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Tempers flare at Roxbury meeting on police violence

Dorchester resident Carla Sheffield (right) said her son was killed by Boston police in 2012.
Dorchester resident Carla Sheffield (right) said her son was killed by Boston police in 2012.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

An information session at a Roxbury church turned tense Thursday night when community members began shouting at law enforcement officials about the deaths of family members at the hands of Boston police.

About 250 people gathered at the Twelfth Baptist Church to listen to officials and investigators describe the policy involved when an officer draws his weapon and fires on a suspect or civilian, and the investigation into the matter. The meeting was scheduled in the aftermath of protests over grand juries' decisions not to charge white police officers who killed two unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.

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"There are a lot of conversations but I want to see action," said Renee Omolade, 22, of Dorchester. "This is a new conversation, but it's not a new issue."

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said that "this is an issue that is grabbing national attention now. But it's been one that's been on my conscience for the 13 years I've been in office."

Conley cited statistics about police violence in Boston. "In the past decade there have been no fatal shootings of unarmed individuals by Boston police," he told the audience.

But tension escalated as scattered voices in the crowd shouted, "lies" and "that is false."

Devon Dookhran, 19, of Dorchester, said his brother, Darryl was killed by a Boston police officer in December of 2013. "It's been more than a year," he said. "And neither the district attorney nor the Boston Police Department has said anything yet. They claimed to have a video of the shooting and promised my family they would show it to us in February. Now it's December."

Conley replied that his office had scheduled a meeting with that family for January.

Superintendent Robert Merner of the investigation unit outlined the police process for investigating shootings by officers. "Police shootings receive more scrutiny than any other investigation," he said. "We try to cover every single aspect, from questioning, processing, filming, at every single scene."

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Carla Sheffield, 50, also of Dorchester, said her son, Burrell Ramsey-White, was killed by Boston police in 2012.

"They had all this evidence that they were using to depict my son as this bad person," she said. "My son stood with his hands in the air."

As Sheffield spoke her voice grew louder. "An 8-year-old girl heard my son saying, 'no don't shoot, don't shoot,'" she said. "The police officer shot my son."

Conley urged residents to visit his office's website. "Read the decision I handed down," he said. "That'll lay out the facts and circumstances as we found them, and you make your own conclusions."

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist, said the meeting ended peacefully, with those in the audience offering suggestions for law enforcement officials.

"I was really impressed," he said. "They could have been frustrated but they tried to answer the questions as best they could. I think it was understood some venting would be a component of tonight."


M.G. Lee can be reached at matt.lee@globe.com.