Boston body-camera videos prompt probes into alleged police brutality during George Floyd unrest

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The head of Boston’s largest police union accused a defense attorney who handed over videos allegedly showing officers using excessive force during demonstrations in June following the death of George Floyd of "stitching together" a narrative, arguing the "real enemy" that night were "cop-hating anarchists" who "showed up to a peaceful protest armed for violence and looking for a fight."

An unidentified police sergeant was placed on administrative leave after the videos were published online Friday, and both Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins launched separate investigations. 

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The videos, which were edited down from hours of officer-worn body camera footage from early June 1, showed officers allegedly shoving nonviolent demonstrators to the ground, dousing people and crowds with pepper spray, and discussing arrest quotas. One officer appeared to contemplate the possibility he had hit someone with his police vehicle while driving through a crowd.

"I have placed a sergeant involved in this incident on administrative leave and I will take any additional action as necessary at the conclusion of the investigation," Gross said in a statement. "I want to encourage people to bring these matters to our attention so that we can investigate them appropriately."

"The body camera footage we’ve seen so far is disturbing and inexcusable," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey tweeted. "We need a full investigation into what happened that night to hold accountable anyone who acted unlawfully.

Carl Williams, a defense attorney based in Roxbury, Mass., provided hours of body camera footage to The Appeal, which describes itself as a "nonpartisan, mission-driven media organization covering the issues that keep everyday people up at night." The outlet published several videos Friday. Williams is representing several demonstrators arrested overnight from late May 31 to early June 1.  

Eoin Higgins, the reporter who obtained the footage and covered the story for The Appeal, has repeatedly stated on Twitter that the videos were not leaked and that he was the one who edited them together. He said Williams obtained the body camera footage as part of his discovery on a case defending demonstrators. 

A firefighter stands near a police cruiser that was set on fire after clashes with protesters after a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis Police custody, in Boston, Massachusetts on May 31, 2020. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

In a statement published Saturday, Boston Police Patrolmen's Association President Larry Calderone accused the defense attorney who provided the videos to the news outlet of "stitching together several contextually deficient video snippets" to falsely portray police as "the real enemy in the city that night."

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Calderone said that during the same night of demonstrations, 30 police officers went to the hospital and "hundreds more" were treated for trauma and injuries after being pelted with a seemingly endless stream of rocks, bottles, batteries, bricks, bleach, urine and kerosene.

Demonstrators walk in front of a police car that has been lit on fire during a protest in response to the recent death of George Floyd on May 31, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. Protests spread across cities in the U.S., and in other parts of the world in response to the death of African American George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

"The reality-altering effort and insult aside, the fact remains, the violence and hatred perpetrated against our officers and our city that night will forever be engrained in the minds and memories of our officers and their families because of the damage done by cop-hating anarchists and agitators who showed up to a peaceful protest armed for violence and looking for a fight," Calderone said.

Since the police union’s response, Williams and the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association have engaged in a back and forth on Twitter. Williams appeared to defend anarchists.

"Get ya' facts right. I didn't stitch any snippets together. Folks from the media did all the snippet stitching," the attorney wrote. "And why do you all hate anarchists so much? Do you just think having a prejudice against specific political beliefs is acceptable?"

The police union shared a video of its own from the night in question that appeared to show a police cruiser slowly moving through a crowd while demonstrators surrounded it.

The tweet said: "In his rush to denigrate and disparage police officers, @carltonwilliams conveniently forgot to include the exculpatory video evidence that clearly exonerates the #BPD Officer he seeks to incriminate."

A photo released by the union showed a burnt-out police cruiser. It was shared in a tweet showing what cops are saying about May 31 and quoted an unidentified officer who recalled how demonstrators "surrounded my cruiser and tried to light me on fire. Been a cop for a long time. But, never did I fear for my life the way I did that night."

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Thousands marched peacefully through Boston in several protests on May 31. But as the marches ended around 9 p.m., protesters and police clashed. People plundered stores, smashed windows, scrawled graffiti and set fire to a police cruiser.

The National Guard was called in. Fifty-three people were arrested, about half of them city residents, according to the Associated Press. Twenty-one police cruisers were damaged. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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