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Video of Roxbury arrest reviewed

Commissioner probes use of force while teen cuffed

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By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / October 28, 2010

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Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said yesterday that he is reviewing video footage that shows at least one police officer punching and kneeing a 16-year-old youth whom police were trying to arrest in Roxbury, following concerns that the force was excessive.

The video, posted on YouTube, shows police repeatedly using force on the juvenile while several officers are trying to place handcuffs on him. The arrest occurred Friday in a lobby at Roxbury Community College. Police could not say last night if they know who shot the video.

Davis acknowledged that force was used in the arrest, but said he and an internal affairs investigation will determine whether it was excessive. According to police reports, the teenager punched at officers with a closed fist and kicked one when they attempted to bring him to the ground, and a struggle ensued.

“The officers used force; the question is whether it was reasonable and proper,’’ Davis said. “It’s always troubling when you see police force, but we need to see what prompted it.’’

Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for Boston police, said that police protocol and training allows for an appropriate use of force when needed, and that can include anything from the use of Mace to punching.

“Officers are taught certain tactics to assist them in subduing a suspect when the suspect is resisting,’’ she said. “It needs to be proportional to the situation.’’

A lawyer for the teenager could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The teenager, who was not identified because he is a juvenile, was wanted on outstanding warrants and for escaping Department of Youth Services custody. He was seen Friday by Boston police and a DYS worker entering the college’s administration building. An officer told him to stop, and he did, according to police reports.

But according to the reports, the teenager resisted when an officer attempted to place handcuffs on him, and at one point grabbed the handcuffs from the officer. A struggle ensued, and the teenager was taken to the ground after flailing his arms and throwing punches, according to police reports.

The video shows several officers pinning the teenager to the ground, while one is punching and throwing knees into him.

An officer could be heard ordering, “Put your hands behind your back.’’ The teenager responded, “My hands are behind my back.’’

“Stop resisting,’’ the officer shouted.

A witness shouts, “Yo, they beat up on his back and his ribs and everything.’’ The witness added, “Look at that, his nose is busted because they smacked his face.’’

A police officer can also be seen and heard telling a witness to stop videographing the incident. Another person responded, “It’s a free country.’’

The juvenile was treated for a head laceration at a local hospital and released, according to police reports. Three of the officers were treated for minor injuries.

The teenager was later charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery on a police officer, and resisting arrest. He was also charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute after police allegedly found the drug in his backpack.

Davis said yesterday that he and investigators are reviewing the video, as well as surveillance footage from Roxbury Community College to determine the sequence of events. They will then determine whether the force was excessive.

Generally, an officer can use his knee and fists to subdue a suspect who is fiercely resisting arrest and keeping his hands interlocked and out of sight, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of police procedure. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak to the media.

Officers would be justified in striking blows even if that suspect is down because they would need to make sure he is not holding drugs, a gun, or another weapon, the official said. A review of the officers’ actions would account for how much of a threat the suspect posed, the official said.

“The overarching goal is to make the arrest with the least amount of force possible, so that this guy doesn’t get harmed, so that our people don’t get harmed,’’ the official said. “But if the guy is offering resistance and it’s resistance with brute force, you use brute force.’’

Council President Michael P. Ross expressed concern over the videotape last night.

“I was outraged by what I saw in the video . . . of an unarmed teenager laying on his stomach, subdued by Boston police officers, while being severely and repeatedly beaten by one of the officers in what appears to be an unmeasured use of force,’’ he said in a statement. “I spoke to Commissioner Davis, who pledged to conduct a full and fair investigation into this incident. I will await the results of the investigation, as well as his subsequent action.’’

Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.

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