Listen: Boston paid $1.3 million after police arrested Black man as he suffered a stroke, WBUR reports

"They treat me like I'm a drunk on the street."

David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe, File

A new report found the City of Boston paid a $1.3 million settlement after police arrested a Black man and locked him up for hours as he suffered a stroke in 2019.

WBUR, which recently discovered the case through a public records request, found the city shelled out the payment for Al Copeland, who Boston police arrested when officers found the then-62-year-old slumped in his car and nearly unconscious on the side of Massachusetts Avenue.

Copeland told the news station he felt nauseous as he was driving that night and pulled over, not realizing he was having a stroke.

“I was afraid,” he recalled recently to WBUR for a story published on Tuesday. “I say, well, at least if anything happens to me, somebody will find me.”

Officers wrote in a police report they smelled alcohol on Copeland. He said he has not had a drink since 1995.


“Why they didn’t assume he was sick?” his wife, Valerie, asked. “I can only and strongly believe it’s because he’s a Black male.”

Al Copeland was brought to a police station despite that he could barely stand, and he fell and hit his head on the wall of a holding cell, police records reviewed by WBUR show.

Officers only called an ambulance for him after he threw up — five hours after they first found him outside the Berklee College of Music, the station reports.

Al Copeland was brought to Tufts Medical Center, where, records show, staff also assumed he was drunk and left him in the emergency room for seven hours, according to WBUR.

When Valerie Copeland found her husband, doctors ultimately confirmed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system and that he had suffered a stroke.

Al Copeland, who still has difficulty walking and performing other actions, was hospitalized for weeks and then had to undergo rehab, forcing him to give up his job at the MBTA, the station reports.

He said he doesn’t remember that night and can only recall walking up in rehab two months later.

“I heard … they treated you like you was a drunk on the street,” he told WBUR. “That’s what I heard … and it pissed me off. Immediately, I went to: all these white addicts all over nodding all over the place, they treat me like I’m a drunk on the street.”


Listen to the full WBUR report:

Tufts apologized to the Copelands, and the hospital said it has since brought in social workers to help patients who cannot communicate and has also launched a center for diversity, equity, and inclusion to help address care disparities, according to WBUR.

The City of Boston and Boston police have never apologized or reached out to the Copelands, though, they told the station.

Department records indicate police began an internal investigation after the Copelands’ lawyer contacted the city. That probe found two officers and a sergeant neglected their duties: They did not respond quickly enough when Al Copeland fell and hit his head in the holding cell, according to the outlet.

The review ended over a year ago, but so far, none of the officers involved have been disciplined, WBUR reports.

The mayor’s office nor Boston police would tell the news station what, if anything, they have done to ensure a similar situation would not happen again.

The $1.3 million settlement, notably, did not come in response to a lawsuit, according to WBUR. The city offered the payment last year when officials heard from the Copelands’ attorney.

“Hopefully some things can come out of this,” Al Copeland said. “To shed some light on it, to change some things systemically. But who the hell knows.”


Read the WBUR report.


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