Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins has appointed an independent panel to oversee her office’s investigation into the Feb. 22 Boston police shooting of Kasim Kahrim.
Rollins’ appointment of the four-person panel marks the first time a Boston police shooting will be investigated by a panel independent of the police or district attorney’s office. Rollins pledged to conduct independent investigations of police-involved shootings while campaigning for office last year.
Criminal justice reform advocates have long argued that the standard practice in Suffolk County — having district attorneys who traditionally work closely with police in prosecuting crimes investigate police shootings — does not allow for sufficient objectivity in such investigations. No police officer has been found guilty of misconduct in a police shooting during dozens of such investigations over the past 30 years.
“This is the first time in Boston that we’ll have some measure of an arm’s-length investigation in to the shooting of an individual by police,” said civil rights attorney Carl Williams. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Rollins said the independent panel would be beneficial to both police and the public.
“These cases are incredibly complex, emotionally-charged, and extremely important to both law enforcement and the community at large,” Rollins said in a statement released to news media Monday.
Kahrim was shot and fatally injured by police allegedly after encountering officers on George Street in Roxbury. The police said Kahrim opened fire on the officers, before he was shot. Kahrim drove a short distance, then crashed on George Street.
Following the shooting, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross told the Boston Globe Kahrim “exchanged several rounds of gunfire, with the Boston police officers, resulting in an officer [being] shot several times.”
Rollins said the panel members were selected for their impartiality, reputations for excellence, and specific expertise in community advocacy, criminal prosecution and defense, police investigations, and the rules of evidence and criminal practice in Massachusetts courts. The panelists selected are
• Phillomin Laptiste, executive director of the Bowdoin Street Health Center. Rollins’ office says Laptiste, who was born and raised in the Bowdoin Street area, has direct and personal experience with homicide and the health and safety impacts of trauma.
• David E. Meier, a partner at the law firm of Todd & Weld handling criminal defense matters. Meier served as the chief of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s
Homicide Unit from 1996 to 2008 and oversaw all death investigations, including fatal police shooting investigations, in Suffolk County during that time. Meier played a key leadership role in the Suffolk DA’s DNA Committee, which reviewed wrongful conviction claims as the precursor to today’s Conviction Integrity Program.
• Detective Lieutenant Robert Murphy, commanding officer of the State Police Detective Unit assigned to District Attorney Rollins’ office. Murphy has 20 years of experience in homicide and death investigations.
• The Honorable Charles T. Spurlock (Ret.), a former judge who was appointed to the Roxbury District Court bench in 1986 by Governor Michael Dukakis and went on to preside over dozens of homicide trials as an associate justice of the Superior Court from 1992 until his retirement in 2010. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Spurlock was a supervising attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Roxbury.
“I’m confident that Ms. Laptiste, Mr. Meier, Detective Lieutenant Murphy, and Judge Spurlock will offer valuable assistance in assessing the facts, evidence, context, and law free from any bias — or even the appearance of bias,” Rollins said in her press statement. “They will bring a fresh set of eyes and a variety of experiences to an issue of great public concern.”
The DIT members will convene on at least a monthly basis to review the progress of the investigation into the Feb. 22 shooting, according to Rollins’ office. The DIT will meet directly with Rollins and her top prosecutor, First Assistant DA Daniel Mulhern, whom she assigned to the investigation and who reports directly and exclusively to her. They will assess the state of the evidence, monitor the direction of the investigation and examine the procedural steps undertaken by investigators on the ground. They will make inquiries, offer insights and present objective opinions based on their thorough review.
Material from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office was used in this report.