Following high-profile police shootings across the country, Boston prosecutors on Friday released a graphic surveillance video of a felon who fired point-blank at a gang unit officer and of the shootout with police that left the suspect dead.
It marked the first time local prosecutors had released a surveillance video of a police shooting before the investigation was completed, and prosecutors said going forward, they plan to release videos earlier in the process when possible. The decision was praised by local community leaders, who largely said the video showed the March 27 shooting appeared to be justified.
“In those instances in which video evidence can inform the public as to what happened and why, it is in everyone’s best interest to share that information as soon as possible in order to tamp down speculation and rumors meant to inflame and not to inform,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said at a press conference where officials walked through the video frame by frame. “Our goal going forward is to ensure that we are one people and one city.”
The release of the video in Boston comes days after a private citizen’s video captured a South Carolina police officer shooting and killing a man. That release heightened the national discussion about the importance of video in the investigation of police-involved shootings.
The Boston video shows the beginning of the shootout between police and 40-year-old Angelo West on Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury, which left West dead and 34-year-old Officer John Moynihan, a former Army Ranger, grievously wounded.
Shot from a business about a half block away, the video shows an unmarked police car with flashing lights pull over an SUV at Humboldt and Ruthven Street at 6:47 p.m.
According to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation, officers pulled over the vehicle, driven by West, to speak with one of his two passengers, alleged gang member Dennis Wilson Jr., 26, after reports of gunfire near where Wilson lived. Officers tracked Wilson to the SUV using data from the GPS bracelet he was wearing as a condition of his bail on unrelated charges.
The SUV stops, then briefly appears to attempt driving again before another unmarked car pulls up. Six officers spill from the two cars, walk to the SUV, and open the passenger doors to remove Wilson and the other passenger, 22-year-old Jonathan Aguasvivas, who was wanted on unrelated domestic violence charges.
None of the officers appears to have their weapons drawn. Moynihan seems calm as he approaches and briefly leans into the driver’s-side window.
Then, the driver’s-side door opens. In a single, fluid movement, West rises and lifts his .357 Magnum. A flash of bright white light explodes in Moynihan’s face. He crumples.
Six seconds had passed from the moment Moynihan arrived at the side of the SUV to the moment West fired.
West appears to briefly bend over Moynihan, but as the other officers draw their guns, the convicted felon spins and flees across Humboldt, turning as he runs, apparently to keep shooting at police. At least four officers appear to point their guns at West. His death certificate says he was hit multiple times.
Moynihan was taken to Boston Medical Center in critical condition with a bullet lodged behind his ear. But now, said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, Moynihan is improving and could be released within the next few days.
“It is remarkable the lack of damage, and strength of him, especially when you see this video,” Evans said Friday. “He’s a strong, brave police officer . . . and hopefully one day will be able to come back to the Police Department.”
The release of the video was hailed in Boston’s communities of color as a watershed moment that would help eliminate any lingering suspicions about the shooting of West and held the promise of better relations between police and those communities.
The Rev. Mark V. Scott, associate pastor at Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester who was among clergy invited to view the video in the days after the shooting, said there is a small group of people like West who “terrorize” the community and pose a danger to police officers.
When a person pulls a gun on a police officer, he said, most people believe, “you don’t leave the police any other option but to respond.”
While Scott and other religious and community leaders viewed the video not long after the shooting, officials held off releasing it to the public until West could be buried, and the Moynihan and West families could view the video. But, Conley said, a meeting with West’s family could not be scheduled, and officials felt they had to act.
“We all agree, going forward, not only with this video but heaven forbid with any other shootings, that we have to follow the same process,” said Evans during the press conference. “I think it’s so important to be as transparent as possible.”
Since he took office 13 years ago, Conley said Suffolk prosecutors have put in place policies “that far exceed what is required by law” to ensure that investigations into police-involved shootings are as transparent as possible.
Cases are assigned to senior attorneys who have no relationships with patrol officers, who are statistically most likely to be involved in a shooting. Scenes are canvassed thoroughly and repeatedly, interviews are videotaped, and if a victim’s family suggests additional witnesses, police interview those people as well, Conley said. Each case file typically runs more than 1,000 pages, and includes video.
And, he said, once the investigation is finished, the entire file goes to the victim’s family and the media.
But until Friday, Conley said, his office has waited to release information from the file until the case is officially closed. The West case remains open, but Conley said law enforcement officials decided to release the video early, though he noted that not every case will have video, and not all video can be released without damaging an investigation.
“We’ve been urged by some not to release the video. We’ve been urged by others to release the video,” he said. “But the public has a justifiable interest in knowing and understanding how law enforcement performs its important duty on their behalf.”
Efforts to reach West’s family were unsuccessful Friday. West has a long criminal record dating back at least 24 years, with multiple gun, drug, and assault charges, including one case in 2001 in which he was sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison for firing at police in the Theater District.
A man who said he served time with West said West emerged from prison tired of street life. But West could not see a way out, said the man, who asked not to be named for fear it would interfere with his work with troubled young people.
West had been shot 13 times in two separate incidents, and the man said West never fully recovered. He could not find work. He began carrying a gun for protection, the man said, and became embroiled in a drug turf war with younger gang members. He insisted he would not go back to prison.
There used to be a saying on the streets, the man said, that went, “I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.” But West believed the opposite, the man said: “I’d rather be carried by six than judged by twelve.”