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Family links Boston officer’s death to Marathon manhunt

A law enforcement officer saluted as the body of Boston police Officer Dennis O. Simmonds left Boston Medical Center after his April 2014 death.
A law enforcement officer saluted as the body of Boston police Officer Dennis O. Simmonds left Boston Medical Center after his April 2014 death.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 2014/Globe Staff

It was a chaotic scene in Watertown two years ago.

A fusillade of gunfire between police and Marathon bombers Tamerlan and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ripped through the streets. The brothers hurled a pressure cooker bomb and five grenades, three of which exploded, authorities said. The sleeping community was jolted awake.

Boston police officer Dennis Simmonds suffered a head injury in those April 19 blasts and almost a year later, on April 10, 2014, he died after a medical emergency at the Boston police academy gym in Hyde Park.

Simmonds played catch with a Little League ballplayer before the start of a game at Harambee Park in Dorchester.
Simmonds played catch with a Little League ballplayer before the start of a game at Harambee Park in Dorchester.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 2011

Earlier this year Simmonds’ family applied for a line-of-duty death benefit of $150,000, maintaining that the 28-year-old officer died as a direct result of injuries he sustained on the job including events in Watertown that followed the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

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A state medical panel agreed. In a review of medical records issued last month, a state medical panel found that Simmonds’ death “was the natural and proximate result of an injury sustained during the course of his employment.”

The panel further stated, “His injuries were persistent after the episode involving the gun-battle between police and the Boston Marathon bombers . . . in Watertown.”

In a letter to the medical board, Simmonds’ parents Roxanne and Dennis Simmonds Sr. said their son was also in two crashes in 2010 while on duty.

In addition, the Simmonds said their son complained of pain at followup appointments weeks after the explosions in Watertown.

“My husband and I are certain that all of the above incidents are the cause of Dennis’s untimely death,” the parents said in the letter.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Wednesday Simmonds was a hero who deserves line-of-duty benefits. The Boston Police Department declined to comment.

The State Board of Retirement will consider the application submitted by Simmonds’ family at its next meeting on May 28, and the medical report suggests Simmonds’ death was probably the fifth related to the Boston Marathon bombings.

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Local attorneys say that if the officer’s death was a result of the Marathon bombings, prosecutors could pursue additional murder charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, who was found guilty of the attacks that left three dead and more than 260 people injured on April 15, 2013. The charges also included the fatal shooting of MIT police officer Sean Collier .

Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan has not been privy to the information in the Simmonds family’s claim, spokeswoman Alex Zaroulis said in a statement Wednesday. She said the district attorney’s office was not aware of any injuries sustained by Simmonds in the Watertown shootout.

“I think perhaps a lot of the public forgot about this officer,” said Martin W. Healy, Massachusetts Bar Association chief legal counsel and chief operating officer. “The public and police community will be looking closely to make sure this death was not in vain and that [Tsarnaev] was punished appropriately for it.”

As a jury considered whether Tsarnaev should be sentenced to death Wednesday, criminal defense lawyer Juliane Balliro questioned the practicality of tacking another murder charge on a man already facing at least life in prison.

“It doesn’t really add anything to his punishment,” Balliro said. “But there may be some policy reasons.”

Simmonds, a six-year veteran of the force, received the department’s highest honor for his bravery and was to receive another award from the president before his death.

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“Dennis was an amazing man,” the Simmonds wrote in their letter to the State Retirement Board. “He was completely dedicated to protecting and serving the citizens of Boston.”


Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.