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Kevin Cullen

Three strikes and he was out on streets again

Angelo West wasn’t going back to prison.

That’s what this was about. Pure and simple.

When members of the Boston police gang unit stopped the car he was driving on Humboldt Avenue on Friday evening, he knew that the .357 Magnum he was carrying was a ticket back to Cedar Junction in Walpole, and he wasn’t going out like that.

So he came out of the car, without a word, put his gun to the face of John Moynihan, and pulled the trigger. Then he ran off, turning back to fire at Moynihan’s colleagues.

Did he really think he would get away?


Who knows. Luckily, police officers are much better shots than habitual felons like West and he died as he would have had them die.

There was an extraordinary scene as police officers combed the area for spent shell casings and other evidence as Moynihan underwent surgery at Boston Medical Center. Some people got in their faces, calling them pigs, screaming about another black man shot to death by police.

Given the facts in this case, and that, according to Police Commissioner Bill Evans, the entire fatal encounter, showing West put the gun to Moynihan’s face without provocation, is caught on camera, you’d think the people screaming at the cops might have waited, oh, I don’t know, maybe a few hours, before concluding that Angelo West is the next Michael Brown, the next Eric Garner, the next Tamir Rice.

But he isn’t. Angelo West is somebody who routinely armed himself with guns and previously had fired a shot that nearly killed a cop. His death on Humboldt Ave. was more the inevitable conclusion to a violent, lawless life than it is the latest example of police being too quick to fire on young black men.

Angelo West’s life could have ended just as easily 14 years ago, when he tussled with a couple of cops in the Theatre District and fired a shot. As it was, Boston police Officer Billy Griffiths and State Trooper Kevin Murray and their colleagues were able to subdue him without shooting back.


Angelo West, 41.Boston Police Department

At the time, the Theatre District was rife with drug dealing and Billy Griffiths was on a bicycle patrol when he saw Murray struggling with West, trying to handcuff him after West and another man had engaged in a drug deal. When Griffiths came over to help Murray, West punched him in the chest and the three of them fell to the ground.

West pulled a gun and fired a shot that went right by the two cops’ heads and lodged into the windowsill of a nearby Bennigan’s. West pulled the trigger again, but the gun jammed.

Griffiths pulled his service weapon but held his fire, even after West repeatedly yelled, “Shoot me!”

Billy Griffiths was processing all this, subduing a suspect, holding his fire, 13 years after his brother Sherman, a Boston police detective, was shot dead in a drug raid gone bad.

West went to prison and when he got out about the only thing that changed was his preference in gun size. The gun he fired between the heads of Billy Griffiths and Kevin Murray was a relatively small .22. The .357 Magnum he fired into John Moynihan’s face was a small cannon.

Those people inclined to protest over what happened Friday night might do better to demand to know why somebody like Angelo West, who carried guns around like you and I carry our car keys, was able to return to their neighborhoods. Last summer, he wrapped up a stint on probation for a third gun possession charge. So much for three strikes and you’re out.


The cops were still searching the scene for evidence when a dozen or so angry people pushed their way toward the yellow police tape Friday night. They were angry.

They spied John Brown, the longtime homicide investigator who is the deputy superintendent in charge of investigative services, and started chanting.

“John Brown, John Brown, I told you I’d see you again! Come over here, John Brown!”

Brown and other police officers slowly but inexorably moved the protestors back, so they wouldn’t contaminate the crime scene.

In a video shot by my Globe colleague Evan Allen, a charming young woman can be heard shouting at the cops, “You are [expletive] savages!”

The anger was misplaced. It isn’t the cops they should be mad at. They should be demanding reform of a criminal justice system that allows people like Angelo West to use guns without any regard to those around them and to flit in and out of jail like some kind of way station, a minor inconvenience.

Guys like Angelo West don’t get out of prison and move to Weston. They don’t take apartments in the Seaport. They come back to neighborhoods like Roxbury and endanger everybody around them.


Officer John Moynihan, 34.Boston Police Department/Boston Police photo

Guys like Angelo West don’t pull their guns next to finely manicured lacrosse fields in the suburbs.

They pull them on streets like Humboldt Ave., where in 1988 a 12-year-girl named Tiffany Moore was shot dead as she sat on a mailbox, just a stone’s throw from where Angelo West pulled his gun for the last time.

John Moynihan was in a medically induced coma Saturday. He served as an Army Ranger with distinction in Iraq. When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line, he ran toward the explosions. And when Transit cop Dic Donohue was bleeding out in Watertown after the shootout between police and the bombers, Moynihan was one of those who saved Donohue’s life.

“He’s a tough kid,” Bill Evans, the police commissoner, was saying. “I think he’s gonna make it.”

Let’s hope he does. If somebody had to die on Humboldt Ave. on Friday night, I’m just glad it wasn’t John Moynihan.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.