Newspaper: Untrained officers fired pellets

Updated: October 27, 2004, 7:28 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- An independent panel led by a former U.S. attorney will investigate the death of a woman who was shot by police using pellet guns to subdue a crowd of rowdy baseball fans.

Victoria Snelgrove
Snelgrove

Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole announced the investigation Tuesday. Victoria Snelgrove, an Emerson College junior, was killed last week when she was hit in the eye by a pepper gas pellet during a raucous street celebration that began after the Red Sox won the American League pennant.

The plastic balls, fired from guns similar to paintball guns, are meant to help police control large groups without causing injury.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that two of the officers who fired pepper balls into the crowd had not been trained to use the weapons.

The manufacturer of the guns, FN Herstal, did train 29 Boston officers to use the weapons, said Bucky Mills, the company's deputy director of law enforcement sales, marketing, and training. Mills said officers are repeatedly told never to target a person's neck or head.

The Globe quoted two anonymous sources, including an officer involved with police weapons training and an individual briefed on the investigation, as saying Deputy Superintendent Robert O'Toole, who is not related to the commissioner, fired at a group of students who were climbing the girders behind Fenway Park's left field wall.

Robert O'Toole, who was not trained to use the guns, then handed his weapon to patrolman Richard Stanton, who refused to fire it because he also had not been trained, the sources said.

O'Toole handed another gun to patrolman Samil Silta, who also told O'Toole he was not trained to use it but fired into the crowd anyway, the Globe reported. Another officer who fired into the crowd, patrolman Rochefort Milien, was trained to use the guns, the sources said.

Robert O'Toole has not responded to repeated calls by The Associated Press seeking comment. His lawyer, Timothy M. Burke, gave the Globe a statement saying O'Toole was "personally devastated that the actions of the Boston police played any role in causing this tragedy and bringing such pain to her family."

No telephone number is listed for Silta, and the department and the police officers union would not supply a number.

The commissioner said the independent commission will be headed by former U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern, who prosecuted mob figures and pursued a tax-evasion case against former state House Speaker Charles Flaherty.

Kathleen O'Toole was appointed commissioner in February, just days after riots following the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory in which one man was killed. She ordered an investigation that found police leaders did not put enough officers on the street that night. She reassigned some police brass and apologized to the city.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press