The newly released report confirms an investigation by WGBHinto circumstances of the shootout in Watertown and the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev over an 18-hour period in which the shelter in place policy was in effect. WGBH questioned if an already difficult situation for police and citizens was made worse by some law enforcement officials showing up in large numbers on the scene up without being called.
The report concludes that “within 12 hours of the initial fire fight with the two suspects, over 2,500 federal, state, and local officers converged on Watertown.”
The report further states: “As time went on, and in the absence of information, officers began to self-deploy into the field. Some officers listened to radio transmissions or heard media reports and took it upon themselves to deploy into the field rather than being assigned.” Jeffrey Ryan lives at the corner of Dexter and Laurel.
“At first light there were hundreds of cops out here. The Cambridge Police had a white van right there behind where you’re standing. I’ve never seen so many uniformed people in my life as were there throughout the day.”
The fact that self-deployment is highlighted as problematic in an otherwise positive assessment of how law enforcement responded to this emergency is not entirely surprising. It was an issue we raised more than a year ago with Cambridge Police Robert Commissioner Robert Haas who—with other local police leaders— met in Washington six months after the Marathon bombings with then Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
"And one of the issues we identified during the course of that conversation was the notion of self-deployment; this appetite, this thirst for officers wanting to get engaged over getting involved, but it also can cause an additional complication in terms of having officers respond, not having a structured hierarchy in which you can actually start to relegate or delegate people in terms of how you do things,” Haas said.
Another key finding of the MEMA report is headlined Lack of weapons discipline in Watertown. It concludes: “Weapons discipline was lacking by the multitude of law enforcement officers in the field during both the fire-fight with the two suspects near Dexter and Laurel Streets, and the standoff with the second suspect who was hiding in a winterized boat in a residential back yard.”
The MEMA report criticizes actions by some officers who fired at the boat Tsarnaev was hiding in “without appropriate authority” : “At 6:54 p.m. on April 19, 2013, an officer, without appropriate authority, fired his weapon in response to perceived movement in the boat and concern the suspect had a weapon. After this first shot, many other officers on scene opened fire at the boat, assuming they were being fired upon by the suspect. Weapons continued to be fired for several seconds even while on scene supervisors ordered a cease fire. After the shooting stopped, the suspect did not emerge. At 7:05 p.m., movement was observed in the boat.”
Curiously the report does not address what is widely believed to be true based on eyewitness accounts and police sources; that Transit Police Officer Richard Donahue was shot and seriously wounded by fellow officers; a so-called friendly fire incident that occurred as police were firing upon the surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaevwas speeding away in the stolen Mercedes SUV at the corner of Dexter and Laurel in Watertown.
Jeremy Walsh is a Cambridge EMT and firefighter who was in Watertown that night.
“That’s what made that the longest night of my career. I was in Watertown all Thursday night and all day Friday as well and maybe someone was looking over Officer Donahue because the injuries that he sustained people rarely survive those injuries.”
The MEMA report states that “additional officers arriving on scene near the conclusion of the fire-fight fired weapons toward the vicinity of the suspects, without necessarily having identified and lined up their target or appropriately aimed their weapons.”
Tsarveav has not been charged directly with the Donahue shooting, but the shooting is cited in one of 30 charges against the defendant: car-jacking resulting in serious bodily injury.
Northeastern Law professor Daniel Medwed sees that as a veiled admission of a crossfire situation and could help the defense if they request an appeal the verdict, if Tsarnaev is found guilty.
“It could potentially create newly discovered evidence for the defense that could potentially call into question some of the charges stemming just from the Watertown incident.”
While MEMA report acknowledges that law enforcement officials arriving on the scene may have used their weapons inappropriately, there is no admission that the police themselves may have put citizens lives in danger, as we heard from Andy Fehlner, a homeowner on Laurel Street:
“Something was dropping in the house and it was a sound I’d never heard before and then we picked these items up that were flying in our house and we realized pretty quickly that they were bullets. And all of them were coming in from that side of the house, so we ran in and grabbed the kids because the bullet’s were coming very close to their beds.
The MEMA report also found an incident in which an unmarked State Police vehicle was shot at by police and that Officer Donahue—wounded and barely handing on--was placed in further danger because of “congestion made by the multitude of police vehicles”. The report also found that the efforts of first responders, including police fireman and EMT, saved dozens of lives.
But WGBH will be following up with law enforcement officials for answers that the MEMA report may not have addressed fully.