The Boston Model: Hennepin Co. Attorney Touted Radical Change to Police Shooting Investigations

May 06, 2018 10:27 PM

The city of Boston was bracing for protests in March 2015 after a deadly officer-involved shooting In which community leaders and demonstrators believed a Boston police officer had shot an unarmed man in the back during a traffic stop.

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley decided to release video of the shooting less than two weeks into the investigation because it showed the driver who was killed had first shot an officer in the face, sparking a shootout with police in the middle of the street.

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"The video told a completely different story," Conley said in a recent interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "As soon as we showed it to community leaders…calm ensued in our city."

The decision to release a key piece of evidence in the early stages of an investigation rested entirely with the longtime elected official thanks to a Massachusetts law that gives district attorneys complete control of all homicide investigations, including fatal officer-involved shootings.

Conley says the "Boston Model" means any detective who works the investigation reports directly to the district attorney.

"If we are going to make the ultimate decision, it seem to me a little backward for us to sit around on our hands, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for a police department or some other agency to hand an investigative file to us," Conley said.

"We have issues with how we investigate our cases"

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman recently touted the "Boston Model" as a better way to investigate officer-involved shootings in Minnesota.

Freeman had previously criticized the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigation of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor.

Noor shot and killed Justine Damond in a South Minneapolis alleyway last July.



In December, demonstrators seeking an update on possible charges against Noor, recorded Freeman as he voiced his displeasure with the status of the investigation.

"I gotta have the evidence and I don't have it yet," Freeman stated. "And let me just say it's not my fault. So, if it isn't my fault, who didn't do their job," he added.

Freeman later apologized for those comments, but when he charged Noor with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in March, he floated the possibility of radically changing the investigative process.

"I think we have issues with how we investigate our cases," Freeman said at the time.

In Minnesota, each department decides who will lead the investigation of officer-involved shootings. For example, Minneapolis police made it a policy in 2015 to refer such investigations to the BCA, which is typical of most departments.

A BCA spokesperson declined to comment on open investigations but said in a statement that the current process is designed to create a series of checks and balances in which the BCA acts as "an independent and unbiased" collector of facts.

Freeman's comments suggest a willingness to absorb more authority and responsibility.

"In Boston, the D.A. goes to the scene of the crime," he said.

Ed Zabin, a Suffolk County prosecutor who leads the District Attorney's Homicide Unit, says arriving shortly after the crime scene tape is strung offers his team a valuable perspective.

"You want to see what the distances are, you want to see what the escape routes were," Zabin said. "All of that goes in to your ultimate determination as to if the officers' actions were justified."

Freeman declined to comment further on the specifics of the "Boston Model."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said there will be plenty of time after the Noor trial to "discuss how officer-involved shootings are handled elsewhere in the country and whether they might serve as models in Minnesota."

Calm Instead of Chaos

Conley, the Suffix County district attorney, said he believes Freeman would "love to implement" the Boston Model because it removes any accusations of conflicts of interest or police protecting their fellow officers.

"The public understands this is not somebody who is rubber stamping someone's work here,"Conley said.

Conley has not charged a police officer since he took control of officer-involved shootings in 2002, but he says the emphasis he puts on transparency has tempered any potential outrage.

"We haven't had widespread protests, we haven't had people standing in front of our offices," Conley said.

In the Twin Cities, protestors, frustrated with a lack of information about BCA investigations into the police shootings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, have shut down streets and interstates for hours at a time.

READ: 42 People Arrested in Protests that Closed I-94

READ: St. Paul Police Chief: 'I'm Absolutely Disgusted by the Actions of Some; We will not Tolerate it'

After the Clark shooting in 2015, protesters occupied an encampment outside the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis for 18 days.



A similar demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion in St. Paul lasted the better part of a month after the Castile shooting the following summer.



Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said people protest when they feel they "aren't being heard."

Williams is part of the group of community leaders in Boston that meets with prosecutors after officer-involved shootings.

"We can take what we have witnessed or reviewed and bring back to the community, we can relieve their fears and concerns," Williams said.

"If you are not at the table you end up as a Baltimore, you end up as a Ferguson," he added, a reference to other cities that have experienced large protests in wake of police shootings in recent years.

Credits

Joe Augustine & Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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