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No end in sight, continued

This has always happened episodically, but beginning in 2002 it became official BPD strategy, through the Unsolved Shootings Project. After concluding that witness reluctance meant that they could never actually solve shootings, law-enforcement partners decided to "search for other avenues through which they can apprehend impact players ... utilizing all possible legal levers," as the department explained in a 2003 report.

That report, a lengthy description of the Unsolved Shootings Project for a national policing-award submission, boasts of how the strategy has worked in practice. After a shooting at Madison Park High School, for example, detectives zeroed in on three friends of the victim — "themselves well-known impact players," who "clearly knew who the shooter was, but refused to cooperate." To prevent these three from taking their own revenge, a prosecutor called them before a grand jury about the shooting, "and promptly charged them with perjury."

"This use of perjury as a ‘lever’ was successful in averting a retaliatory shooting by getting three volatile impact players off the street," the report says — ignoring the fact that the actual shooter was still free, while three people had been entrapped for doing nothing.

In another example, after three unsolved, non-fatal shootings in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Roxbury, police and their partners cracked the case by "using drug investigations and perjury charges against the suspects’ girlfriends to get the information they needed," leading to two arrests. The report does not explain how they found those suspects, or how the girlfriends’ coerced testimony later played in court.

But when it comes to strong-arm tactics, brokered deals, and deciding guilt without trial, nobody touches US Attorney Michael Sullivan, appointed in 2001. As the Phoenix wrote last year, Sullivan’s heavy-handed federalization of Boston street crime is a major corrosive on law enforcement’s relationship with the community.

In fact, in an incredible 174-page memorandum issued in June 2004, the generally staid and affable Chief Justice William Young of the US District Court of Massachusetts unleashed a blistering assault on the routine injustice perpetrated by Sullivan’s prosecutors in these cases.

Young raged about the many, many cases in which federal prosecutors exercise unfettered autonomy to deal, negotiate, threaten, and cajole their way to whatever punishments they feel like meting out — almost never after putting evidence to a jury. Young writes of "a moral code more suited to the alleys of Baghdad," and "such callous indifference to innocent human life as would gag any fair minded observer."

Last year, in a case before Judge Paul Wolf, three defendants agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors and testify against others, in return for reduced sentences for themselves. It worked; the prosecutors got indictments and subsequent guilty pleas from the other targeted suspects. But at a sentencing hearing, one of the three cooperating witnesses recanted on the stand. "I basically lied ... every time I was briefed," he said, according to transcripts. "My daughter had just passed away, and I wasn’t really in the right state of mind. I was just trying to get home."

Sullivan’s office immediately yanked back his deal and gave him 12 years behind bars. The other cooperating witnesses stuck with the prosecutor-approved story, and were rewarded with six-month continued sentences — i.e. no jail time.

A year after Sullivan took office, the Unsolved Shooting Project launched, in 2002. By late 2003, as the BPD survey of residents showed, the feds had managed to alienate and piss off city residents en masse, while violent crime rose and even fewer shootings got solved. All of those trends have since worsened as the same strategies are still employed.


After warning of increasing teen violence at the start of 2004, these pages have spent two years, Cassandra-like, calling attention to it. That May the Phoenix wrote that "Lack of faith in the local criminal-justice system ... is probably at its lowest point in 15 years." In July ’04, with 11 teenage murder victims and at least 17 more shot non-fatally in the first half of the year, we asked: "Can we call this a crisis yet?" And in August we warned, in the words of a veteran BPD youth-outreach officer, that "the turf-based gangs have been replaced by 5500 [violent] kids moving through the streets of Boston."

After a year reporting on wrongful convictions, secret police deals for witness testimony, incompetent forensics labs, flawed identification methods, and dishonest cops, the Phoenix concluded at the start of 2005 that "people throughout the city — Bostonians of all stripes — hold a very reasonable bias against [Boston law enforcement]." All this year we have reported on the increasing violence in the streets, and the increasing evidence of incompetence behind the investigative scenes. And unless there’s another "Boston Miracle," the story you’re reading now could be referenced next year as the murder rate reaches higher and higher.

David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein[a]phx.com.

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Issue Date: December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006
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