Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said Tuesday that a man in a confrontation with an off-duty police officer that was captured on video in the Back Bay this spring “wasn’t violently tackled, his head wasn’t slammed to the ground, and his hair wasn’t pulled.”
Evans, addressing a high-profile encounter on one of Boston’s busiest streets, said there were “minor issues” with the officer’s actions, and “there will be some counseling,” but no penalties.
He said most witnesses and the man involved told investigators that the man had tripped on his own and fallen to the pavement and that the officer had held, rather than slammed, his face to the ground. He said that the officer “clearly believed that his [car] window was, in fact, broken by the victim.”
“An off-duty officer has every right to activate himself” to pursue a suspect, Evans said at a news conference. “That’s what he did here. . . . If someone commits a crime, I expect my officers to act.”
But the lawyer for the man said the officer was not justified in chasing and arresting his client.
“If you’re training your officers to jump on people . . . that’s worrisome, because no crime was committed,” said Carl Williams of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
The May 24 incident, recorded on video by an onlooker and posted online, showed Officer Edward P. Barrett on top of a pedestrian with his knee on the man’s back. Barrett, who was at the time assigned to West Roxbury, was wearing a red-colored Red Sox jersey and what appeared to be his uniform pants, but no badge was visible, the video shows.
The confrontation allegedly began when the pedestrian, Milton Gurin, struck Barrett’s vehicle with an umbrella as the officer turned onto Arlington Street.
Stephen Harlowe, 47, who recorded the confrontation, told reporters soon after the encounter that Barrett chased Gurin down the street, jumped on him, and slammed his head into the ground after Gurin hit Barrett’s car.
Evans said Tuesday that Harlowe’s statements were contradicted by other witnesses and by Gurin himself.
Superintendent Frank Mancini chief of the Bureau of Professional Standards, which includes the Internal Affairs Unit, said during the briefing that separate images from video surveillance show a different story.
Mancini said Barrett pursued Gurin and was attempting to make what he thought was a “felony arrest” for willful destruction of property. He said the video showed Barrett with his knee on Gurin’s back and his hands on him, in compliance with academy training for apprehending a suspect on the ground.
In the video, Barrett is seen pulling Gurin, who was 64 at the time, up by his shirt collar and walking him several blocks to Arlington and Boylston streets, where the encounter had begun. He could be heard telling Gurin that he was under arrest.
According to the police report, Barrett told police he had a green light as he turned right onto Arlington Street in his personal vehicle, when the pedestrian “struck his vehicle’s right rear driver’s side window as he was crossing illegally against the green light.”
Gurin told police that Barrett “did have a green signal, but he was upset that [the officer] did not allow him to cross ahead of him and struck the window with his umbrella.”
According to the report, “a large vertical scratch was initially visible but was able to be wiped from the surface of the glass.”
Evans conceded that a supervising officer should have been called during the incident.
He and Mancini said responding officers acted properly by letting Gurin go without charging him once they determined the window had not been broken.
Williams, Gurin’s lawyer, blasted the findings of the internal investigation and said Evans’s news conference resembled “a witch trial” of his client.
“To say that there was probable cause to arrest [Gurin] is laughable,” Williams said with Gurin standing at his side.
Williams said Gurin tapped Barrett’s window with a “very small, plastic umbrella” out of shock and started running only “because someone was yelling at him” and he became fearful.
“The idea that Mr. Gurin hit the window and . . . ran is completely untrue,” he said. Williams conceded that Gurin tripped but blamed Barrett for Gurin’s injuries, saying that “without being chased, Mr. Gurin wouldn’t have any injuries.”
Asked about the possibility that Gurin might file a lawsuit, Williams said that “currently . . . there’s no lawsuit filed.” He declined to say whether his client would bring a civil action in the future.
Williams acknowledged that Gurin had crossed the street against the traffic signal but said it was “terrifying” that police officials believe Barrett responded appropriately.
He also expressed concern that their the police officials’ criticism of Gurin and Harlowe may “embolden police to do more physically harmful activities to Boston civilians.” Gurin declined to comment during a press conference outside police headquarters, telling reporters only that “Carl is speaking on behalf of me.”
Police officials said Tuesday that during the internal review, two people unknown to each other contacted investigators and implicated Gurin in two prior incidents in which they were accosted in their vehicles by a pedestrian in downtown Boston.
Williams denied those allegations outside police headquarters. “That could have been some random person who said ‘let’s get this guy in trouble,’ ” Williams said.
Evans described Barrett as a “top-notch officer” who is highly rated by his supervisors.
Barrett, a 20-year veteran of the force, had been investigated twice before on allegations of using excessive force. In 2005 and 2006, the Police Department investigated use-of-force complaints against Barrett and determined that one of the alleged incidents did not occur and that Barrett did not act improperly during the other.