Given everything we’ve seen in recent months about police killing black men and then lying about it, I thought I would revisit an event in Boston that caught my eye a few years ago: the killing of Burrell Ramsey-White.
At the time, because I was a complacent white guy who apparently needed video evidence to believe what black people had been saying about the police since pretty much forever, I took the account of this shooting at face value: guy ran from the cops, pulled a gun, and got shot dead.
Yesterday I downloaded DA Dan Conley’s letter to the police commissioner in which he declines to bring charges, figuring I’d look through and just see what it said.
Here’s some of what it said, with my commentary and questions.
It’s just before 6 PM on August 21, 2012. Officers Pieroway and Resil run the plates on a Cadillac with tinted windows and find that the owner, Jurell Laronal, has a warrant for his arrest for assault with a dangerous weapon. They pull the car over. It’s worth noting here that ADW is a pretty broad charge in Massachusetts. Kicking someone while you have shoes on will get you this charge.
Here’s the first remarkable paragraph from the Conley report:
The Cadillac was pulled over on Rutland Square pointing toward Columbus Avenue. Pieroway approached the driver to request his license and registration while Resil approached the Cadillac on the passenger side. When asked to produce his license and registration, the driver, later identified as Burrell Ramsey-White (White), was evasive. White produced his driver’s license with his left hand while reaching behind the center console with his right hand heightening Pieroway’s concern that something was awry. As a result, Pieroway asked White to turn off the car, and White complied. Resil had by then joined Pieroway on the driver’s side of the Cadillac. At this point, based on the motor vehicle query run moments before, Pieroway believed the person driving the Cadillac was Jurrell Laronal. Knowing that Laronal had an outstanding warrant for a violent offense with a weapon, and based on White’s hand motion toward the center console, Pieroway asked White to step out of the car. Pieroway placed the license that had been handed to him on the roof of the Cadillac. He never looked at the license due to safety concerns. These concerns were based on the outstanding warrant, the furtive actions of the driver, and his expectation that he would take the driver into custody on the active warrant.
So, to sum up, they pull Ramsey-White over, believing him to be Laronal. Ramsey-White is “evasive” but does produce his license, which identifies him as Burrell Ramsey-White. But the police officer does not look at the license, nor does he ask his partner to look at the license while he keeps an eye on the driver. The reason Conley gives for this is that Pieroway had safety concerns, believing he was dealing with Laronal. This is some pretty tortured logic: Pieroway does not glance at the ID because he’s concerned for his safety. Because he believes that he knows the identity of the driver already.
Note: the day after Burrell Ramsey-White’s death, police lied about the reason for the traffic stop, saying it was due to Ramsey-White’s “connection” to an unsolved homicide. (I can’t find any follow-up that gives any information at all about why they asserted this connection, so I assume it was just a lie meant to focus attention on the dead man and not the man who killed him.)
At this point there is a “brief exchange,” the details of which are not given. Ramsey-White rolls up his window, puts the Cadillac in reverse, then drive, and drives off.
The Cadillac left Rutland Square heading toward Columbus Avenue. Pieroway and Resil returned to their cruiser, notified Boston Police Operations, and pursued the Cadillac. As they began the pursuit, it drove through the stop sign on Rutland Square taking a left onto Columbus Avenue. The Cadillac then turned left onto West Newton Street…
What Conley asserts here is actually impossible. Here’s a map to show why:
If the Cadillac is on Rutland Square headed toward Columbus and takes a left, it cannot reach West Newton Street. Ramsey-White must have turned right rather than left. Maybe a small oversight, but it’s my opinion as a citizen that reports like this should be correct down to the smallest detail. Ultimately some clerk probably typed “left” instead of “right,” but if we’re trying to establish exactly what happened, this report is already inaccurate. This is a sloppy error that anyone could have caught, including me. What other sloppy errors are in this report that we can’t fact check with Google Maps?
Ramsey-White ditches out of the Cadillac on Harcourt Street, the little street behind the Copley Marriott that ends at the Southwest Corridor. The Cadillac continued toward a group of people that included children, Conley reports. Officer Resil puts the car in park, and Officer Pieroway follows Ramsey-White on foot.
Witnesses describe Ramsey-White reaching down on his right side and/or having his hand in his waist on his right side. They also describe Pieroway identifying himself as a police officer and telling Ramsey-White to stop. One witness hears this from Pieroway “I am going to get you – stop!” I don’t know about you, but if I heard that from an armed man in pursuit of me I would be very hesitant to actually stop.
Ramsey-White runs up the short staircase next to 5 Yarmouth Place. This passage appears somewhat chronologically out of place in the report: As White reached the top of the steps near the dumpsters, this witness also observed that it looked like White reached into his pocket and then reached again toward his pocket with his right hand. The witness then heard a loud boom. The two individuals the witness observed were approximately 10-15 feet apart. Multiple civilian witnesses from various locations either directly on Yarmouth Place or the immediate area confirm Officer Pieroway’s account.
Note what the unnamed witness does not see: a gun. This is happening at around 6 PM. Sunset on August 21, 2012 was at 7:35 PM. It’s not dark out. Why doesn’t the witness, who can see Ramsey-White reaching into his pants, see him pull out a gun?
Ramsey-White turns to face Pieroway: White’s body position prevented Pieroway from seeing White’s right hand. Pieroway also saw a bulge under White’s shirt, in the midsection area. As White completed his turn, Pieroway saw a black gun in his right hand.
So: in the time it takes Ramsey-White to turn around, Pieroway sees a bulge under Ramsey-White’s shirt AND a gun in his right hand. Or the bulge becomes the gun? It’s unclear, but it’s weird to me that the bulge is noticeable and then becomes a gun in the amount of time it takes a man to turn around.
Pieroway shoots Ramsey-White in the chest. As White backed into the glass door behind him after being struck, he still held onto his gun. Pieroway again ordered, “drop the gun – don’t make me shoot you again!” Without releasing his grip on his gun, White fell forward with his right hand hitting a handrail on the stairs. The impact caused him to lose his grip on the gun, and it fell into an adjacent dumpster where it was later recovered with one (1) live round in the chamber and five (5) live rounds in the magazine.
This sounds suspiciously convenient. I looked at the scene, though and it is indeed possible that this happened the way Conley describes.
The report goes on to describe the bullet being recovered from Ramsey-White’s chest, and how the forensics match Pieroway’s account. And then, without explanation, Conley drops this in: The medical examiner also noted a second gunshot wound to Mr. White’s torso. This wound, sustained on a previous undetermined date, was unrelated to the August 21, 2012 incident. A medium-caliber, copper jacketed, lead bullet with corrosion on its surface was found lodged in the anterior aspect of the decedent’s right ileum (small intestine). The exact path of this bullet could not be determined with certainty.
So. The shot from Pieroway’s gun is the fatal wound, but Ramsey-White also just happened to have a bullet in his abdomen at the time.
I have no idea how this happened. My impression from watching doctor shows on TV is that an abdominal bullet wound is the kind of thing that requires immediate medical attention and that might prevent you from, say, running several blocks at high speed. But what do I know? (If you are a doctor and can weigh in on this, please do. Is this the kind of wound that one could have for a while without being treated? Without, like, going septic and dying?)
Here’s the other bombshell:
The investigation revealed that, at the time of the shooting, Mr. White had one firearm in his possession – a Bersa Thunder .380 Deluxe semiautomatic pistol, serial number 416458. The DNA profile obtained from the swab of the textured grip portions of the firearm was a mixture of at least two individuals, including at least one male. Burell Ramsey-White cannot be excluded as a possible contributor to this mixture.
I am assuming, because fingerprints aren’t mentioned, that Ramsey-White’s fingerprints were not on the gun. And Conley’s presentation of the DNA evidence is pretty far from conclusive. Apparently someone who was male held the gun, and Ramsey-White cannot be excluded as that male. Can Tom Menino? Dan Conley? Deval Patrick?
I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But here’s what I get from the Conley letter:
1.)The police initially lied about the traffic stop. Why?
2.) The report describes a car chase that is physically impossible.
3.)No impartial 3rd-party witness can put the gun in Burrell Ramsey-White’s hand. A witness watching from across the street during daylight hours did not see the gun. There does not appear to be any forensic evidence that Burrell Ramsey ever even held the gun.
4.)At some point, Burrell Ramsey-White was shot in the abdomen. His behavior during the foot chase is consistent with him grabbing for a gun in his waistband. It’s also consistent with hiking up baggy pants. It’s also consistent with clutching at an abdominal wound.
lt’s entirely possible that everything went down exactly as this report states and implies. It’s also possible that there are other explanations. In any case, this report seems to leave a lot of questions unanswered, and nobody appears to have cared enough to seek the answers. The media parroted Conley’s letter without even raising any of the issues I found by looking over this thing for twenty minutes.
On December 2, 2013, two weeks before Conley’s letter exonerated him of any wrongdoing in the death of Burrell Ramsey-White, Officer Pieroway was awarded a Medal of Valor by Governor Deval Patrick.