Saturday, 2:15 PM
DA: No charges warranted against police in student's death
(Mark Wilson/Globe Staff)
District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said that a thorough investigation had determined no charges needed to be filed. David Woodman's parents still have questions.
By Shelley Murphy and Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has decided not to press charges against Boston Police officers in the case of David Woodman, the 22-year-old Emmanuel College student who died after being arrested in June during Boston Celtics championship celebrations.
"As a result of a thorough, objective, and independent review of the facts, I have concluded that no criminal charges are warranted," Conley said in a statement he delivered at an afternoon news conference. "The facts are clear and the medical evidence overwhelming that Mr. Woodman's death was the result of natural causes -- specifically a serious, preexisting heart condition."
Woodman stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating while in police custody. He was taken to the hospital, but died 11 days after his June 18 arrest.
Conley, who reported his findings in a letter to Police Commissioner Edward Davis, said officers had struggled to subdue Woodman, but the evidence was clear that officers did not use excessive force in arresting him.
"No police officer caused Mr. Woodman's death and no police officer used excessive force in arresting Mr. Woodman," he said.
Last month, the state medical examiner signed David Woodman's death certificate, indicating his death was the result of a congenital heart defect.
Woodman's parents, Jeffrey and Cathy Woodman of Southwick, who received a briefing on the investigation from Conley, said at a news conference this afternoon that they don't believe that police are blameless in their son's death.They also said they have not been given an adequate explanation of why he suddenly suffered an arrhythmia while in police custody and arrived at the hospital sometime later with significant brain damage because of a lack of oxygen.
"I think it's a little unrealistic to ask us to believe that the police did everything right,'' said Cathy Woodman, wiping away tears as she sat beside her husband and their lawyers. "They've had all this time to piece together this great story that makes David look like he was guilty and he deserved this.''
Describing themselves as a working class family from Southwick, the Woodmans complained that they had to wait seven months to learn the results of the medical examiner's report and Conley's conclusions and that they still have not been provided with any of the documents supporting their findings.
"We're insulted that they treated us like we were insignificant,'' Cathy Woodman said. "We just wanted information. Now we have it and it just sounds like a lie.''
Jeffrey Woodman said that although his son had a preexisting heart condition, he led a very active lifestyle, was playing basketball hours before his encounter with police, and had never suffered an arrhythmia before.
"I think it comes down to them saying it was a coincidence that David's heart failed at that time,'' Jeffrey Woodman said. "It doesn't make sense to us. We'd like to see all the documents.''
Conley said that he would provide a copy of the entire investigative file to the Woodman family.
Woodman was walking home with four friends after watching the Celtics' NBA victory at a bar when they passed nine uniformed officers at the intersection of Fenway and Brookline Avenue, which was not one of the areas of the city that was filled with unruly revelers at the time. One of Woodman's friends, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that as he passed the officers, Woodman said, "Wow, it seems like there's a lot of crime on this corner.''
The friend said Woodman, who was carrying a cup of beer, was slammed to the ground by officers, who ordered his friends to leave the area or face arrest. Police have said Woodman struggled with police. He was charged with public drinking and resisting arrest.
Conley said his investigation had found that Woodman had tried to resist arrest by grabbing a nearby wrought-iron fence, and it took several officers to loosen his grasp and bring him to the ground, where he was handcuffed.
"They used a level and type of force appropriate to the resistance they encountered, and they complied with the Boston Police Department's rules and procedures in doing so," Conley said.
After Woodman was handcuffed, Conley said, the officers tried to get Woodman to his feet but he couldn't stand. Believing he was drunk -- and unaware of his medical condition -- police returned him to the ground, positioning him on his side in case he vomited, Conley said.
"Within one or two minutes, they noticed that he was not breathing and had no pulse and they immediately took action," Conley said.
One officer who had been trained as an emergency medical technician began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, another performed chest compressions, a third called for an ambulance and three more ran for an ambulance. Two off-duty firefighters responded and offered first aid before officers flagged down an ambulance.
Woodman was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He died June 29 after suffering a second arrhythmia.
Asked whether he was intimating that Woodman would have died without any police interaction that day, Conley noted that the medical examiner ruled the death a natural one. He also said that Dr. James R. Stone, chief of the cardiovascular pathology service at Massachusetts General Hospital and a consultant for the medical examiner in this case, had issued an opinion finding that both arrhythmic events were the result of Woodman's abnormal heart -- and that the second arrhythmia would have killed him even if the first had never occurred.
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he believed police acted appropriately. He noted that they undergo extensive training, are encouraged to make arrests for public drinking, and are taught that handcuffing face-down is a safe means of restraining someone resisting arrest. However, police policies may still change as a result of the incident, he said. For instance, all nine officers who were present at Woodman's arrest immediately went to the hospital for stress treatment, leaving a superior officer who did not witness the incident to write a report on it.
"This whole event is being looked at very closely," Davis said.
Former US Attorney Donald K. Stern is still conducting an independent review of the circumstances surrounding Woodman's death. The FBI and US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan also announced last year that they would investigate whether Woodman's civil rights were violated.