25 Investigates: Few ‘use of force’ complaints result in discipline for Boston Police officers

25 Investigates: Few ‘use of force’ complaints result in discipline for Boston Police officers

BOSTON — 25 Investigates combed through a decade of Boston Police Department complaints, and found it’s an uphill battle if you feel you’ve been wronged by officers.

Only one in 10 citizen complaints resulted in consequences for the officer involved, according to data released by the department.

The data was released as part of an open records request and included more than 6,600 complaints filed between Jan. 1, 2010 and Aug. 15, 2020.

Content Continues Below

Only 529 of the 4,380 complaints filed by citizens were “sustained,” a term used by the department that means there is enough evidence to support the allegations.

The percentage of sustained complaints is even smaller when the allegation involves improper force.

674 use of force complaints—both lethal and non-lethal—were filed in the last ten years. According to the data, only 10 incidents—or 1.4%--were sustained, and none resulted in an officer losing his or her job.

Under “action taken,” five of the improper force cases were blank, 539 were determined to be unfounded, exonerated, not sustained or withdrawn, and 130 allegations are pending.

“They almost never discipline for improper force,” said Howard Friedman, a Boston civil rights attorney.

Friedman has been looking into police misconduct for four decades.

“Nowadays, the only way it would happen is with video evidence. Sometimes, they can’t avoid disciplining for that,” Friedman said.

While there are few consequences from a citizen’s complaint, it’s a different story when an officer complains about another officer.

64% of the 1,714 complaints initiated from within the department were investigated and sustained, the data shows.

“If it’s an internal complaint, very likely it will be sustained. They’ll believe their own officer but if it’s a civilian, they don’t,” Friedman said.

Friedman helped Michael O’Brien reach a $1.4 million settlement with the City of Boston, after O’Brien said he was assaulted by an officer in 2009.

“My memories of that night are of being choked to the point where I almost died,” O’Brien said.

The Methuen resident said he was recording officers on his cell phone after a traffic accident in the North End, when one of the officers tackled him and placed him in a chokehold.

O’Brien said he suffered a brain bleed and was forced to retire from his job as a Middlesex County corrections officer.

“In the beginning, I felt like David versus Goliath. I mean, this is the big ‘City of Boston Police Department’. Never in a million years did I ever think they were going to listen to me,” O’Brien said.

The officer involved in O’Brien’s case, David Williams, was fired and then later rehired by the department.

13 Boston police officers have been terminated since 2010, and 34 officers resigned or retired while they were still under investigation, the data shows.

According to an open records request, five of the officers fired won their jobs back through arbitration and are currently working for the BPD.

O’Brien thinks that is a problem.

“I’d love see the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union changed to give the city and the police department the ability to fire a police officer when it’s warranted,” O’Brien said.

11 years after he filed his complaint, O’Brien said he felt more compelled than ever to share his story.

“When you live through that then you see someone like a George Floyd or a Breonna Taylor…I almost feel like a moral obligation to be their voice and say something, because I am here, I did survive and I can speak out on their behalf,” he said.

A BPD spokesperson did not respond to Boston 25′s repeated requests for comment.