Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Civil Rights Lawsuit

Attorneys for the family of Eurie Stamps, Sr., who was killed late at night in his home on Jan. 5 by a Framingham Police SWAT team that stormed his house, announced today their launch of a civil rights investigation about the incident, upon review of the Middlesex District Attorney’s own investigative report, made public today.

Mr. Stamps, a 68-year-old, handicapped retired MBTA worker, died from semi-automatic assault rifle fire when he was shot at approximately 12:30 a.m. by police who were at his 26 Fountain Street home to serve a search warrant to Joseph Bushfan, Mr. Stamps’ 20 year-old stepson, suspected of drug possession. A team of 15 or more SWAT and other officers forcibly entered the home and, after detonating a stun grenade, shot and killed Mr. Stamps, even though they had already taken custody of Mr. Bushfan outside the home.

“Eurie Stamps’ death was the result of a fundamentally unjustifiable shooting by law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting the public safety,” said Anthony Tarricone, a law partner at Kreindler & Kreindler, the firm representing the four adult children of Mr. Stamps. “When an innocent man dies this way at the hands of the police, there really are no excuses that can satisfactorily explain away such a tragedy. Mr. Stamps’ civil rights were surely violated, and those who are responsible must be held accountable for his death.”

Attorneys for the Stamps’ family met with Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone this afternoon to review the results of the D.A.’s own investigation. “We believe the D.A.’s report leaves unanswered several critical questions about this incident,” said Tony Fugate of the law firm Bardouille & Fugate, which is representing Norma Bushfan, the widow of Mr. Stamps. “We seek a full accounting of what went so terribly wrong here, and we do not yet have that.”

The attorneys indicated their investigation would examine these questions:

* Why was a large and heavily-armed SWAT team deployed to serve a search warrant, especially in the middle of the night at a home known to be occupied by Mr. Stamps and his wife?

* What precautions were taken to ensure the safety of others who may have been in the house and who were not the targets of the warrant, such as Mr. Stamps, who had been in his bedroom watching television and sure to be startled by such dynamic entry?

* Why did the police not adjust their operational plan and still storm the house even after arresting Mr. Bushfan outside the home?

* What specific training and/or procedural failings could have lead to the shooting of an unarmed man watching television in his own home in the middle of the night?

* Who should be held accountable for such failings, and what corrections are necessary to ensure that the loss of innocent life in Framingham in such circumstances never happens again?

* Were there known systemic problems in the Framingham Police Department concerning deficiencies in training and execution of SWAT teams and, if so, how were they addressed and corrected?

* What changes are necessary to correct systemic training and procedural failings that permitted the use of the SWAT team assault and led to the death of Mr. Stamps in these circumstances?

* Is there proper oversight of SWAT team training and operations in place by Massachusetts state authorities?

* Was every member of the SWAT team at the Stamps home properly trained in the use of weapons and procedures for serving such warrants, to best ensure the safety of innocent people?

“The D.A.’s report fails to mention several factors we believe to be critical information,” said Mr. Tarricone. “There is no mention of use of the stun grenade, that there were at least two entry teams of numerous officers, that the police department’s pre-determined entry plan was not altered to reflect a changed scenario, that there had been no evidence of any drug sales in the home, and that the house had indeed been under surveillance for hours before the incident, which should have revealed the presence of Eurie Stamps, Sr. in the home. Surely, this case merits further investigation.”

“Sadly, there’s nothing that can return Mr. Stamps to his family or satisfy the enormous loss they will forever suffer,” said Mr. Fugate. “But they are rightfully and firmly committed to seeking justice for their father and husband with the hope that such pursuit will help prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.”

PRESS RELEASE from the Middlesex District Attorney's Office:

Read it and weep....

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office have conducted an investigation into the facts and circumstances of a police-involved fatality that occurred on Jan. 5, 2011, at 26 Fountain St. in Framingham.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, per protocol and pursuant to statute, conducted an investigation in order to determine whether the discharge of Framingham Police Officer Paul Duncan’s department issued firearm in this matter amounted to criminal conduct under our laws, and if so, whether the surrounding circumstances and evidence amounted to prosecutable criminal conduct.

The investigation included a thorough review of all interviews conducted (including witnesses at the scene, Framingham police officers, and emergency medical personnel), ballistics and crime scene forensic reports, radio transmissions and 911 calls, police reports, witness statements, photographs of the scene, and medical examiner information. Our investigation has revealed the following relevant facts on which we base our findings and conclusions.

In December of 2010 and early January of 2011, members of the Framingham Police Narcotics Unit obtained information regarding the illegal distribution of crack cocaine from and in the vicinity of 26 Fountain St. A confidential source informed members of the narcotics unit that a young male was distributing crack cocaine from that location. The informant also stated that the young man was frequently in the company of a male with a tattoo on his face. That male with the tattoo on his face was later identified as Joseph Bushfan, who has subsequently been charged with a drug distribution violation occurring in or near a school zone, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to violate the drug laws.

During the same time frame, Framingham narcotics officers also obtained information from a second confidential source. The second confidential informant informed the narcotics unit that it possessed information that the same young male was also involved in the illegal drug distribution activity from 26 Fountain St. Based on this information, narcotics officers obtained a search warrant for 26 Fountain St.

In the two weeks leading up to the application for the search warrant, narcotics officers utilized a confidential informant in order to conduct three controlled buys from 26 Fountain St., to support the existing information regarding illegal drug activity. During all three controlled buys, the confidential informant called one of two phone numbers provided by either Bushfan or the other young male suspect. During all three controlled buys, the informant ordered cocaine over the telephone from either Bushfan or the other young male suspect, travelled to the area of 26 Fountain Street, and then purchased cocaine directly from either Bushfan or the other young male suspect.

On Jan. 4, in the hours before the search warrant was obtained and executed, Framingham Police detectives conducted surveillance of 26 Fountain St., to further support and strengthen the existing evidence and probable cause, and observed what they believed to be at least five different hand to hand drug distribution transactions.

Prior to the execution of the search warrant, in the interests of the safety of all involved, the Framingham Police Department made the decision to request the assistance of the Framingham SWAT team in executing the search warrant. According to investigators, the decision to utilize the SWAT team was based on a number of factors including, but not limited to: the violent criminal histories of Bushfan and the other young male suspect; the information that one of their targets (the young male suspect) was a member of a gang involved with narcotics, weapons and violent crime; information that the young male was a known associate of an individual involved in the 2009 shooting of Framingham Officer Phil Hurton; the possible existence of additional suspects inside the target location; the numerous people seen coming and going from the target apartment in the hours leading up to the execution of the search warrant; and the numerous “hand to hand” drug transactions observed in front of the target apartment in the hours leading up to the execution of the search warrant.

Shortly after midnight, members of the Framingham Police Narcotics Unit and Framingham Police SWAT team proceeded to 26 Fountain St. Immediately prior to their arrival, surveillance officers who had been stationed outside the address observed Joseph Bushfan and two females exit the front door of 26 Fountain St. and walk south towards Waverly Street. Detectives stopped and searched Bushfan and recovered eight individually wrapped packages of crack cocaine from Bushfan’s pocket. Approximately $397 dollars was also recovered from Bushfan, as well as a cell phone that utilized the same number that the informant had called when ordering cocaine from Bushfan during the first controlled drug buy. Bushfan was placed under arrest and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute as well as conspiracy to violate the drug laws, and a related school zone drug violation.

As detectives were interacting with Bushfan, the SWAT team arrived at 26 Fountain St. and began carrying out the entry plan. As the team approached the house, they encountered Norma Bushfan-Stamps outside in front of the premises. While investigators interacted with Ms. Bushfan-Stamps, officers knocked and announced the presence of the Framingham Police and the existence of a search warrant. After knocking and announcing, the team was signaled to begin entry according to the pre-determined search warrant operational plan.

Two Framingham Police officers made entry and arrived inside the kitchen, then spread out and scanned the room. They both observed movement and people on the other side of the kitchen, in the area of the hallway and in the back bedroom.

Upon seeing this, one officer yelled “Framingham Police, search warrant, put your hands up.”

At that point, there was more movement behind the kitchen and at least one person moving in and out of the officers’ sight. Both officers then observed a large male come out of the back bedroom/bathroom area and stand on the hallway side of the threshold between the kitchen and the hallway/laundry area. The male, later identified as the decedent Eurie Stamps, was ordered to lie on the floor in the hallway/laundry area just before the threshold to the kitchen.

While Mr. Stamps was on the floor lying on his stomach with his hands up, an unidentified person was observed in the back bedroom area, not complying with the police orders to show hands. At that point, fearing the person in the back room may have a weapon or could be a threat to their safety, officers stepped over Mr. Stamps and made their way to the back hallway where the bathroom and rear bedroom were located. The person was later identified as Devon Talbert, who was subsequently charged with a drug violation occurring in or near a school zone, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to violate the drug laws. As officers made their way over Mr. Stamps and down the tight cluttered hallway, the officers had to move numerous containers out of the way. As the officers were making their way past Mr. Stamps and into the back hallway, Officer Paul Duncan, who was inside the kitchen, moved to position himself next to Mr. Stamps.

Officer Duncan had made entry into the home through a hallway door and helped clear two rooms before entering the kitchen area. As Officer Duncan approached the threshold between the hallway and the kitchen, Mr. Stamps was still lying on the floor on his stomach, with his head up and his hands moving. Officer Duncan then moved to within two feet of Mr. Stamps. Officer Duncan, knowing that Mr. Stamps had not been checked for weapons, with two hands on his rifle, decided to move to the side of Mr. Stamps, and secure Mr. Stamps’ hands behind his back, and check him for weapons.

As Officer Duncan moved to the right of Mr. Stamps, just past Mr. Stamps’ shoulders, he had to step to his left. As he stepped to his left, he lost his balance, and began to fall over backwards. Officer Duncan realized that his right foot was off the floor and that the tactical equipment that he was wearing was making his movements very awkward. While falling, Officer Duncan removed his left hand from his rifle, which was pointing down towards the ground, and put his left arm out to try and catch himself. As he did so, he heard a shot and then his body made impact with the wall. At that point, Officer Duncan, who was lying on the ground with his back against the wall, realized that he was practically on top of Mr. Stamps and that Mr. Stamps was bleeding. Officer Duncan immediately started yelling “man down, man down.” Numerous SWAT members began calling for medics and alerting team members that there was a person down that needed medical attention. Officer Duncan told another officer on scene within moments of the incident that he had stumbled and lost his balance while moving to get in a better position, and as he was falling, his gun fired.

The Framingham SWAT team includes a Tactical Emergency Medical Support group of emergency medical technicians and firemen that travels with the team. Upon word that someone was injured, the medical support team entered the apartment and began rendering aid to Mr. Stamps. The medical team assessed Mr. Stamps and realized he was suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. Mr. Stamps was placed on a backboard and immediately transported by ambulance to Metrowest Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.

Dr. Henry Nields from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (“OCME”) performed the autopsy on Mr. Stamps. The cause and manner of death was determined to be homicide, resulting from a single fatal gun shot wound to the upper body area. The word homicide is defined by the OCME as “the death of one person caused by the act of another.”

Upon completion of this investigation and review of all available information and relevant evidence, the conclusion of this office is that the actions of Officer Duncan do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, and the shooting death of Eurie Stamps was an accident.

This office applied all the relevant facts and evidence to the law of murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and reckless assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, as well as the law of accident.

After review of both the law and the facts, it is clear from the evidence that Officer Duncan did not possess the requisite intent or the necessary mental state required under the law, to support a criminal charge of murder or voluntary manslaughter.

Additionally, under the law, the facts do not support a criminal charge that Officer Duncan intended to commit a battery upon Mr. Stamps, nor do they establish that Officer Duncan acted in a criminally reckless manner. Therefore, the crimes of involuntary manslaughter by reckless conduct and reckless assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon are also factually and legally unsupportable.

Furthermore, under the law of accident, if there is any evidence that the conduct at issue may have been the result of an accident, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what occurred was not an accident. The legal term accident is defined as an unexpected happening that occurs without intention or design on the actor’s part. It means a sudden, unexpected event that takes place without the actor’s intending it.

There is no evidence that Officer Duncan intended to pull the trigger of his rifle, no evidence that he possessed any desire or motivation to shoot Mr. Stamps, and no evidence that he was reckless or that he used excessive force to attempt to secure Mr. Stamps.

It is the conclusion of this office, based on the law and the findings of fact that are based on the evidence in this matter, that the shooting death of Mr. Eurie Stamps was an accident as defined by the law applicable to criminal prosecutions. As such, the facts of this matter and the applicable law do not support a criminal prosecution.

Having made our determination under the law regarding accident, and the absence of criminal conduct on the part of Officer Duncan, we have, per the protocol of the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, returned and referred this matter back to the Framingham Police Department so that they can perform whatever internal administrative review of the incident they deem appropriate.