Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Boston District Attorney Declares Shooting Death Amid Gunfight Was Suicide, Not Homicide

There comes a time when any Boston criminal defense attorney is knocked almost speechless.

Almost.

Fortunately, this one can still write when that happens. It would appear that the law enforcement entities have come together and resolved several of the questions posed in yesterday’s Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog. The solution, though, reminds me of a famous escape scene from the movie “Blazing Saddles”, when the hero of the story, a black sheriff, is out-gunned and he puts his own gun to his head and says, “Make one move and the (“N-word”) get’s it!”

On the other hand…anything is possible.

I am referring to the findings announced yesterday by the Suffolk County District Attorney that 19-year old, apparently Cape Veridan, Manuel D. (hereinafter, the “Deceased”) shot himself in the head, killing himself, because police officers wanted to talk to him.

Let me state at the onset that I was not there at the scene and I represent nobody in the matter. I do have a quarter-century of experience in the criminal justice system, though, which includes time spent on both sides of the aisle. I have also served as such, on both sides, in both the state of New York and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I gotta admit…this kinda troubles me and I think makes the admonition I made at the end of yesterday’s blog even more dire.

According to District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, the Deceased put his own gun to his head and fired amid the gunfight with police. Police officials state that they hope this finding will settle anxiety among the area’s Cape Verdean community over the use of deadly force.

The DA explained that a preliminary investigation shows that the Deceased had exchanged gunfire with officers and a state trooper assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force, and that at one point he “reloaded his weapon, put the gun to his head, and shot himself.”

Conley went on to say that police recovered the Deceased’s .45-caliber firearm from him where he fell. He had also suffered gunshot wounds to his hand, hip, and chest.

Apparently, officials are still investigating whether protocol was followed and the medical examiner has not yet ruled on a cause of death.

I have no medical degree and, again, anything is possible, but if we have determined by the various tests available that the Deceased shot himself in the head (one would imagine at close range, thereby providing the usual powder burns and such), one would be able to opine that it was that shot that killed him.

Well, if not the medical examiner, it seems to be what the DA has decided.

Perhaps the rush to the announcement has its roots in other considerations.

The district attorney made his preliminary determination just as Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis met with members of the Cape Verdean community at police headquarters in Roxbury today, to explain what investigators determined in hopes of quelling unease, and also to call for a renewed partnership against the street violence that has rattled the community and led to Saturday’s shooting.

“The concerns are wider than the shooting — the concerns are about gang activity,” the commissioner said. “The Cape Verdean community is very aware, very cognizant of what’s happening. There are a lot of good people in the community who want to help us in stopping this.”

The fact of the ongoing violence is underscored by the setting of the Deceased’s death. It happened as he had gone to pay respects to a makeshift memorial for a friend who was shot to death last month in Roxbury.

It was at this memorial that the police chose to question the Deceased as part of their investigation into a recent spike in violence. Apparently, they had suspected that the Deceased had been a part of it.

Instead of gaining answers, the event led to an escalation of the violence.

Davis said that the meeting with community members was organized by Deputy Superintendent William Gross, who supervises the district, and Deputy Superintendent Gary French, who oversees the Youth Violence Strike Force unit, as a way to reach out to community anxious over the use of force.

Davis also said that the discussion was to focus on the root cause of violence that brought officers to the neighborhood in the first place. He said that only a fraction of the greater community is responsible for the violence plaguing city streets, and so those at the meeting discussed ways to reach out to families, and to youth with jobs and summer programs.

John Barros, head of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and a member of the Cape Verdean community, said today’s meeting was initially to call for transparency in the police investigation into Saturday’s shooting. But then the next step will be to determine how to avoid such situations in the future, he said.

“We outlined a number of steps on how to continue to work together to make sure the relationship between the community is not severed or worsened because of this tragic incident,” he said. “This is the first step, and this is a good step.” He added that the Cape Verdean community had developed a partnership with police over the last several years, and that community leaders and police will need to reach out to the larger community to build confidence again.

“It’s a lose-lose for everyone, the police, the community, everyone, to have what happened Saturday,” he said. “So we want to make sure it never happens again.”

Attorney Sam’s Take:

First the good news. The approach to meet with the community is important and, in my experience, the police and DA’s office often try to do. That reaction to the Deceased’s death is called trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Life does, after all, have to go on and it is in nobody’s interest to have another event like that shooting take place again.

Now the bad news. It would appear that the DA’s immediate, if preliminary, is, at best, unfortunate. It not only presents certain troubling questions, but also seems to be self-contradictory. In a case such as this, long before anything comes to the courtroom, credibility is essential if you want the community to have faith in law enforcement.,

“What questions does it raise?”

Well, some of the immediate ones include, “If he’d been shot in his hand, hip and chest, how was he able to, amid gunfire, reload, decide to shoot himself (never mind “why”) and perform the deed in so short a time?”, “Why did the police ‘find’ the Deceased’s gun and why did they pick it up instead of letting a crime scene unit do so?”, “Whose fingerprints, if any, were found on the gun?”, and, of course, “Wouldn’t this cause of death be fairly obvious to the medical examiner?”

As I have said, however, anything is possible. I will also tell you that I have yet to see a case where police officers wake up one day and decide to go out shooting suspects.I would suggest that whatever happened at Saturday night’s shooting was an unfortunate and unexpected event for everybody involved.

How the investigation into what happened is conducted…well, that may be something else.

As I mentioned above, I was not there last Saturday night and I have no “inside” knowledge, save my own experiences, in the matter. Like you, I am on the outside looking in. But there is one thing I can tell you…

Be careful out there! The city streets can be a dangerous place to be. Whatever your involvement with crime or police, you are unlikely to be fist, baton or bullet-proof. Further, when police enter a scene, even if you feel they should not be there (as in the case of a memorial service for a friend), they understand that their lives are in their own hands.

They will not…cannot…tolerate losing control of the situation.

So, if you feel you are being hassled or questioned unreasonably, politely turn down the invitation to the conversation, but otherwise do not challenge them. Do not run. Do not verbally assault them. For Heaven’s sake do not Physically assault them.

And do not “go down in a blaze of glory”. Your blaze may never be known or revealed.

Live to another day and then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you in the next step.

If you want to contact me to discuss it, please feel free to call me at 617-492-3000.

For the original story upon which today’s blog is based, please turn to : http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/04/da_says_victim.html

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