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Snelgrove family settles lawsuit

Kin sought $10m from gun maker

The family of Victoria Snelgrove has quietly settled its $10 million wrongful death suit against the manufacturer of the pepper-pellet gun that Boston police fired into a raucous crowd during the 2004 Red Sox pennant celebrations, killing the 21-year-old college student.

Details of the out-of-court settlement reached last month remained shrouded in secrecy. None of the parties would comment: the Snelgroves, their lawyers, the city, or the gun maker, FN Herstal USA.

A federal judge dismissed the suit June 2, a day after he was notified that both sides had reached an agreement under which the Snelgroves would drop all of their claims against FN Herstal.

The settlement marks the end of a case that rocked the Police Department and raised questions nationwide about the safety of crowd-control weapons that have been touted as less lethal.

Yesterday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino's office refused to disclose how much money, if any, had been paid to the city of Boston in the deal.

Last year, the city agreed to pay the Snelgrove family $5 million, the largest wrongful death settlement in its history.

As part of that agreement, the city cooperated with the Snelgroves in their suit against FN Herstal. In return, the Snelgrove family agreed that the city could receive half of any award paid by the gun manufacturer, but no more than $2 million.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Menino said the city's lawyers wouldn't comment on the settlement with FN Herstal.

They also wouldn't provide details of previously undisclosed settlements that the city reached in October with two others who were injured by pepper pellets outside Fenway Park on Oct. 21, 2004, the night Snelgrove was killed.

However, lawyers for the two other victims said the city had paid a total of $575,000.

Paul Gately of Cambridge, who was shot in the cheek as he sat on a girder under the Green Monster and several more times in the chest as he approached police for help, was paid $325,000, according to his lawyer, Paul V. Kelly.

``We think the city acted promptly and responsibly to reach a settlement that was fair to all parties," said Kelly, adding that he would have pursued a civil rights suit against the city if the case hadn't been settled.

The city also paid $250,000 to Kapila Bhamidipati, a Boston University student who was climbing down from the Fenway Park girders when he was struck in the forehead with a pepper pellet that penetrated his skull, said his lawyer, Robert Sinsheimer.

``I think as scary to him as anything was the very real thought that a half an inch in either direction and he could have suffered the same fate as Victoria Snelgrove," Sinsheimer said.

Police were overwhelmed when a crowd mobbed the streets around Fenway and Kenmore Square after the Red Sox clinched the American League championship in New York.

Police began firing FN303 pepper-pellet guns after the crowd turned violent, throwing projectiles, lighting fires, attacking two cars, and assaulting police horses.

Snelgrove, an Emerson College junior from East Bridgewater, was struck in the eye by a pepper pellet fired into the crowd on Lansdowne Street by an officer who later said he was aiming for someone else.

An independent panel concluded last year that Snelgrove's death was an avoidable tragedy that was caused by poor planning and ``serious errors in judgment" by Boston police officers and commanders. The panel found that officers fired the pellet guns indiscriminately into the crowd.

Two officers -- including Rochefort Milien, who fired the fatal shot at Snelgrove -- were suspended for 45 days. Other officers involved in the case received demotions and written reprimands.

The panel also recommended that national testing and standards be established for the use of all so-called less-lethal weapons.

In the lawsuit against FN Herstal, Snelgrove's family accused the gun manufacturer of negligence and wrongful death, alleging that it created the false impression that the FN303 was nonlethal.

The suit says that the weapon was ``defective in design" and that the company led Boston police to believe that the projectiles would break up on impact and failed to warn that the pellets could penetrate the eye, causing fatal injuries.

The suit also contended that the company failed to adequately train police on when to use the weapon.

``As marketed, designed, and sold, the product actually increased the likelihood of injury to innocent bystanders," the suit says.

Boston attorney Patrick T. Jones, who represents the Snelgroves, declined to comment on the settlement and wouldn't say whether the family had signed a confidentiality agreement.

Lawyers for FN Herstal and company officials wouldn't comment on the settlement. However, in court papers, the company denied all of the allegations in the lawsuit. ``The FN303 Less Lethal Launcher was not and is not inherently unsafe, though like many other products it has the potential to cause serious injury or death if intentionally or carelessly misused," wrote Boston attorney Richard P. Campbell, who represents FN Herstal.

The company warned Boston police that ``serious or fatal injury" could result if someone was struck in the head or face with a projectile fired from the FN303 and that users should never target the face, throat, or neck, according to Campbell.

The company also denied that it provided inadequate training on when the FN303 should be fired, but said that crowd control and other law enforcement strategies and tactics were ``the sole responsibility" of Boston police.

Sinsheimer said both Boston police and the gun manufacturer were to blame for the tragedy.

``I think the company had some fault clearly, because the manner and means by which they sold the product led the police to believe that the amount of harm it could cause was less than it really could," Sinsheimer said.

But he added: ``The city had a responsibility to test it. Clearly the city is the one that put it in the hands of officers and allowed them to use it."

Andrea Estes and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at

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