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Lawyers raising questions about Watertown home searches following Marathon bombings, shootout

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  November 14, 2013 02:52 PM

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A group of lawyers is saying they think authorities' actions during the Boston and Watertown-area shutdown days after the Marathon bombings were unconstitutional, and they want to discuss it with the residents involved.

Attorneys from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild hosted a forum Thursday in Watertown about the home searches that took place there on April 19. The event was held at the Watertown library on Main Street.

The discussion in Watertown last night, which guild leaders said was attended by about 30 people, was one in a series on the subject. The guild also hosted a forum earlier this month in Boston, and plan to hold at least two more in Boston and Cambridge in January and February.

Top lawyers in the guild said that there was an unprecedented show of force in Watertown, Cambridge, and other area communities, and that many houses in Watertown were searched without a warrant.

"The guild’s position is that what happened in April was problematic, but at the same time we just wanted to hear stories from people who experienced that," said Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the lawyers' guild, over the phone Friday. "Many people said they had been troubled by what happened and they didn’t know how to approach it, and felt uncomfortable having a conversation about it because they didn't know how others would react."

Benjamin Falkner, a member of the guild's litigation committee, said police usually need individualized suspicion before searching a house or arresting someone.

“The widespread searches of many Watertown homes without any individualized suspicion have no constitutional precedent," Falkner said in a statement. "Without such precedent, the question is whether the searches were lawful under our constitutions. We believe that the answer to that question is, No.”

Masny-Latos also said the extraordinary methods of response used during the manhunt and shutdown could lead to even bigger issues down the road.

"The questions that need to be posed and answered are 'What made this pursuit of a suspect so different from other suspect pursuits that it required such an unusual law enforcement response?' and 'What is the level of militarization of police force, and in what situations will this force be used?'" said Masny-Latos in a statement. "These are important questions that need to be addressed to make sure democracy and civil rights in our country are protected and secured."

Masny-Latos said while bringing legal action against authorities is not a priority right now, the guild is gathering feedback and stories to determine whether they should.

"Our goal is to start the conversation and from those discussions analyze the serious implications and hopefully be able to see if there is something that would be able to bring a legal action," she said over the phone Friday. "But that is not our goal right now."

For more information on the event or subject, visit the guild's local website.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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