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Northeastern police chief defends sergeants who handcuffed 14-year-old boy

Northeastern University police released a photograph of the BB gun confiscated Nov. 11, at left, alongside a nearly identical 9mm pistol, at right.
Northeastern University police released a photograph of the BB gun confiscated Nov. 11, at left, alongside a nearly identical 9mm pistol, at right.Northeastern University Police Department

Northeastern University’s chief of police forcefully defended two of his sergeants Wednesday, saying they followed proper procedure and kept the public safe in an incident last week involving a teenage boy who was armed with a BB gun that looked like a handgun.

The incident drew sharp criticism after a Northeastern student posted a video of the incident on Twitter last week. The officers can be seen pushing a teenager to the ground in a bike lane outside the university’s Columbus Parking Garage and holding him pinned for more than a minute and a half, until they handcuff him and lead him away to nearby police headquarters.

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Police tell the man shooting the video that the boy had a gun inside the waistband of his shorts.

The boy yells, “I’m only 13, bro! … It’s a BB gun!” near the beginning of the video and appears to begin sobbing.

City Councilor Andrea J. Campbell, who is running for mayor, and others on Twitter shared the video along with criticism of the sergeants.

“There is no justice without accountability and transparency,” Campbell tweeted, adding that the video and other recent incidents in the Boston “show why we need universal body camera policies for all law enforcement that operate in the city.”

But Northeastern officials said the video posted to social media does not tell the whole story. The university supplied campus surveillance video and photographs of the gun to the Globe.

Northeastern police Chief Michael Davis said the sergeants had followed the department’s standard procedure for dealing with a person who has a weapon: they separated the boy from the apparent gun, secured the boy, then secured the gun.

“In this case, those three elements were met,” he said.

He said that as a juvenile, the teen could not legally possess a gun, and the sergeants dealt with the matter calmly and did not escalate the situation.

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“They removed the weapon in a way that kept everyone safe,” Davis said.

He confirmed that the boy was carrying a BB gun but shared a photo of the toy side by side with an actual 9mm pistol that was nearly identical.

“We weren’t able to fully ascertain if that was a BB gun, and you don’t know if there are other weapons involved, or what was happening, until you secure the individual,” Davis said.

Northeastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul said Wednesday that the boy was actually 14, and that he was carrying “a BB gun deliberately altered to look like a handgun.”

“We are aware that circumstances such as these can often lead to escalation and, in some cases, tragic results,” Nyul said in a statement. “The university is grateful that the officers were able to contain the situation and keep the community safe.”

University surveillance video of the incident, which took place about 1:45 p.m. on Veterans Day, shows that the two sergeants were descending the garage’s stairs from the third floor when a group of teens entered the stairs from the top floor of the garage.

Police said the officers had just arrived to work their shifts and were headed to the police station, across the street from the parking garage.

The sergeants exited the garage in plain clothes, but one held his uniform shirt in his hand, and they paused in front of the structure as they waited for the teens to emerge, according to the video, which is silent.

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Police said the sergeants observed the boy reaching for his waistband in a way suggestive of hiding a weapon, and then they saw a bulge in his waistband that was shaped like a gun as he and the other teens turned left out of the garage, in the direction of an adjacent playground.

The sergeants then approached the teen, and one briefly struggled with the boy and knocked the BB gun out of his hands, the video shows. The second sergeant roughly shoved the teen and began to push him toward the ground, as the other sergeant joined him.

Police said that before the boy was shoved, the sergeant ordered him to get on the ground, but the teen did not comply.

Davis said the officers did not put their full weight on the boy and only pinned him to the ground long enough to get a pair of handcuffs and place them on his wrists. The boy was then taken to the department and then driven home to his parents, Davis said.

He said the department reviews every use of force by its officers, including this one, not only to determine whether they followed proper procedure but also to learn from the experiences.

“We’re always looking to improve the way we do things,” Davis said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.