A Boston woman whose mentally ill son was fatally shot by police officers is filing a federal civil rights suit against the city.
The strange and tragic case has its roots in a 911 call placed out of concern. When Hope Coleman’s 31-year old son Terrence refused to come inside on a cold day, she dialed suburban Dorchester’s emergency services.
Speaking to an operator, she specifically asked that law enforcement not be involved. The concern, she said, was medical – Terrence J. Coleman suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. She was afraid that an aggressive police presence might agitate her boy, who wasn’t normally violent.
But the operator on-call told Hope that city policy was strict: if medical technicians were being dispatched off a 911 call, they’d be accompanied by police.
Later, Coleman learned that the dispatcher on duty, Andrea Michalowski, had entered a code indicated that Terrence was violent or posed a public danger.
The Boston Globe provides an excerpt from the suit, which claims the call entry escalated the contact before it was ever initiated.
“By mandating that the BPD respond to all calls concerning persons who suffer from mental illness, the emergency services system that the City of Boston has established and operates perpetuates discriminatory stereotypes that such persons are violent, and it endangers such persons by inaccurately suggesting to responders that most persons with mental health disabilities pose imminent threats of physical harm,” claims the filing.
Speaking in a Wednesday interview, Hope Coleman said she’s lost 50 pounds since her son was killed in 2016.
“I miss my son,” she said through tears. “I’m suffering. I’m suffering because I shouldn’t have called for help. If I hadn’t called, he would be here.”
An investigation spearheaded by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office cleared responding officer Garrett Boyle of any wrongdoing. Law enforcement officers, according to studies republished by Vox.com and The Washington Post, are rarely held accountable for questionable conduct in the line of duty.
Of the thousands of fatal police shootings between 2005 and 2015, writes the Post, only 54 offices were ever charged with manslaughter or murder. Many found guilty still bargained down their sentences and wound up serving no prison time at all.
But the Boston Police Department, refusing to comment on the pending litigation, stands by Boyle – they, along with the officer and several EMTs, say Terrence J. Coleman attacked first responders with a 5-inch serrated knife.
Officers purportedly wrestled with Coleman “but began to lose the ability to control him.”
Then Boyle fired twice, hitting the 31-year old man twice in the abdomen.
Hope Coleman says the accusations levied against her now-deceased son don’t make sense. The altercation described by Boyle was supposed to have taken place outside the apartment, but the serrated knife officers recovered was retrieved directly from the kitchen.
The complaint names Boston Police Commissioner William Evans as a defendant, along with the city’s chief of Emergency Medical Services division, James Hooley.
“By making statements that Terrence threatened EMTs with a knife, and by telling the media that the BPD officers had no choice but to use deadly force against him, which they knew were false allegations, Defendants Evans and Hooley, jointly and in concert, engaged in conduct that was extreme, outrageous, and beyond all possible bounds of decency,” says the suit.