The new issue of CommonWealth magazine has an article looking at how cases of deadly use of force by police are investigated—including a recent Springfield incident.
In some cases, reporter Jack Sullivan writes, the use of deadly force was clearly justified; he offers, by way of example, the shooting death of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev after he allegedly killed MIT police officer Sean Collier. “But in as many as 10 of the deadly force cases, the facts of what happened are not so clear and the police motivation far more murky,” Sullivan writes. “In some cases, the victim did nothing wrong and just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In others, the police initiated the confrontation and didn’t appear to take steps to avoid violence. In a few instances, the police story just doesn’t add up.”
One of the controversial cases the article cites: the shooting, in 2011, of 18-year-old Tahiem Goffe by Springfield police. The police were pursuing a car Goffe was driving that had been reported as stolen; according to reports of the incident, he was shot after trying to run down two officers who were approaching the car on foot. The officer involved was clear of wrong-doing by an internal SPD investigation and by Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni. “Our investigation is wide open for everyone to look at. There's nothing swept under the rug here,” Sgt. John Delaney, an SPD spokesman, told the Advocate at the time. “We consider ourselves a very professional department.”
In the CommonWealth article, Sullivan quotes the Rev. Talbert Swan II, president of the Springfield NAACP, about his call for an independent investigation of Goffe’s death: “There’s no way that any type of objective decision can result out of an investigation by folks investigating themselves. We do have an attorney general, we do have State Police, we do have independent entities that can come in in those cases. The public deserves no less than to have full confidence in the results of an investigation. If my son were involved in the execution of a crime, and you allowed me and his mother and his siblings to do the investigation, you can imagine what the recommendations will be.”
The article looks at a number of other controversial cases from around the state and considers proposed reforms to the way such investigations are carried out.