ON INVESTIGATIVE FINDINGS IN THE JUNE 18, 2008, ARRESTAND JUNE 29, 2008, DEATH OF DAVID WOODMAN
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today delivered the following remarks on the investigation into the June 18, 2008, arrest and June 29, 2008, death of David Woodman:
On June 18, 2008 officers from the Boston Police Department arrested David Woodman for public drinking following the celebration of the Celtics’ final game victory. The arrest occurred near the intersection of Brookline Avenue and the Fenway. Mr. Woodman suffered a cardiac arrhythmia during the arrest and he was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for treatment. Mr. Woodman died in the hospital 11 days later on June 29, 2008. Under Massachusetts law, it is my duty to direct an investigation of Mr. Woodman’s death and determine whether criminal charges should be pursued against any police officer for conduct related to the arrest and subsequent death of Mr. Woodman.
Detectives from the Boston Police Homicide Unit were directed in this investigation by senior prosecutors from my office, while the Chief Medical Examiner, representing his independent agency, provided the medical documentation, opinions, and conclusions that were pivotal in this case. This death investigation was diligent, thorough, and fully documented. It is undertaken objectively and my final determination is made independently. Earlier today, I met with Mr. Woodman’s parents and their attorney to inform them of our findings.
As a result of a thorough, objective and independent review of the facts, I have concluded that no criminal charges are warranted in this case. The facts are clear and the medical evidence overwhelming that Mr. Woodman’s death was the result of natural causes – specifically a serious, pre-existing heart condition. The evidence is also clear that officers of the Boston Police Department did not use excessive force in effectuating the lawful arrest of Mr. Woodman for public drinking, but only degree of force necessary to handcuff him.
A death of a person in police custody deserves the closest independent scrutiny, and I am confident that my office and the Chief Medical Examiner provided that independent scrutiny in order to determine the facts of this incident. The Chief Medical Examiner conducted a thorough autopsy, consulted with outside medical experts in cardiology and neuropathology, and closely reviewed the medical records of Mr. Woodman’s treatment on the night of June 18 and during his hospital stay. After collecting and considering all of the relevant medical facts, the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Mr. Woodman’s death was a result of natural causes. The medical facts are clear: no person caused the death of Mr. Woodman.
The Chief Medical Examiner determined that Mr. Woodman during his arrest suffered a cardiac arrhythmia – a disruption of the electrical activity in the human heart. Mr. Woodman was born with a heart condition that required nearly immediate corrective surgery. The successful surgery allowed Mr. Woodman to live a relatively normal life, but his heart was not normal. It was twice the size of a normal heart. As a result of his heart condition and resulting enlarged heart, Mr. Woodman was at constant risk of cardiac arrhythmia and was advised to avoid certain physical activities. The medical evidence is clear and is not contradicted: on June 18, Mr. Woodman suffered a cardiac arrhythmia as a natural result of his pre-existing heart condition.
The cardiac arrhythmia led to a predictable and serious chain of medical events: Mr. Woodman’s heart stopped functioning properly, blood did not flow to his brain, the brain was therefore deprived of sufficient oxygen, and serious brain damage resulted. Hospital treatment revived Mr. Woodman. A second cardiac arrhythmia occurred on June 29 while Mr. Woodman was still at the hospital. Hospital medical personnel provided immediate treatment that was unable to revive Mr. Woodman’s heart.
Our inquiry also considered the possibility that the officers used excessive force that did not cause Mr. Woodman’s death. The evidence on this point is also clear: no officer used excessive force in arresting Mr. Woodman. For this conclusion I have relied on the medical evidence, the conclusions and opinions of the Chief Medical Examiner, the tape recorded statements of the civilian witnesses, the tape recorded interviews of the police officers present at the scene, and the tape recorded interviews of firefighters and ambulance personnel who arrived on the scene.
The statements of police officers and civilian witnesses, most of whom are friends or acquaintances of Mr. Woodman, are in agreement. No officer used a weapon of any sort in arresting Mr. Woodman. No officer used a baton or chemical spray. No officer struck, punched, slapped, kicked, or used a chokehold on Mr. Woodman.
The medical evidence corroborates the statements of the police officers and the civilians. The autopsy documents that Mr. Woodman suffered no fractures, no injury to an internal organ, no penetrating injury, no neck injury, no chest injury, and no brain injury associated with blunt force trauma. The medical evidence produces no finding that suggests excessive force.
In summary, the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Mr. Woodman died of natural causes associated with cardiac arrhythmia that resulted from a pre-existing heart condition. No police officer caused Mr. Woodman’s death and no police officer used excessive force in arresting Mr. Woodman. There will, therefore, be no criminal charges in this case.
Because the investigation is now complete, I can describe the events that led to Mr. Woodman’s arrest and the specific actions of Mr. Woodman and the police officers as the arrest occurred.
On the night of June 17, Mr. Woodman and some friends gathered at his Boylston Street apartment to watch Game Six of the NBA finals. Mr. Woodman’s friends report that he drank several beers. At halftime, Mr. Woodman walked with his friends to Boston Billiards on Brookline Avenue and continued drinking at that bar. The group left Boston Billiards after the Celtics’ victory, and walked with the intent to return to Mr. Woodman’s apartment.
As he walked with his friends, Mr. Woodman carried a clear plastic cup of beer taken out of Boston Billiards. The Boston Police Department’s operation plan for crowd control and public safety included several squads of officers deployed in the Fenway and Kenmore Square. Mr. Woodman walked near a squad of nine uniformed officers at the intersection of Brookline Avenue and the Fenway.
Mr. Woodman made one or more statements to the officers as he walked past. Officers noticed Mr. Woodman’s clear plastic cup of beer. One officer told Mr. Woodman to stop; Mr. Woodman ignored the order and kept walking away. Officers repeated the command and Mr. Woodman again did not comply. Additional commands went unheeded until one officer approached Mr. Woodman, took hold of his arm, and spoke directly to him. Mr. Woodman took a sip from his cup and threw it to the ground.
The officer attempted to place Mr. Woodman under arrest for drinking in public. As he reached for Mr. Woodman’s hand to handcuff him, Mr. Woodman grabbed a nearby wrought iron fence. The fence is located on Brookline Avenue and encircles the property of Emmanuel College. Mr. Woodman used both hands to grip the fence and prevent handcuffing. Two officers attempted to pull Mr. Woodman away from the fence; one officer grabbed Mr. Woodman’s left hand and the other officer grabbed the right hand. He resisted those efforts and refused to let go of the fence.
Several officers working together finally loosened Mr. Woodman’s grasp on the fence. They brought him to the ground and handcuffed him in a prone position. They used a level and type of force appropriate to the resistance they encountered, and they complied with the Boston Police Department’s rules and procedures in doing so. While he was face down, resisting arrest, being handcuffed he suffered what the Chief Medical Examiner described as superficial abrasions to his face. Those abrasions resulted from Mr. Woodman’s face scraping against the pavement.
Mr. Woodman’s friends, who had also been drinking, were in close proximity to the officers’ efforts to restrain an intoxicated suspect who was resisting arrest. To be sure that the situation did not escalate further and in accordance with arrest procedures, the officers ordered those individuals to move away from the scene.
Once Mr. Woodman was handcuffed, the officers attempted to get him to his feet and realized he could not stand under his own power. They returned Mr. Woodman to the ground and the officers, who knew he had been drinking but did not know of his medical condition, believed him to be intoxicated. They positioned him on his side in the event that he vomited. Within one or two minutes, they noticed that he was not breathing and had no pulse, and they immediately took action.
The officers removed his handcuffs. One officer, who had been trained and certified as an emergency medical technician, began to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Another performed chest compressions. A third called for an ambulance over his radio while three additional officers ran on foot in the direction of an ambulance they had seen a short time earlier. Prompted by the sight of the running officers, two off-duty firefighters responded and offered assistance in rendering first aid. Finally, officers on-scene flagged down another ambulance as it drove by.
Paramedics on board took over life support efforts and transported Mr. Woodman to Beth Israel. It was during this ambulance ride that paramedics administered an EKG and realized Mr. Woodman had suffered a cardiac arrhythmia. Mr. Woodman remained at Beth Israel until June 29, when he suffered a second cardiac arrhythmia. He died as a result of this second medical event.
I am fully aware of the importance of this investigation to the Woodman family. I am fully aware of its importance to the officers involved. I am familiar with the extensive coverage this case received in the media and I know that many will look to our investigation for answers. For this reason, I will provide a copy of the entire investigative file to the Woodman family and I will also make that file available to the media to ensure the transparency of this process.
While we as human beings understand the powerful emotions that surround any tragic death, we as prosecutors must make our charging decisions solely on the basis of the facts and the law. The cause of David Woodman’s death and the circumstances of his arrest have been clearly established – factually, medically, and legally – and do not support criminal charges.
ON INVESTIGATIVE FINDINGS IN THE JUNE 18, 2008, ARRESTAND JUNE 29, 2008, DEATH OF DAVID WOODMAN