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Arrest, death bring inquiry

Man, 22, was held in Celtics celebration; Parents contend medical aid delayed

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / June 30, 2008

A 22-year-old man who stopped breathing while in police custody after his arrest during the June 18 Boston Celtics NBA championship celebration died yesterday, prompting an investigation by Boston police and the Suffolk County District Attorney's office into his death.

The parents of David Woodman, a former Emmanuel College student who was living in Brookline, said their son did not receive prompt medical attention while lying unconscious, face down on Brookline Avenue with his hands cuffed behind his back. They also accused police of failing to give them a full account of what happened.

Boston police say they immediately administered cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, flagged an ambulance after noticing Woodman was in distress, and did everything they could to help him before he was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. But Jeffrey and Cathy Woodman of Southwick say their son must have been deprived of oxygen for at least four minutes because he suffered significant brain damage.

"We don't know what happened," said Jeffrey Woodman, contending that police have left them with more questions than answers. "We are left to surmise that something occurred while he was in police custody that stopped his heart."

Woodman said his son had a preexisting heart condition, but he led an active life and had been playing basketball earlier that day. He said doctors told him his son's heart was functioning normally.

Thomas J. Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said he understands the family's anguish, "but nothing those officers did that night caused his death."

He said that the officers, who have not been identified publicly, have cooperated with the investigation, and that the family's questions will be answered.

David Woodman, who was charged with drinking in public and resisting arrest, remained hospitalized after the incident and awoke June 23 from a medically induced coma. His parents said he recognized them but had difficulty communicating and whispered, "What happened?"

He smiled at a Globe reporter during a brief visit Thursday, spoke softly to his parents, and appeared confused. A large scrape was visible near his right eye. On Saturday, he was asking to go home, according to his parents, who believed he would survive and face lengthy rehabilitation.

At 2:30 a.m. yesterday he died at the hospital. The family is awaiting autopsy results.

Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said Conley "pledged a thorough and impartial review of the facts."

The Boston Police Department launched an internal investigation shortly after the incident into how the officers handled Woodman and will join the district attorney's office in investigating his death, Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Boston police, said yesterday. Several officers were treated for stress and have returned to work, she said.

"Based upon what we know thus far we do not believe that any excessive force was used and we do believe officers responded reasonably," Driscoll said in an interview Friday.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis declined to be interviewed, according to Driscoll, who said the commissioner tried to meet with Woodman's family June 18 but was turned away at the hospital by staff who said the family didn't wish to see him.

Cathy Woodman said she was alone with her son, who was on life support with scrapes that looked like road burns all over his face, and felt too overwhelmed to meet with Davis.

David Woodman, who had been a history major at Emmanuel College and planned to return in the fall after taking a semester off, was walking from a bar with friends after the game when they passed about 10 or 12 uniformed officers at the corner of the Fenway and Brookline Avenue, according to two friends who spoke on the condition they not be named.

According to one of the friends, as Woodman passed the officers, he said, "Wow, it seems like there's a lot of crime on this corner."

Officers grabbed Woodman, who was carrying a plastic cup of beer, and as they struggled to handcuff him pushed him face down onto the ground, according to Woodman's friend.

"He wasn't being a punk or anything like that," said the friend. "I don't understand why the officers used such brute force to arrest him."

Woodman's friends said an officer yelled at them to leave, saying they would be arrested if they didn't.

One of the friends said he returned a few minutes later but was ordered to leave or face arrest. "They were all just around him and he was on the ground and not moving," the friend said. "I didn't see them giving him CPR."

A Boston police report given to Howard Friedman, a Boston lawyer who represents the Woodmans, says that Woodman "began struggling with the officers as they attempted to handcuff him. Officers immediately realized that David Woodman was not breathing and they began to give CPR and summoned EMS to that location."

Initially, Driscoll said Boston police called for an ambulance at 12:47 a.m., reporting an extremely drunken man on the ground, and immediately began CPR. Later she corrected that information, saying that officers didn't begin CPR at that time and initially just put out a low-priority call for an ambulance to tend to a drunken man. Then sometime in the next six minutes, she said, officers discovered Woodman wasn't breathing, began CPR, and at 12:53 a.m. put out a second call for an ambulance, warning "please push."

The police report says one of the officers flagged down a private Cataldo Ambulance, before a Boston Emergency Medical Services ambulance arrived.

Cataldo Ambulance workers arrived at 12:58 a.m., treated Woodman at the scene, and delivered him to the hospital at 1:11 a.m, said Ron Quaranto, chief operating officer of Cataldo Ambulance.

Thomas Drechsler, a Boston lawyer who represents the officers, said, "They responded as quickly as they could; there was no time that he was neglected. . . . Nobody is trying to hide anything."

During an emotional interview at the hospital last week, Woodman's mother said her son was being unfairly portrayed as a troublemaker, but he wasn't one of the people breaking windows or causing damage after the Celtics game.

She said she was haunted by the notion that her son was struggling to breathe while he was with police. "There are people who are covering themselves," she said.

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