Police ID Officer in Red Sox Fan Death
BOSTON - The officer who fired a pepper-spray pellet that killed a woman in a raucous crowd of Red Sox fans was aiming at another fan but missed, police said Friday.
Police on Friday also identified the shooter, Officer Rochefort Milien.
In an update of its investigation into the death of Victoria Snelgrove, police said Milien fired his pepper-spray pellet gun at a fan during an Oct. 21 disturbance, but missed. The shot hit Snelgrove in the eye, fatally injuring her.
"Victoria Snelgrove was not targeted; she was struck when the projectile missed its intended target," the statement said.
Milien is on paid injury leave from the department, a person close to the investigation told The Associated Press.
Snelgrove, a 21-year-old Emerson College student, was among thousands of fans who flocked to Kenmore Square and Fenway Park to celebrate when the Red Sox beat the New York Yankees for the American League pennant.
Messages left for police union officials were not immediately returned Friday night. Attempts to find a telephone number for Milien were unsuccessful.
The investigation indicates at least four people were hit by the projectiles, including Snelgrove. Milien, a grenadier assigned to the police Special Operations unit, is certified to train officers on the use of the weapon.
Police spokesman David Estrada said there would be no police comment beyond the statement.
Deputy Superintendent Robert E. O'Toole Jr. authorized the use of the pellet guns known as the FN303, which is made by FN Herstal. He fired the weapons at specific individuals, as did Officers Samil Silta and Milien. Milien's was 25 to 30 feet away from Snelgrove when he shot her.
On Friday, The Boston Globe reported O'Toole was not certified to use the FN303. O'Toole's lawyer has said he was certified and "eminently qualified" to use the weapon.
The police department purchased the FN303 guns to assist with controlling protests during the Democratic National Convention last summer, but had not used them in crowd-control situations outside training before the Fenway Park shootings.
Police officials since have suspended their use pending the outcome of the investigation.
More details from the Boston Globe:
Two Boston officers who fired pepper-pellet guns near where a 21-year-old college student was fatally shot last week were not trained to use the weapons, including Deputy Superintendent Robert E. O'Toole, according to two sources, an officer involved with weapons training at the Boston Police Department and an individual briefed on the investigation.
As officers attempted to bring an unruly crowd of students on Lansdowne Street under control after the Red Sox won the American League pennant, O'Toole grabbed a pepper-pellet gun from a police supply vehicle and fired at a group of students who had climbed the girders of the Green Monster, according to accounts from the sources.
O'Toole then handed his gun to Patrolman Richard B. Stanton, who had told the commander he was not trained to use the gun and did not fire it, according to information from the sources.
O'Toole handed another gun to Patrolman Samil Silta, who also had told O'Toole he wasn't trained on the gun. But Silta took the weapon and fired into the surging crowds, the sources said. A fourth officer, Patrolman Rochefort Milien, was trained and also fired at the crowd, the sources said.
Almost four hours after the Globe asked Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole to comment on its findings yesterday, she announced that the shootings will be reviewed by an independent committee led by former US attorney Donald Stern and Janice W. Howe, his colleague at the law firm of Bingham McCutchen.
''By taking this step, I hope I have reinforced my promise to the Snelgrove family and the city of Boston that I am committed to an open and transparent process of accountability," the commissioner said in a statement released shortly before 8 p.m. She is not related to Robert O'Toole.
She also said that Robert O'Toole was moved to desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
Through a spokeswoman, the commissioner declined to be interviewed.
Emerson College student Victoria E. Snelgrove died hours after one of the pellets struck her in the eye early Thursday, as she was celebrating the Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees with revelers on Lansdowne Street.
The Globe reported yesterday that another pellet pierced the forehead of a 19-year-old Boston University student, Kapila Bhamidipati. A pellet also tore a hole in the cheek of 24-year-old Cambridge resident Paul Gately. Gately and Bhamidipati are recovering at home.
Robert O'Toole's lawyer, Timothy M. Burke, would not comment on his client's actions the night Snelgrove was killed or whether the deputy superintendent was trained in how to use the pepper-pellet gun, but Burke released a statement from O'Toole about Snelgrove's death.
''I am personally devastated that the actions of the Boston police played any role in causing this tragedy and bringing such pain to her family," the statement said. ''My hopes and prayers go out to her family."
Family members of Stanton and Silta said they would not comment. A home telephone number for Milien could not be found.
Thomas Drechsler, a lawyer who represents the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said he represents two of the officers who fired the pellet guns on Lansdowne Street on the night Snelgrove was killed, but would not identify them.
''The officers used the weapon within the scope of what was purported to be the safe intended purpose of the weapon," Drechsler said. ''That was their intent. Certainly no one in any way, shape, or form ever anticipated this tragedy would occur."
The following account of how events unfolded on Lansdowne Street was drawn from information provided by the sources.
As crowds celebrating the Red Sox victory over the Yankees spiraled out of control early Thursday, Robert O'Toole went to a supply vehicle on Brookline Avenue and pulled out two of the department's new FN303 pepper-pellet guns. O'Toole asked nearby officers if they were trained to use the weapons, and Silta and Stanton said they were not.
O'Toole handed one to Silta, who began firing, and O'Toole, untrained himself, began firing the other one from the hip, at people climbing the Green Monster. A few minutes later, O'Toole handed his weapon to Stanton, who did not fire the gun. The other officer, Milien, already had a weapon and fired it. It was not clear which officers fired the pellets that hit Snelgrove and injured Gately and Bhamidipati.
The manufacturer of the guns, FN Herstal, trained 29 Boston police officers to use the weapons, said Bucky Mills, deputy director of law enforcement sales, marketing, and training for the company. Mills said Boston police have not confirmed to the company that its weapons were used in the shootings that night.
''During this training, officers are told never to intentionally target the neck or head, because death or serious injury can occur," Mills said. ''The warnings are repeated several times throughout the training manual we provide while we teach the class and reinforced throughout the class and during the live fire qualifications."
Mills said that FN303 weapons have been successfully used without serious injury or death on several occasions, including at sports events such as the 2003 Super Bowl and at the University of Maryland at College Park, after the school won the NCAA basketball championship and riots ensued on campus.
When asked if the manufacturer would ever recommend shooting the FN-303 into a dense crowd, Mills said it would depend on the circumstances, but if ''somebody in a dense crowd is shooting a ball-bearing at you or throwing a Molotov cocktail at you, it [the FN-303] can shoot accurately in a crowd."
The FN303 projectile is ''fin-stabilized," Mills said, which gives it more accuracy than a paintball gun.
The police commander in charge of the Kenmore Square area, including Fenway Park, when a 21-year-old college student was shot and killed was one of four officers who fired pepper pellets into the raucous crowds celebrating the Red Sox American League pennant victory, according to two people familiar with the investigation of the shootings.
Deputy Superintendent Robert E. O'Toole commands the Boston Police Department's Special Operations Unit, which includes the tactical team that used new high-force pepper-pellet guns early Thursday for the first time outside training. In addition, on this night, he was in charge of the massive deployment of all officers surrounding the ballpark, according to deployment records.
Shots from the pepper-pellet guns killed Victoria E. Snelgrove and tore a hole in the
cheek of 24-year-old Cambridge resident Paul Gately. Pepper pellets fired by officers that night also pierced the skull of 19-year-old Boston University student Kapila Bhamidipati.
At a press conference Thursday night, Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole said two people other than Snelgrove ''sustained less serious injuries," but did not provide details.
Gately came forward last weekend to say he was one of those people. In an interview with the Globe yesterday, Bhamidipati said he, too, was seriously injured when a marble-size pellet blew through the bone in his forehead and into his sinus cavity. The website for FN Herstal, the gun manufacturer, says, ''For safety reasons, never aim towards face, throat or neck."
Bhamidipati said doctors performed surgery Friday to remove deeply lodged pellet fragments and to fasten metal plates over the hole in his skull until his bone grows back. He was released from the hospital on Saturday.
Kathleen O'Toole, who is not related to the special operations commander, declined to comment yesterday about Robert O'Toole's role in dispersing crowds, saying she would not discuss the department's investigation until it is complete in one or two months.
She also would not say whether O'Toole had been trained to use the rifle or whether an officer in a commanding role for a major event like security after the deciding game in the Red Sox-Yankees series would also perform street-level crowd control with the officers he's supervising.
''The commissioner again would like to reaffirm that she wants a thorough investigation," said a spokesman, Lieutenant Kevin Foley. ''Let the truth take us where it may."
Reached at his home last night, Robert O'Toole declined to comment.
As crowds surged to what police have estimated was 80,000 strong, officers began firing the pepper pellets at 1:15 a.m. into a crowd of revelers on Lansdowne Street and on the Green Monster supports. Some of the revelers threw bottles and other objects at officers on horseback, witnesses said. Four officers fired pepper guns, according to a police officer who has been briefed on the investigation. One of those was Robert O'Toole, said the officer and another person who is involved in the police investigation.
Robert O'Toole was one of three deputy superintendents reporting to overall incident commander Superintendent James M. Claiborne, who was overseeing the department's entire post-game operations from a command center at police headquarters in Roxbury, according to deployment plans obtained by the Globe. One deputy superintendent was assigned to assist Claiborne, and another was in charge of the Fenway and Brighton residential neighborhoods. Two captains and two sergeants were assigned to assist Robert O'Toole in his command.
Robert O'Toole was also commander of special operations during the 1986 World Series and was overseeing security at Fenway Park when a television news crew filmed him as he slapped a handcuffed prisoner. O'Toole was demoted by Commissioner Francis M. Roache the following year and spent the next 17 years on different assignments until Kathleen O'Toole named him deputy superintendent of special operations in April.
Bhamidipati, a BU sophomore from Bridgewater, N.J., said he went to the ballpark with a group of friends after the game, but soon lost them in the throngs celebrating the Red Sox victory. A resident of the 15th floor of BU's Warren Towers dormitory, Bhamidipati said one of his friends was carrying a plastic water bottle filled with vodka. ''I had two sips real quick," he said. ''I wasn't drunk at all, just the two sips."
Bhamidipati said that while on Lansdowne Street he noticed people climbing the metal structure of the stadium and that he decided to do the same so he could use the height as a vantage point to locate his friends. ''There was a lot of people up there," he said.
He said he shimmied up a vertical I-beam and then onto a horizontal metal beam about 10 to 12 feet above the ground, joining others who were already sitting on the horizontal beam joyously denouncing the Yankees. He said he was on the beam for less than 2 minutes, waving his arms around, hoping to attract the attention of his friends, whom he thought he had spotted in the crowd.
At the time, he said, Boston police officers were on horseback, and riot police were on the sidewalk across Lansdowne near the Cask 'N' Flagon bar, but none were deployed on the sidewalk below him. After asking someone how he could get down, Bhamidipati said he grabbed onto the I-beam and began to descend. ''I looked down to make sure I wasn't going to fall down and hit anybody, and I got shot," he said, adding that he heard no warnings from police beforehand. ''I thought it was a paintball."
Stunned by the impact, Bhamidipati made it to the sidewalk.
He said he felt woozy, but wasn't overly worried. He said he was walking among the crowd when a passing student stopped him and told him he needed immediate medical attention. Bhamidipati said he told the student he would take care of the problem at his dorm room
''No," Bhamidipati recalled the student telling him. ''You are losing a lot of blood. . . . You have to go to the ambulance. You have something protruding from your head. You must go to an ambulance."
The student helped Bhamidipati and one of his friends onto Brookline Avenue where Boston police made him lie down, handing him a gauze bandage to hold against his bleeding forehead. Bhamidipati said he was put on a stretcher and transported to Brigham and Women's Hospital in the same ambulance that carried Gately.
Bhamidipati said doctors in the emergency room removed small pieces of plastic from his forehead and then found one large piece embedded under the skin. A CAT scan showed even more fragments inside his skull and in his sinus cavity. Doctors told him that if the pellet had penetrated a little farther into his skull, it would have hit his brain and he might have died, he said.
Bhamidipati was interviewed at the office of his Boston attorney, Jeffrey A. Denner, who said his firm is investigating and may file suit against the city and the makers of the pellet guns.
''The defendants in this case are not just in Boston," he said. ''There has to be some looking into . . . the manufacturers of these so-called nonlethal weapons."
Lawyer Thomas Drechsler of Boston, who represents the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said the department's homicide unit interviewed more than 20 officers over the weekend as part of the investigation into the shootings. Drechsler said the officers who fired the weapons that night had been trained to use them by someone outside the department who, he said, purportedly was well-trained by the manufacturer.
''No officer who utilized the weapons ever attempted or intended to strike anyone in the head," Drechsler said, adding that he and others have raised questions during the investigation about the accuracy of the weapons and whether pellets ricocheted.
Drechsler also said that officers who were dispatched to Fenway Park that night said it was the most unruly mob they had ever encountered. He said the tactical team was sent to Lansdowne Street after a man and woman were attacked in their car as they pulled out of a garage. The crowd surrounded the car and jumped on top of the vehicle, smashing its windows, Dreschler said.
''I think any officer that was there was traumatized by the violence and the aggressiveness of the crowd and are mystified to some degree as to how an occasion for celebration turned into an occasion for throwing bottles, bricks, and other projectiles at police officers and others," Drechsler said. ''It's easy for academics to say why didn't the police control the crowd, but it's easier said than done."
At least one big-city police department has suspended use of pepper-spray pellet guns blamed for the death of a 21-year-old college student who was shot by police trying to break up a rowdy crowd of Red Sox fans last week.
The Seattle Police Department said it has shelved the equipment until it can determine what happened in Boston. Department spokesman Scott Moss said that the guns are normally restricted to a few trained officers and have yet to be used.
Other police departments around the country said they have found such crowd-control weapons to be effective and would keep using them.
"We've used it on six occasions and haven't had any problems with it," said Sgt. Carlos Rojas of the Santa Ana, Calif., Police Department.
Boston police, who acquired the weapons for last summer's Democratic National Convention, have put them aside at least temporarily and have gone back to using a previous model since the death of Victoria Snelgrove, who was shot in the eye.
The reassessment came as Boston police girded for another potential Sox-inspired frenzy, with the hometown team on the brink of a World Series victory against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox had their first chance to clinch Wednesday night.
Snelgrove was among an estimated 80,000 fans who swarmed the streets outside Fenway Park after the Red Sox beat the rival New York Yankees to advance to the World Series for their first since 1986.
Officers fired into a crowd of fans, striking Snelgrove and at least two others.
Within 24 hours of Snelgrove's death, Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole suspended use of the pepper guns. Several days later, O'Toole tapped Massachusetts' former chief federal prosecutor, Donald K. Stern, to lead an investigation into the death.
On Wednesday, the lawyer for the police commander in charge of crowd control the night of Snelgrove's death said the officer fired four rounds from a pepper-spray pellet gun, but did not hit Snelgrove.
Deputy Superintendent Robert O'Toole fired the weapon in an attempt to rein in out-of-control fans who were climbing on the rafters at Fenway Park and a sign at a nearby bar.
The Boston Globe quoted two anonymous sources, including an officer involved with police weapons training and an individual briefed on the investigation, as saying O'Toole fired at a group of students who were climbing the girders behind Fenway Park's left field wall.
O'Toole, who is not related to Kathleen O'Toole, then handed his weapon to patrolman Richard Stanton, who refused to fire it because he also had not been trained, the sources said.
O'Toole handed another gun to patrolman Samil Silta, who also told O'Toole he was not trained to use it but fired into the crowd anyway, the Globe reported. Another officer who fired into the crowd, patrolman Rochefort Milien, was trained to use the guns, the sources said.
Attorney Timothy Burke said the rounds fired by O'Toole did not strike anyone in the head. "No one was aimed at or shot at in the face," Burke told The Associated Press.
Burke also said that contrary to the Globe report, Burke had been trained to use the weapon.
Virginia-based FN Herstal, which manufactures the FN303 weapon used in Boston, said there have been no other instances of anyone seriously injured or killed since the gun went on the market about two years ago.
Bucky Mills, deputy director of law enforcement sale, marketing and training, said a couple of hundred law enforcement agencies have bought the guns, including New York City and Washington, D.C., and several federal agencies.
Charles "Sid" Heal, a commander with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and an expert on less-than-lethal force, said the only thing that stopped his department from buying the FN303 was its cost - about $900 per launcher. Heal said the FN303 launcher was known to be very accurate.
"They're one of the best that are out there," Heal said. "We tried it, we liked it, we just couldn't afford it."
On its Web site, FN Herstal says the weapon should never be aimed at a person's throat, neck or head.
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion