A chaotic skirmish in a Dorchester stairwell that sent two police officers to the hospital and led seven teenagers to be arrested for allegedly assaulting them underscores the danger and volatility of police work, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said Tuesday.
Defense attorneys for the oldest teens — Woobenson Morisset, 19, and his 18-year-old brother Lorcen — painted a vastly different picture of what happened on Monday in that stairwell.
Entering not guilty pleas for the two brothers in Roxbury Municipal Court, defense lawyers said police pushed Woobenson Morisset while trying to arrest him on a default warrant, an officer fell or tripped in the process, and chaos ensued as relatives moved in to aid Woobenson or record the scene in the cramped stairway.
"I certainly don't wish any officer to ever be harmed in any way, shape, or form, but I believe it's possible that this version" — the one told by the Morissets — "is entirely correct," June Jensen, Woobenson Morisset's defense attorney, said in court. Video on cellphones confiscated by police could clear up what happened, she said.
All seven teens were arraigned Tuesday, with the youngest five — four Morisset girls and a boy from the adjacent apartment — appearing in Boston Juvenile Court.
In Roxbury, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Dana Pierce said officers visited the Morisset apartment on Wayne Street late Monday morning to arrest Woobenson. He was wearing a GPS monitor because of three open cases in Dorchester Municipal Court; the GPS device signaled a "strap violation" on Dec. 22, suggesting he may have tampered with it and triggering default warrants in those cases, Pierce said.
Two officers found him in a rear stairwell, where a "violent struggle ensued" when they tried to arrest him, Pierce said. One officer got elbowed in the neck, suffering vocal cord contusions and hemorrhaging, and the other, a woman, took a punch in the face, the prosecutor said, without specifying who delivered the blows.
In the process, police lost control of Woobenson Morisset and "from there on it was essentially a melee in a very narrow stairwell," Pierce said. The seven teens, acting as a group, punched, kicked, and choked police, resulting in bumps and bruises to both officers and hand, head, and hip injuries to the female officer, she said.
Jensen disputed that account. She said Woobenson Morisset, a 5-foot-3, 125-pound Haitian immigrant with cognitive disabilities, did not tamper with his GPS device and did not receive a call from authorities about any violation, she said. So when police arrived to arrest him, he was surprised but complied, she said.
"He turned around, and they went to put the handcuffs on him and pushed him on the stairwell. He fell on the stairwell and his face cracked open," requiring three stitches, Jensen said. "At that point one of the officers fell down, and the whole thing kind of got crazy."
She said Woobenson Morisset did not hit anyone but reached out to give his phone to his brother, apparently to record what was happening. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old neighbor tried to record with his own phone because he thought the police were being rough, Jensen said.
As more officers filled the stairway, they confiscated the phones and arrested everyone — the three males, plus the Morissets' two sisters and two cousins — on and around the chaotic scene, Jensen said.
Jensen and Frank Mickelson, Lorcen Morisset's lawyer, said none of the teens besides Woobenson had been arrested before. Jensen said the charges in Woobenson's three open cases — assault and battery with a knife, breaking and entering and assault and battery on a police officer, and attempting to commit a crime — could be explained by his limited cognitive ability, as he was led astray by another teen.
The prosecutor said Woobenson's record was alarming and asked Judge Ernest L. Sarason Jr. to set bail in this case at $2,500 and to revoke it on the Dorchester cases, which would have sent him back to jail. Sarason instead set bail at $500 and gave Woobenson until Friday to answer the Dorchester warrants. He released Lorcen Morisset on personal recognizance but imposed nighttime curfews and GPS monitoring for both brothers.
In Juvenile Court, the five youngest teens faced charges of juvenile delinquency that involved assault and battery on a police officer, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and resisting arrest, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley's office. All pleaded not guilty; the 17-year-old neighbor was released on $500 bail, while bail for the four girls, ages 13, 14, 15, and 16, was set at $1 each, Conley's office said.
The police commissioner, who visited the briefly hospitalized officers, said the female officer was "badly roughed up," and the male officer had been fitted with a neck brace while waiting for the results of an examination. "They're pretty banged up. They're [going to] be out of work for some time," Evans said. "It stresses the dangers of our job, every day, going into situations that we never know what may happen. I'm just thankful they're fine."
Evan Allen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com.