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Snelgrove panel said to cite police tactical mistakes

Source says report critical of commander at the scene

An independent panel investigating the fatal shooting of Victoria Snelgrove has concluded that tactical mistakes by Boston police helped lead to her death, including poor decisions made by the commander in charge of operations around Fenway Park the night she was shot, according to a source briefed on some of the panel's findings.

Snelgrove was struck in the eye, and two others were injured in the face by pepper pellets fired by officers trying to control crowds celebrating the Red Sox American League championship victory on Oct. 21.

Former US attorney Donald K. Stern, who headed the independent panel convened by Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole soon after Snelgrove's death, said yesterday that he planned to turn over a copy of the panel's report to the commissioner today and release it publicly Wednesday.

The report is critical of Deputy Superintendent Robert E. O'Toole, the commander on the scene, said the source. The source, who spoke to the Globe on condition of anonymity, was briefed on parts of the Stern report by someone with knowledge of its conclusions.

Police have said that O'Toole, who was not certified to use the rifle-style weapon, fired one of the FN303 pepper-pellet guns he authorized officers to use to quell the crowd. He held it at his hip and sprayed pepper pellets at revelers climbing the girders underneath the Green Monster, witnesses and two officers on the street that night have previously told the Globe.

''I would dispute any of the information regarding my client's actions that evening, given the circumstances and conditions of that night," O'Toole's lawyer, Timothy M. Burke, said last night.

O'Toole, no relation to the commissioner, announced May 2 that he is retiring from the Police Department after 37 years, saying he wanted to allow the department to ''heal and move on."

That same day, the City of Boston announced it would pay the biggest wrongful death settlement in its history, $5 million, to the family of Snelgrove, a 21-year-old student at Emerson College.

Another officer who fired pepper pellets at fans and was not certified to use the weapon, Patrolman Samil Silta, hit 24-year-old Cambridge resident Paul Gately 12 times in the chest, causing large welts, according to the person briefed on the report.

Gately has said he was approaching Silta to ask for help when he was hit repeatedly by the projectiles. Gately was also struck in the cheek by another pellet; it is unclear whether the report identifies which officer shot that pellet or a pellet that struck a Boston University student, Kapila Bhamidipati, in the forehead. Police have said that Patrolman Rochefort Milien fired the pellet that struck Snelgrove.

''While I haven't seen the report, I'm very confident my clients will be found to have committed no wrongdoing," said Thomas Drechsler, the lawyer for Silta and Milien.

Communication between officers and the crowd may have been an issue, the report concludes, because officers did not have bullhorns and the noise level on the Lansdowne Street was extremely high, with thousands of celebrants chanting and whooping, the person briefed on the report said.

The report is more comprehensive than the conclusions it reaches about individual officers' actions that night, Stern said. Among its recommendations are sweeping guidelines on the use of crowd control weapons that Stern hopes police departments across the nation will adopt.

The report is based on scores of interviews, as well as an investigation by the Boston Police Internal Affairs unit and a separate investigation by homicide and other detectives. The results of that second investigation are now in the hands of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. He has not decided whether to bring criminal charges in Snelgrove's death, said Conley's spokesman, David Procopio.

Stern said he wants to give the panel's findings to the police commissioner before anyone else, to ''give her some period of time to read and absorb it and have some period of time to respond appropriately when we make it public."

O'Toole said yesterday that she will review the report and then announce what the department will do to address the panel's concerns.

''Not only is it important that we learn lessons in the Boston Police Department," she said, ''but . . . this is a valuable tool to law enforcement elsewhere."

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Suzanne Smalley can be reached at ssmalley@globe.com.

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