A Boston police officer at the center of a notorious 1995 brutality case was fired yesterday after the department found him guilty of using unreasonable force during an unrelated 2009 arrest and then lying about his actions, a police spokeswoman said.
The latest charges against Officer David C. Williams, 48, stem from a traffic stop in the North End in which he was accused of tackling Michael P. O’Brien, a 31-year-old Middlesex correction officer, and putting him in a choke hold, which is prohibited under department regulations. Williams later changed his account of the episode multiple times, according to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
Police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll confirmed yesterday that Williams was fired for violating “department rules for use of force and truthfulness.’’ She said the termination is “effective immediately.’’
The firing marks the first time a Boston police officer has been stripped of his badge under a policy initiated by Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis nearly two years ago to terminate officers who lie in court, to investigators, or in department reports. Davis, through his spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Williams was fired in 1998 for his role in the vicious assault of Officer Michael Cox, who was beaten by police while working undercover in Roxbury. At the time, Williams and the others said they mistook Cox for a homicide suspect. Williams was reinstated in 2005 after appealing through the civil service system.
Williams contested the 2009 charges during three days of public disciplinary hearings held at Boston police headquarters at the end of last year, on Nov. 18, Dec. 7, and Dec. 13.
His lawyer, Kenneth H. Anderson of Boston, said officers rarely prevail before disciplinary panels, so the ruling was expected.
“I think we’re very disappointed but not at all surprised,’’ said Anderson. “We knew this was going to happen, and we expect to successfully bring him back to work through the arbitration process.’’
Anderson said he expects Williams to file a grievance against the department no later than today.
Questions about Williams’s use of force and truthfulness arose after O’Brien filed a federal lawsuit against Williams and other officers and charged them with beating him on March 16, 2009.
O’Brien alleges that police let his complaint against Williams sit for nearly a year before launching their investigation only after the federal suit was filed. Police have denied that they let the complaint linger. Yesterday, O’Brien’s lawyer, Howard Friedman, said he was pleased that the department had acted.
“He’s happy with the result,’’ said Friedman. “If we hadn’t filed the civil suit, none of this would have happened.’’
O’Brien was arrested just after midnight on March 16, after Williams and his partner, Officer Diep H. Nguyen, responded to a fender-bender at 280 Hanover St. According to police and court documents, O’Brien and two friends were in a car that backed down Hanover Street and clipped a double-parked BMW. The accident set off a noisy argument between the drivers that led to police being called to the scene.
Williams said O’Brien became “very unruly’’ when dealing with his partner that night and disregarded orders to stop videotaping the episode with his cellphone while standing in the street. Williams said he saw O’Brien push Nguyen, prompting his response.
O’Brien resisted arrest and needed to be subdued, Williams said, adding that he never used inappropriate force. He testified that after he brought O’Brien to the pavement, he was “on top of O’Brien in a semi-bear hug position,’’ trying to pull his arms apart so he could handcuff him. O’Brien, he said, violently resisted arrest by swinging a single handcuffed hand.
As part of his federal lawsuit in US District Court, O’Brien asserts that he was brutalized by Williams, a person with a “reputation as an aggressive officer’’ who had filed false police reports before.
O’Brien, who in court documents said he was grabbed by the collar, slammed to the pavement and choked, asserts he suffered a brain injury during the arrest and has been unable to return to his job at the Middlesex County Probation office.
The department’s Internal Affairs Bureau found that Williams, who is 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, used an “unreasonable amount of force’’ to arrest O’Brien, who is 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. It also found that Williams was “not truthful’’ when interviewed several times about the arrest.
Williams’s lawyer said his client always “does the best he can’’ to recall the episode. Anderson battled fiercely to show that O’Brien was the culprit, describing the correction officer as “having spent almost 24 hours drinking heavily’’ and precipitating the arrest by using provocative language.
Despite his role in the Michael Cox case, an arbitrator determined that Williams was wrongfully fired and reinstated him with nearly $500,000 in back pay in 2005. Cox, now a deputy police superintendent, sued the city and won $817,000. He later sued Williams and reached an out-of-court settlement with him.