It seems almost too ridiculous to be true. Or at least too insensitive. Especially during a time when the behavior of law enforcement is front-and-center nationwide, and with the grand jury still out on whether Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson broke the law in fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Yet it is the case, unbelievably, that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and the State Police pinned a medal yesterday on three Lynn police officers who shot and killed Denis Reynoso, a veteran of the Iraq War who was reportedly suffering from PTSD. The shooting happened last year at the victim’s apartment complex in Lynn. According to the Lynn Item:
Three Lynn police officers received the state’s highest law-enforcement honor Wednesday in recognition of their efforts in 2013 to subdue a disturbed West Lynn man who was ultimately fatally shot by one of the officers after he grabbed another officer’s gun.
Officers John Bernard, Josh Hilton and Paul Scali were awarded the Trooper George L. Hanna Award for bravery by Gov. Deval Patrick in a State House ceremony.
The Hanna Award is “the highest medal a Massachusetts law enforcement officer can receive,” according to the award website.
As for the background. The Item continues:
On Sept. 5, 2013 the officers responded to a report of disturbance on O’Callaghan Way and found Denis Reynoso, an Iraq War veteran reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, “acting irrationally,” according to the Essex district attorney’s report, which cited five witnesses.
In a letter [Police Chief] Coppinger wrote nominating the three officers for the Hanna Award, the chief described Reynoso as “very loud and threatening” as Bernard and Scali attempted to speak with him after knocking on Reynoso’s door in the King’s Lynne housing complex.
Bernard, according to the letter, started speaking to Reynoso and directed Scali to open the apartment’s rear door to admit Hilton.
“The suspect then suddenly attacked Officer Bernard. In the ensuing struggle the suspect got control of Officer Bernard’s service weapon,” Coppinger wrote.
According to the district attorney’s report, Reynoso fired Bernard’s weapon twice, deafening Scali. Hilton, according to the report, repeatedly yelled, “I am going to shoot him,” in order to warn Reynoso and Bernard, before firing a single shot.
Sound despicable enough? Are you thinking, ‘Regardless of the circumstances, why would they give these guys an award? And why would they do it now? Of all times? Well, they’re not alone. The Boston Police Department has a similar practice. From a Boston Phoenix column I wrote a few years ago:
That was the case this year, when the BPD announced the presentation of the Schroeder Brothers Memorial Medal — according to a BPD memo, “the highest medal given . . . in recognition of bravery” — to the cops who fatally shot Mark Fernandes McMullen a year and a half ago.
All we know of that incident comes from the police: On September 7, 2011, the BPD says, two plainclothes officers approached McMullen’s Hyundai Sonata near the intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and Woodcliff Street. McMullen “suddenly put the car in reverse,” the police said, dragging a woman who was climbing out of the passenger seat for several feet. The plainsclothes officers drew their guns. McMullen fled in his Sontata.
The BPD’s report goes on to recount a 17-mile, high-speed chase down I-93 and then onto Route 3, where Boston and state police tried to barricade McMullen’s car on the Rockland exit ramp. “The suspect vehicle then rammed” the cruisers, the police report says. “In fear of their lives,” two officers —Christopher R. Carr and Kenneth R. Autio — drew their guns and killed McMullen. For their actions, Carr and Autio were awarded the Schroeder medal.
And so on. The Dig has already been told by social justice activists that there will be several rallies at the State House and elsewhere in the coming weeks to amplify these issues and cast light on a lame duck governor who gives prizes in these situations. “This re-opens wounds that were starting to heal,” one organizer told the Dig, saying protests might take place as early as next week. Stay tuned …
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.