The New Bedford branch of the NAACP is requesting an independent investigation into the death of Malcolm Gracia, following conflicting witness statements and continuing questions about the 15-year-old’s fatal shooting last month by police.
In their letter, the officers of the NAACP ask District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter to release all reports to the public, saying the community’s relationship with police is one of mistrust.
“The people of this city and the community need to know the facts and the truth of what happened on the night that Malcolm Gracia was shot and killed,” the NAACP officers wrote. “We encourage you to let the facts speak for themselves.”
The teenager was shot by police on May 17 after he allegedly stabbed a drug unit detective with a hunting knife. The district attorney told reporters the following day that police had been trying to talk with Gracia and another man whom they encountered near the basketball courts of the Temple Landing housing development.
After the stabbing, Sutter said, Gracia was still armed and began to move toward the officers, who shot him when he refused to stop. Police Chief David Provencher initially said his officers acted appropriately, based on preliminary evidence.
But witnesses have offered a different account, saying they saw the teen being chased by at least two officers, who fired at him as he was running away. As a result, the NAACP is questioning whether police really had to shoot and kill Gracia.
Mark Green Sr., president of the NAACP’s New Bedford branch, said many questions remain. Green said the district attorney plans to meet with NAACP officers Thursday.
A spokesman for Sutter could not immediately be reached for comment. Sutter said last month that his inquiry into the shooting could take up to three months.
The letter from the NAACP asks the district attorney to convene a Civil Complaint Review Board in the death, and to include the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the Massachusetts US attorneys office in the investigation.
The NAACP wants to clarify why police were trying to talk to the men, whether there was any probable cause to stop them, what laws they were breaking, and why police were allegedly chasing them with guns drawn. Additionally, it asks how many times Gracia was Tasered or shot, whether he was shot by more than one officer, and where on his body he was struck.
“If this was a justifiable homicide, let the facts in this investigation speak for themselves and release all the reports and all communication to the public,” the NAACP wrote.
“We’re not saying anybody’s wrong,” said Green. “We’re not accusing them. We’re just saying we want the truth out there so the community can bring closure and healing can take place.”