DA says officer justified in fatally shooting man lunging at EMTs, police with kitchen knife; man's mother disagrees

The Boston Police officer who shot Terrence Coleman in the foyer of his apartment building last October had little choice, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office says in a report on the incident.

Officer Garrett Boyle fired his service firearm twice after Coleman attacked two EMTs called by Coleman's mother, knocking one of them to the ground before trying to stab him with a 10-inch kitchen knife, then tried to stab two police officers who tried to help the EMT, according to the report, released yesterday by DA Dan Conley.

After wrestling briefly with Mr. Coleman in an attempt to subdue and disarm him, the officers began to lose the ability to control him, and it was at that point that Officer Boyle shot Mr. Coleman. Under the extremely difficult circumstances facing him, Officer Boyle's actions in firing his service weapon are warranted in connection with Mr. Coleman's death. In reaching these findings, I am keenly aware of the tremendous loss suffered by Mr. Coleman's family, particularly his mother, whose attempt to seek help for her son ended in his death during an armed confrontation with police.

Coleman's mother, Hope, however, says the officer should face trial - the only place where the facts can truly be ascertained, her lawyers said. In a statement, they said:

“Unfortunately, the decision by District Attorney Dan Conley continues a disturbing national pattern of prosecutors failing to hold police officers accountable for fatal shootings of Black men. The investigation that led to that decision was not truly ‘independent,’ because the DA's office works closely with Boston Police every day.

According to the DA's report, Hope Coleman called 911 from her 245 Shawmut Ave. home around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 30 to seek help for her son Terrence, 31. She told the 911 operator that he suffered from "schizophrenic paranoia" and had stopped taking his medication.

Eight minutes later, Boyle and another officer drove up, followed shortly after by two EMTs. According to the report, Hope Coleman told them her son would likely not react well to seeing the police officers who, under city protocol accompany EMTs on such calls.

The EMTs agreed to go into the apartment alone and found Coleman sitting on a bed, his head down. He would not talk to the EMTs, but stood up, grabbed a bag and walked out of the apartment into the building foyer. When he spotted the police cruiser outside, the report continues, he became very agitated and made "loud, vulgar statements" about President Obama's daughters and others.

The report says he then reached into his bag and pulled out a 10-inch kitchen knife - a finding Hope Coleman disputes. Coleman knocked one of the EMTs down and began lunging at him with the knife - as the other EMT screamed "Get us some help! into his radio before grabbing Coleman by the back to try to get him away from his partner. Just then his partner managed to get his feet up to Coleman's chest and gave him a kick hard enough to send Coleman flying backwards, with him landing on top of the other EMT on a set of stairs.

The two cops rushed in and the EMTs fled the building, the report says. The cops pulled Coleman off the stairs and onto the floor, face down Boyle's partner, Kevin Finn, managed to get atop the 5'10, 240-lb. Coleman and tried to get him ready to be cuffed, but then noticed the knife. Coleman refused a demand to drop the knife and continued to struggle and try to stab the partner, the report says.

With Finn looking like he was about to lose in the struggle, Boyle ordered him off Coleman. Boyle shot Coleman twice in the stomach. Coleman "immediately ceased to struggle," one of the officers kicked the knife a distance away and then the two officers began applying first aid, the report continues. The EMTs rushed back in, and took over Coleman's care until he could be transported to Tufts Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:25 a.m.

The report adds that both EMTs required medical treatment of their own, one for back pain and blood in his urine, the other for a variety of injuries to his back, shoulders, arm and knee.

DA's report on Coleman's death (5.3M PDF).
(306k PDF).

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    Comments

    EMTs

    By on

    Condolences to the mother and everyone else involved.

    I want to ask about the EMTs right now. They get paid very badly. Are they going to have full coverage for the physical and psychological trauma, and for any long-term disability?

    Props to BPD

    By on

    While keystone cops kill people indiscriminately, BPD shows restraint and does seem to use lethal force only as a last resort, despite putting themselves in danger.

    As it should be when you have that power.

    Do they do debriefings on these things to see if anything could have been done differently, and learn from these interactions? What's led BPD to making the rights calls vs these other places shooting and asking questions later?

    Sadly this case combines mental health issues and suicide by cop. I can't image what the mother and everyone else involved is going through, because how do you stop something like this when it gets this far.

    Sadly this state really needs to step up it's mental health treatment options. It seems to me the only way to prevent something like this is very far in advance by offering more medical help to the communities that probably don't get nearly enough support.

    Agree. And even still...

    By on

    Agree, more mental health resources are needed. But even if we had the best possible psych services in the world, incidents like this would probably still happen, just at a lower rate.

    . Sadly this state really needs to step up it's mental health treatment options. It seems to me the only way to prevent something like this is very far in advance by offering more medical help to the communities that probably don't get nearly enough support

    Tragic

    By on

    Unfortunately, this tragedy will make any person caring for someone with mental illness avoid calling for help. Imagine you were this mother; what would you do, after reading this? The mother, did, after all, state that her son had "'schizophrenic paranoia' and had stopped taking his medication" when she made the call for help. Given the context, it appears the mother had devoted her life to her son, and now he's dead.

    The real problem

    People living with poorly treated mental illness and people who live with people who are not being treated for their mental illness should be able to get more help before the point where police are called.

    That's the problem: there isn't any coordinated help or support, so these people live with family until they become so out of control that they either kill family members or are killed by LEOs when endangering others.

    The fact is that our society refuses to deal with such people in any way other than through the law enforcement and criminal justice system, and dumps them on their families who have no resources to restrain, cope with, or compel treatment up to that point.

    Terrence Coleman clearly was mentally ill, but

    By on

    I don't think that the cops' shooting to kill him was the thing to do. I could, however, understanding shooting to Terrance Coleman's leg as a last resort, or using a huge body net to restrain and control him.

    Better and more comprehensive treatment for people with mental illnesses are needed, as well.

    A net?!

    By on

    A net?!

    He wasn't a fish. He was a 5'10, 240-lb schizophrenic armed with a knife attempting to stab people.

    Mostly no

    By on

    Shooting someone in the leg will likely do nothing to slow them down. They are already feeling reduced pain due to adrenaline. You aren't likely to do any damage that prevents them from using their leg unless you break the bone or rip through a necessary ligament (unlikely). You aren't likely to even hit the leg if that's what you're aiming for which means risk to others in the area or even just enraging the person further. And if you've reached a point where you need to shoot someone, then you're doing it to stop them, period.

    Yes, maybe a more non-lethal method might have worked here very early on. But we don't have a non-lethal method that's going to be safe for both the officer and the person once the person has a knife out and is threatening to use it. They may use it on themselves or others before your non-lethal method takes effect. You may also incapacitate them in such a way that their weapon ends up doing harm anyways (fall on the knife, pull a trigger involuntarily, etc.).

    This as described was a very no-win situation. Cops wouldn't have let him have that bag upon leaving his room, but they didn't go in with the hopes that EMTs could bring him out peacefully. The EMTs weren't going to stop him from bringing the bag out. The cops tried to wrestle him into compliance, but couldn't disarm the knife and he began to threaten with it again in close range. I appreciate that the mother wants a jury to decide if the cops acted correctly here, but I don't see where the evidence would be for putting the officer on trial. If the mother was at a point with him that she felt the need to get help from police and EMTs, then she must have felt that either her or her son were likely in danger of getting hurt already because of his medical condition and lack of meds. Not calling doesn't seem like it was a valid option either...it may have been her that died or her son may have killed himself anyways instead of the cop ending up being involved.

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    By on

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    Warning-ACME products are not effective on roadrunners

    This is why BPD should have

    By on

    This is why BPD should have tasers and special bean bag only shotguns in every squad car. But for whatever reason the city is against officers having that non-leathal capability.

    Some Reason...

    By on

    Oh, yeah.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Victoria_Snelgrove

    Honestly, I think that terrible incident in 2004 probably went a long way to why BPD hasn't followed police trends that seem to be afflicting other departments. This was right about the time that militarization of departments started wholesale, and it cause BPD to take a huge step back and reflect on better policing.

    There's evidence equipping departments with semi-lethal force also ends up increasing lethal use, as officers tend to apply it / escalate every situation when "it won't kill".

    A poorly trained auxiliary

    By on

    A poorly trained auxiliary riot cop negligently firing into a crowd with a device he was never qualified to use shouldn't be an excuse for treating the rest of the force like incompetents forever.

    Counterpoint

    By on

    You're walking down a very narrow alley, and the guy 5 feet in front of you turns around with a knife and says he's going to kill you dead. You have a gun on you. What do you do?

    Add in a few EMTs and others you have a duty to protect.

    Even then, from the account, BPD tried to wrestle the knife away and only escalated force when there was a good chance of being overpowered (at which point a mentally ill man that was threatening EMTs and Police might have access to the officers firearm).

    This situations sucks. But I really don't see any other outcome here where you might have a dead police officer and EMT.

    The time to prevent this sort of thing is far in advance of a mentally ill man swinging a knife and attacking police in a hallway.

    Another gross failure of our public mental healthcare,

    By on

    Outpatient care in a 'community setting' may be OK for people with minor mental health issues, certainly not paranoid schizophrenics, who,by there very nature, stop taking meds. They belong in an inpatient psych facility.

    At the end of day, our jails, prisons, homeless shelters, and the streets are where a very large number of mentally ill people end up. And we expect cops, especially, to deal with this problem on the front line.