Boston Police fail in second attempt to fire police officer

Yesterday the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed an arbitrator’s decision to allow David Williams to rejoin the Boston Police Department. He had been terminated for his assault and choking of our client, Michael O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien was a Sheriff’s deputy and correctional officer and was in the Army National Guard at the time of the incident. Officer Williams had been fired once before, in the Cox case. Michael Cox, a Boston police officer in plain clothes, was badly beaten by fellow officers thinking he was a civilian. Read a Boston Globe article about the recent decision here. Read the SJC decision here.

David Williams is one of a small number of Boston police officers with a large number of complaints by people in the community. It is important for the public and the police department that these officers either change their behavior or find new jobs outside of law enforcement. The BPD did not investigate this incident promptly or properly. The decision indicates that if the BPD charged Williams with lying or if applying a chokehold was against BPD policy, the termination might have been upheld. Mr. O’Brien said he was choked; he reported this to a doctor that night and there was physical evidence to support it. Officer Nguyen acknowledged he saw Williams with Mr. O’Brien in a chokehold. Officer Williams denied using a chokehold. This shows Williams was not truthful in his report. This alone should have been enough to fire him.

Neither civil rights activists nor the Boston Police Commissioner are happy with this ruling. Many changes could help, including those suggested in the SJC decision, including making clear that chokeholds are never permissible and giving arbitrators less authority to override police department disciplinary decisions/less authority to determine what constitutes excessive force. Most importantly, police departments should make police internal affairs investigations of officer misconduct readily available to the public, as required by the public records law. Internal affairs investigators frequently fail to ask police officers the right questions that would lead to a proper understanding of the facts. Public review of these investigations is needed to make sure the investigators are doing their job.

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