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Lawyers raise questions on Watertown home searches during Marathon manhunt

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 26, 2014 03:17 PM

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A group of lawyers who say they think some of the actions by authorities during the Boston and Watertown-area shutdown days after the Marathon bombings were unconstitutional will hold a second open meeting in Watertown for any residents who want to talk about the events.

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Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
SWAT teams in Watertown on April 19.
Attorneys from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild will host a forum Wednesday, March 5 about the home searches that took place in Watertown on April 19. The event will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the First Parish Church at 35 Church St.

The meeting is the last in a series that the guild has hosted around Boston, including one in Watertown last fall.

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.

"With no suspicion of wrongdoing by any of the residents, and with no warrants, the government searched the private homes of many Watertown residents and ordered many innocent people from their homes," said Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the lawyers' guild, in a statement.

"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," Masny-Latos told the Globe last fall. "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."

Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Masny-Latos said that as time passes, she receives more and more outreach from residents concerned with how the manhunt for alleged Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was handled.

"People are starting to talk and I think that we all need that, to be able to talk about what happened, analyze it, and come up with some opinions," she said. "Right now there is a little more concern that people are raising. We did not see this concern a few months ago."

She said about 30 people attended the fall meeting in Watertown, and that many voiced concerns.

"They were talking about problems they had with how the government handled the situation," she said. "I was a little surprised because I thought most people would be supportive of what the government did, and they were not."

Masny-Latos said it is too soon to tell if she thinks the issue would warrant legal action.

"We want to wait until this last event and then we will analyze what we’ve heard and see if there’s anything for us to be involved in," she said.

For more information, visit nlgmass.org.

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

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