Court: Boston owes millions to fired police, mostly Black men, who were falsely accused of drug use

Six officers at the Boston Police Department were wrongly fired in the 2000s over unreliable drug tests.

The city of Boston owes six people millions in back pay after they were wrongfully fired from the police department in the early 2000s because of unreliable drug tests, the Massachusetts Appeals Court decided Tuesday.

The six, who were accused of using cocaine because of disreputable hair-testing technology, include five Black men and one white woman. Courts previously ruled that the tests returned disproportionally more false positives for Black officers because of their different hair texture.

Tuesday’s ruling was about further compensation for the officers; none received back pay for overtime or detail work for the years they were forced out of the department. The three officers who returned to the force, along with one who retired, previously received a shared payout of around $1 million. Alan H. Shapiro, the officers’ attorney, told the Boston Globe that the four will now likely share another $3 million.

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Shapiro said he expects that the other two officers, who haven’t earned any income since they were fired, will each collect around $2 million. The payouts are compounded at 12% interest over a period of at least 13 years.

“This is further vindication for these police officers whose lives were upended,” Shapiro told the Globe. “I just hope that the police department wants to put an end to this now.”

Ten Boston police officers were fired throughout the 2000s after their hair samples tested positive for cocaine. In 2016, the appeals court determined that six had the right to get their jobs back.

The six officers have engaged in almost two decades of legal action against the department and have made incremental progress each step of the way. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled last October that the hair test is insufficient to deny employment to prospective officers. Mayor Marty Walsh and several city councilors called on the department to eliminate the tests completely in December.

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