to seek stress counseling, Davis said.

"It's a little unusual to have everybody in the incident avail themselves of those services," he said. "I think more and more often various attorneys are advocating for it. I think that sometimes the attorneys representing police say if you're at all stressed, if you're having a problem, [seek treatment]."

Two lawyers who have been representing police officers in civil rights cases for 25 years, Leonard Kesten of Boston and Timothy Burke of Needham, defended the officers, but agreed it was unusual for all the officers who had been present at a critical incident to immediately seek treatment for stress.

"I've never run across it," said Kesten, though he said officers were entitled to such treatment.

"Without knowing all the facts, I would say it's a little unusual," Burke said.

If an officer cannot complete a report because of injury or he has to attend to another matter, such as a court date or another crime, it is not unusual for a supervisor to complete the report, according to Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Police Department.

Thomas Drechsler, a Boston lawyer who represents the patrolmen's union, said officers have a right to receive stress counseling and a right to talk to a lawyer before being interviewed by investigators.

"It's nonsensical to suggest this was some sort of delaying tactic," said Drechsler, insisting that it wasn't unusual for all of the officers to seek stress treatment. "I do not believe this was anything or is ever anything other than an opportunity for people to get whatever treatment they would like."

Police and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley are investigating Woodman's death and are awaiting autopsy results.

Woodman had a preexisting heart condition, but his parents, Cathy and Jeffrey Woodman of Southwick, said he led an active lifestyle.

Woodman, a Brookline resident, had just finished watching the Celtics game at a bar in Kenmore Square and was walking home with four friends when they passed a group of uniformed police officers at the Fenway and Brookline Avenue. One of his friends, who spoke to the Globe on the condition he not be named, said that as Woodman passed the officers, he said, "Wow, it seems like there's a lot of crime on this corner."

Woodman, who was carrying a cup of beer, was slammed to the ground by police and arrested, according to his friend. The friend said officers ordered Woodman's friends to leave or face arrest. Woodman was charged with public drinking and resisting arrest.

Davis said officers realized Woodman was not breathing some time after 12:47 a.m., administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and called an ambulance. But Woodman's parents accuse police of not getting him prompt medical attention, saying that doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center later told them he had suffered significant brain damage due to a lack of oxygen.

In the other incident, which occurred just after 2 a.m., Reed told the Globe that he and a friend had just left Remington's on Boylston Street and were only 4 feet from where he had parked his grandfather's car when police officers ordered them to turn around and walk in the other direction.

Reed said he told an officer, "The car's right in front of us; we're just going to get in and leave," and was told: "I don't care. You have to walk around the block to get to your car."

Reed said when he again asked if he could just get in his car, officers attacked him.

"They tried to throw me down, and I kind of caught myself, but then two more officers came in, so now I've got three on me, and they got me down," Reed said. "While I'm going down, I'm getting punched on the right side of my face, and I can remember I got punched twice. My lip was busted on that side. Basically they throw me down, punch me in the face, and grind my face into the street."

Reed said he was kicked by an officer while on the ground and later went to the hospital for a CAT scan, which was negative.

He said he had recently taken the police exam, scoring a 96, and would never resist arrest. His case is pending in Boston Municipal Court.

A report filed by police alleges officers believed that Reed and his friend "were being disorderly and attempting to incite the surrounding crowd by their actions" and that "officers were forced to use open-handed tactics to subdue the suspects."

"In a situation where officers are trying to maintain a peaceful environment with thousands of individuals, it's imperative that individuals do as they are asked," Driscoll said, when told of Reed's allegations. "In this particular situation, it seems clear that Mr. Reed did not do so."

Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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