Saturday, 2:15 PM
Davis: No 'excessive force' by police in death after Celtics' win
By Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer, Globe Staff
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis vowed this afternoon that there would be a thorough and transparent investigation of the arrest of David Woodman on last month, but said an initial review found that officers acted appropriately.
The 22-year-old man stopped breathing while in custody during the June 18 celebration of the Boston Celtics NBA championship and died on Sunday.
"It appears from the evidence we have reviewed thus far that officers did not use excessive force," Davis said during a 10-minute press conference at police headquarters. "No [pepper] spray or batons were used in this incident."
Investigators are building a timeline to try to determine what occurred early that morning to David Woodman, a former Emmanuel College student who was living in Brookline. Davis said it is unclear when officers noticed the student's medical distress and began CPR. It was sometime between 12:47 a.m. when police first called for an ambulance for an intoxicated reveler, and 12:53 a.m. when officers called EMS a second time because Woodman had stopped breathing.
"We're rebuilding the incident from the officers' statements as well as witnesses statements," Davis said. "That's as specific as I can be right now."
There was a struggle with Woodman that ultimately involved eight police officers and one supervisor, all of whom were treated at a hospital for stress, which is common, Davis said. The commissioner extended his condolences to the family of Woodman.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino called earlier today for a expedited investigation because it is "best for the family and Boston police that we have all the facts known as quickly as possible."
Howard Friedman, a Boston lawyer who represents the Woodmans, said this afternoon that he has asked the US Attorney's office to have the FBI investigate. The family has scheduled a press conference later this afternoon.
Woodman's parents told the Globe that 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.
In a story published in today's Globe, Boston police said 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. Sunday 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.
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, according to Driscoll.
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 the family's lawyer 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.