Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis has ordered a review of evidence in the wrongful conviction of Stephan Cowans, following a report in the Phoenix that raised questions about possible police misconduct. Deputy Superintendent Thomas Lee, the head of the department’s homicide unit, will examine ballistics, fingerprints, and other materials from the case. That review, which Davis says shouldn’t take more than “a month or two,” will determine whether an internal-affairs investigation will begin against officers involved.
“My compelling interest is to set the record straight with the public,” said Davis in an interview with the Phoenix at Boston Police Department (BPD) headquarters. “It will be a thorough and a public airing.”
Cowans was exonerated in 2004, after spending six-and-a-half years in prison for the non-fatal shooting of a Boston police officer, Gregory Gallagher. The Phoenix recently reported on evidence suggesting that officers may have forged fingerprint documents and concealed evidence that Gallagher was not shot with his own weapon, as he testified.
Cowans, who received a $3.2 million settlement from the city in 2006, was murdered in his Randolph home this past October.
The BPD, prompted by the Phoenix article, has already looked at fingerprint documents that appear to contain forged signatures, and agrees that “the signatures appear not to be consistent,” says Davis.
Lee will attempt to get new fingerprints from the individuals whose names are signed on those fingerprint cards — the family members in the home into which the shooter ran — to determine whether the prints are really theirs, or if the documents may have been forged to cover up the true identity of the shooter, says Davis.
The department is also in the process of obtaining Gallagher’s bulletproof vest, which is now in the custody of District Attorney Dan Conley, who Davis says is cooperating with the review. A bullet still in the vest, according to the Phoenix’s reporting, was never examined. Davis called this “one of the key issues” Lee will look into.
Davis has ordered that the shooter’s DNA evidence, which helped exonerate Cowans, be entered into a database that might match it to a suspect, as well.
Attorneys who have represented Cowans welcomed news of the review. “Anything that can be done to get to the bottom of exactly what happened can only be good for the trust that we place in our criminal-justice system,” said David Hosp, who worked on Cowans’s successful 2006 civil suit against the department and the city of Boston.
In his interview with the Phoenix, Davis indicated that more officers may face punishment in the ongoing FBI investigation into activities related to Roberto Pulido, a BPD special-operations officer who this past year pled guilty to federal corruption charges.
“Nobody who was anywhere near this is having a very good time now,” says Davis. “When all is said and done, the cancer that was growing within the Boston Police Department will be removed.”
Four officers, including Pulido, have been convicted so far in that scandal. Other officers, whose names have not been made public, were allegedly involved with Pulido’s monthly drug-and-prostitute parties, as well as other illegal activities uncovered during the federal investigation. One name that has surfaced is that of Mark Vickers, the former head of ballistics who testified at Cowans’s trial. Davis would not comment on the status of the investigation into Vickers’s role.