Spin city

The BPD is using its online presence not to inform citizens but to demonize them. Just ask the kids whose birthday party the cops busted up in roxbury a few weeks ago
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 2, 2006

BIRTHDAY BUST: Lashanda Brown’s month-old daughter was hit with pepper spray by a BPD officer who stormed into a birthday party to arrest Jerome Goffigan.
Mayor Tom Menino and the brass at the Boston Police Department (BPD) would have you believe they are actively improving communication between cops and city residents. The BPD launched a blog in November, and has since added another Web site to disseminate information to neighborhood watch groups. In June, Menino bragged that the city had joined a Citizen Alert network to continually update residents about crime trends in their area.

But after all the boasting and press releases, it’s up to BPD personnel to actually follow through — and that ain’t happening.

Residents of both high-crime and low-crime neighborhoods say they would like to know about crime trends in their area. Specifically, they want to know where people are “shooting, stealing, and messing up stuff,” in the words of Roxbury’s Franklin Miller, a 33-year-old father of one and Wendover Street–neighborhood crime-watch activist.

Residents of many other cities can use detailed crime-mapping tools on police departments’ Web sites to track recent incidents in their neighborhoods. But that’s not the case in Boston. Nor are the BPD’s initiatives providing citizens with that information, despite what city press releases say.

The department, instead, is using its online presence to spread highly selective information meant to make the department look good and, in some cases, to make Boston residents look bad.

That’s what seems to have happened a few weeks ago, following an incident at a child’s birthday party in a courtyard on Sonoma Street, in Roxbury.

At around 7:45 pm on Sunday, July 16, that party turned chaotic when a BPD officer, Jarrod Gero, attempted to frisk 24-year-old Jerome Goffigan. Minutes later, according to the official police report, 18 more officers were at the scene. Goffigan was charged with six crimes, ranging from marijuana possession to assaulting an officer, and an emergency medical team was dispatched to treat several partygoers for pepper-spray burns (including the month-old daughter of 21-year-old Lashanda Brown, who had thrown the party for her four-year-old son).

The next day, the BPD launched a public-relations offensive, distorting, if not outright fabricating, the events that took place in order to glorify the officer and demonize the partygoers. It worked: people throughout the Boston area learned, via the Herald, that a huge crowd of ungrateful, cop-hating, thug-loving Roxbury residents beat up a police officer who was trying to apprehend a dangerous criminal. Whether or not it happened that way, however, is another story.

Different versions
On Monday, July 17, the afternoon after the incident, the BPD posted a blog entry titled ROOKIE COP ATTACKED MAKING ARREST. According to this account, Officer Jarrod Gero approached four men behind a building posted with NO TRESPASSING bills. The men scattered in different directions, with Goffigan “clinching his pants pocket as he ran.” Gero chased Goffigan, “believing him to be armed,” and apprehended him in the courtyard, where Goffigan refused to be frisked. “A violent struggle ensued,” the blog says, “when the suspect punched the officer in the face.”

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On the evening of October 31, 1994, 12-year-old Jerome Goffigan was on his family’s front porch helping his nine-year-old brother, Jermaine, count his Halloween candy when gang members opened fire, missing their target and killing Jermaine.

As if this, and his mother’s subsequent emotional difficulties, weren’t enough for young Jerome Goffigan to deal with, BPD detectives then convinced him that he recognized their suspect, Donnell Johnson, as the shooter. Jerome testified at the trial, helping to convict an innocent man who was exonerated six years later. Then, when police nabbed the two people actually responsible for killing his brother, it was Jerome’s own testimony identifying Johnson that made prosecution unlikely, leading to plea deals for short prison terms.

The City of Boston recently sold the rights for commercial development on what is now Jermaine Goffigan Park.

You can imagine that Goffigan’s family and friends, as well as the community at large, might not take well to BPD mistreatment, if, in fact, that’s what took place on Sonoma Street last month.

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