Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
An independent report released today cleared Boston police officers in the death of a 22-year-old Boston Celtics fan who was arrested during revelry on the night of the 2008 championship game. But the man's parents weren't satisfied with the report and called it a coverup.
Police made a number of "missteps" when they arrested David Woodman, but none of the mistakes contributed to his death, according to the report released by former US Attorney Donald Stern.
"We believe that, by and large, the police officers acted reasonably and in no way anticipated or could have predicted the outcome," the report said.
But during a press conference this afternoon at their lawyer's office on Canal Street, Cathy and Jeff Woodman said they believe there has been a coverup and they are convinced that their son would be alive today if not for his encounter with police.
"I think they're lying," Cathy Woodman said. "In my opinion, those officers, those nine officers, the ones who handled him and the ones who witnessed, are to blame for his death."
Although the report found that officers did not contribute to the death of the Emmanuel College student, it still pushed for nine specific changes at the police department because of what happened that night. The recommendations include enhanced training for confrontations with large crowds, revising the policy on releasing statements to the media, and streamlining the investigative process to ease the burden on families.
The most critical section of the report, however, focused on the lack of supervision at the scene on June 18, 2008, when Woodman clung to a wrought-iron fence on Brookline Avenue and flailed his arms as police tried to arrest him for drinking in public. After officers wrestled him to the ground, there was a gap of time when no one was responsible for Woodman as he lay on his side. The gap, which lasted no more than 5 minutes, meant that none of the nine officers at the scene knew exactly when he stopped breathing.
"It's not clear who was in charge of Mr. Woodman as he lay on the ground," Stern said today at a news conference where he was joined by Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis. "There's a gap of authority."
Attorney Howard Friedman, who represents Woodman's parents, said, "The most important point in Donald Stern's report is there was a failure of supervision at the scene, a lack of guidance from the sergeant.''
He said it was also significant that Stern found the initial investigation was "surprisingly cursory.''
District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced some time ago that the medical examiner concluded that Woodman's heart stopped while he was in police custody because he suffered an arrhythmia, a disruption of the heart's electrical activity. The autopsy report indicated that the arrhythmia was due to a preexisting heart condition and not excessive force. Woodman died after suffering another arrhythmia in the hospital.
At the press conference today, Davis said he would embrace the recommendations in the report, but he noted that none of the nine officers violated department policy during the confrontation with Woodman.
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