With flier, police try to ‘shame’ gang

Distribute photos of 10 not charged in teen’s slaying

By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / June 2, 2010

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Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said yesterday that his department’s release Monday of a flier showing photos of 10 unidentified young men was designed to shame them for allegedly belonging to a street gang, one he blamed for the slaying of 14-year-old Nicholas Fomby-Davis.

“We are doing this because we believe the community can play a role in making the individuals who are responsible for the execution of a 14-year-old boy outcasts in their own neighborhood,’’ Davis said in a telephone interview.

The flier, which displayed what resembled mug shots, is believed to be the first of its kind printed by Boston police, according to Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the department. Officers distributed the flier door-to door in the Fomby-Davis family’s neighborhood in Dorchester and to news organizations.

It does not name the individuals or the gang they allegedly belong to; Davis said that he does not want to validate the gang by disclosing its name, but that he believes the group should be held accountable for the killing. He declined to say whether the individuals have criminal records, but said they were all associated with the young men charged in the slaying.

The men featured on the flier do not face charges in the slaying or outstanding warrants for other offenses, and Davis stressed that the handout is not a wanted poster. But the individuals are “absolutely high on our list of targets’’ and could face legal action if police receive information concerning criminal activity from the public, he said.

The flier asks the public to contact police if they have information on the individuals, who are “known to associate with known criminals and gang members who are involved in firearm violence.’’ The police know the individuals’ whereabouts, Driscoll said.

Fomby-Davis, a 14-year-old Dearborn Middle School pupil, was riding a motor scooter on Sunday evening when two assailants jumped him on Bowdoin Street, authorities said. They said that Crisostomo Lopes, 20, held him down and that Joshua Fernandes, 16, shot him three times with a .25-caliber handgun. One bullet struck the boy in the chest, fatally wounding him. Both were quickly apprehended and pleaded not guilty yesterday to murder.

A prominent Boston community leader and a Northeastern University criminologist expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the flier. A lawyer for the ACLU of Massachusetts said the tactic probably passes constitutional muster, but declined to say whether he thought it effective.

The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III — interim director of the Ella J. Baker House and cofounder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a group credited with helping to stem gang killings in the city in the 1990s — said that when he first looked at the flier, he thought the individuals were wanted for committing a crime.

If the handout is intended to show that the city will not tolerate gang activity, Rivers said, police should have asked community leaders to put the word out on the street, rather than distribute pictures. “There are ways to get a message out,’’ he said.

James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, said that if the flier is supposed to make the alleged gang members pariahs, it may have the opposite effect, turning them into celebrities.

“I’m not saying a 50-year-old will be impressed, but I think there will be some 16-year-old gangbangers or wanna-be gangbangers who will look at it as a sign of status,’’ he said.

Effective or not, the flier probably does not violate constitutional rights, said John Reinstein, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

In a 1976 case, Paul v. Davis, a sharply divided US Supreme Court ruled that the police chief of Louisville, Ky., did not violate the constitutional rights of a man who was identified, with his mug shot, as an “active shoplifter’’ in a flier distributed to local retailers. (The charges were ultimately dismissed.)

The big difference in this matter, however, is that the 10 individuals have not been charged with a crime.

One official who works for a Dorchester community group that discourages gang violence praised Davis for distributing the flier.

“It’s definitely a new approach, and it will certainly stir up the community and especially the families and relatives of the young people whose pictures are there,’’ said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he works with the youngsters and knows four of them. “But I don’t know what we’ve got to lose. How many bodies do we have to lose in this gang war?’’

The police commissioner said that the department initially distributed the flier to police officers, but later decided to make it public because of the heinous circumstances surrounding the slaying.

“We had an individual who held this young man while he was shot,’’ Davis said. “When the police confronted him, he threatened to kill a police officer, and he began to chant the name of the gang he was involved in when he was put in the wagon.

“So these individuals are well-known, self-identified members of that same gang, and we want the public to know this gang activity . . . is leading to this kind of violence.’’

Said Davis: “I think they should be shamed. I think it should be a shameful thing to associate yourself with a criminal group that blatantly executes 14-year-olds.’’

Using photographs to shame lawbreakers, from drunken drivers to people who owe child support, has made headlines across the nation in recent years. But the photographs have almost always been used only after an individual has been charged with or convicted of an offense.

Saltzman can be reached at

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