Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he took the rare step of stripping an officer of his detective badge after learning that the officer had failed to return phone calls and e-mails from the crime lab testing evidence in the case of a woman who was choked until she passed out.
The suspect in that September 2012 case, Edwin Alemany, is now being investigated in the brutal stabbing of Amy E. Lord, 24, who was mourned at a funeral Mass in Wilbraham Tuesday, one week after she was killed. Alemany has been arrested in assaults on two other women in South Boston in the same 24-hour period.
During an interview Tuesday, Davis said that Alemany was not arrested in 2012 because the detective, Jerome Hall-Brewster, decided there was not enough probable cause to bring the case to a clerk magistrate, though police said the victim was found holding the wallet containing Alemany’s identification card. Davis said Alemany will now be charged with the crime.
Physical evidence, including a bottle, was collected from the scene on Parker Hill Avenue in Roxbury, and the crime laboratory repeatedly tried to contact the detective to get more information about the items.
“He never returned their call or their e-mails,” Davis said. “There is some testing that should have been done last year that wasn’t done.”
Hall-Brewster’s lawyer, Raffi N. Yessayan, has not returned calls seeking comment. Officials at the Police Detectives Benevolent Society, the detectives’ union, declined to comment.
Hall-Brewster, who joined the department in 1995 and has been a detective for seven years, has 30 days to appeal the commissioner’s decision to strip his ranking. He did not respond to a message left at his home number.
Davis declined to be more specific about the 2012 case because the department’s Internal Affairs Division is reviewing what went wrong. His spokeswoman said that the review will include actions of everyone with a role in the investigation.
Hall-Brewster’s supervisors, a sergeant detective and a lieutenant detective, were responsible for following up on the investigation, Davis said, and reviewing open cases periodically to make sure detectives are running down evidence.
Neither of the supervisors has been interviewed yet because they are on vacation until next week, Davis said.
It was not the first time Hall-Brewster was cited for failing to follow up on an investigation.
Following a 2011 complaint, the department ruled Hall-Brewster failed to obtain surveillance video of a crime, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case. As a result, that evidence was lost, they said. He has not been disciplined in that case yet, according to police.
Davis declined to provide details on that incident, but said in general Hall-Brewster’s performance had been sufficient. “If we believed that wasn’t the case, we would have moved him,” Davis said.
In the Roxbury case in 2012, Davis said, two items were recovered from the crime scene: the bottle and a hat. The bottle has been tested for DNA and the results came back negative for Alemany. The hat is still being tested, he said.
A new detective has been assigned to investigate the alleged assault, which occurred as a 20-year-old woman was walking home at 2:30 a.m. in Roxbury.
The woman told police she was grabbed from behind by someone who started choking her. As she lost consciousness, she grabbed something from her attacker’s pocket. When she awoke, the police were there and in her hand was a wallet with an identification card belonging to Alemany, acccording to police.
The woman, whose name is being withheld by the Globe at her request, said she did not follow up with police at the time, figuring there was not enough physical evidence to tie her attacker to the crime. She did not see the man who assaulted her.
When asked whether a swift arrest in that case could have saved Lord’s life, Davis was reflective but noted that Alemany had a long history of receiving short sentences after serious crimes, including assaults.
“This case is very troubling but hindsight is always 20-20 and I try to keep that in mind with all these cases,” Davis said.
Observers of the department said they cannot recall the last time a detective was stripped of the rating.
Thomas Nolan, a former lieutenant who was once vice president of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, called the move “almost without precedent.”
Historically, once officers receive the rating of detective, which they obtain after taking an internal test, that rating remains with them the rest of their career, said Nolan, now the incoming associate professor and chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York Plattsburgh.
Hall-Brewster should not be the only one disciplined, Nolan said. “Detective Hall-Brewster could not, acting on his own volition, make this decision that there is no probable cause here.” Nolan said.
The department’s case management system “is supposed to ensure there is oversight, supervision, and management, particularly in an investigation this serious. It’s not a vandalism. It’s not a car theft. This is an attack on a young woman walking alone at night. These types of cases are the highest priority for detectives.”
The department took a closer look at the case after Alemany was taken into custody last Wednesday and officials began reviewing unsolved cases in which women walking alone had been assaulted.
That review continues, and Davis said a “couple of cases” are being looked at more closely, though it is too early to say whether Alemany played a role.
Internal affairs investigations can go on for months, even years, before police decide on a punishment. Hall-Brewster was punished within six days of the investigation.
Davis said he acted fast, not because he feared public outrage, but because it was almost immediately clear that there were serious missteps.
“I wanted answers in this case,” he said. “I got them quickly. The detective was questioned. His answers were insufficient. There was no excuse for the lack of follow-up from what I could see.”
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