Framed?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 28, 2010

But it turns out that Vickers was basing his conclusion only on casings and bullet fragments found where the shooter would have picked up Gallagher’s dropped weapon. Incredibly, nobody, including Vickers, ever examined either of the two bullets that actually hit Gallagher.

Vickers was named head of the ballistics unit, despite having received no special training since being transferred there, from the gang unit, three years earlier. He was removed from ballistics in 2004 amid concerns of mishandling evidence and, according to sources, charges of drug use.

“He’s had some problems over the years, connected with drugs and alcohol,” says the former high-ranking officer. “They moved him in there [to ballistics] to get him off of the street.”

Vickers’s name also surfaced in the 2006 federal trial of former BPD officer Roberto Pulido, who ultimately pled guilty to charges of providing protection for a drug shipment. Reportedly, testimony in that trial included claims that Vickers made money throwing gambling parties for officers, in competition with drug parties run by Pulido. (The BPD says that it is looking into those accusations.)

Following the Gallagher shooting, Vickers testified that all the shots fired came from Gallagher’s Glock.

But, even according to his own notes, reports, and testimony, Vickers never examined either of the two bullets that actually struck Gallagher — the two that, according to the witness, were fired from the shooter’s own weapon, before he began firing the Glock that Gallagher dropped.

One of those two bullets struck Gallagher in the left buttock. The emergency medical technicians did not find an exit wound, meaning that the bullet remained in him. It should have been retrieved during his surgery at Boston Medical Center, and given to the BPD ballistics team as evidence.

Vickers’s notes make no record of that bullet, and the medical record of Gallagher’s treatment is missing from the scores of documents, covering all aspects of the investigation of the shooting, provided by the BPD to Cowans’s attorneys in his civil lawsuit. The BPD, citing medical privacy reasons, would not even tell the Phoenix whether the department had a medical record of Gallagher’s treatment.

Police officers, including Gallagher, testified at Cowans’s trial that the buttock wound was a “through-and-through” — that the bullet passed through and exited Gallagher’s left thigh. This contradicts the EMTs’ report and testimony. Nor did the bullet turn up among the ballistics evidence documented by police in the thoroughly searched yard.

The second bullet, which struck Gallagher in the lower back, was stopped by his bulletproof vest. Although the vest was forwarded to the BPD ballistics unit, with instructions to cut it open to examine the bullet, Vickers left it alone. Not only do Vickers’ notes and reports from the case never mention the second bullet, but at Cowans’s trial, the bullet was still lodged in the vest, and sources tell the Phoenix that it remains there today. District Attorney Conley denied a Phoenix request to examine this evidence, to determine whether the bullet is the same type and brand as the department-issued ammunition used in Gallagher’s Glock that day.

The failure to remove and examine the bullet — particularly in what was an extremely high-profile case of a cop shooting — baffles local law-enforcement officials, including one former Suffolk County prosecutor, who, when shown the Vickers reports and testimony, expressed shock that this central piece of ballistics evidence was never examined. One former BPD officer tells the Phoenix it is “an unbelievable oversight — or something worse.”

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