P.O. BOX 470525 • BROOKLINE MA 02447-0525
Joyce DesRoches- Golden
Jas. W. Schlesinger
Rep, Frank Smizik
April 30, 2008
Judge Patrick J. King
Dear Judge King:
The Board of Brookline PAX has engaged in a wide ranging discussion of the many issues surrounding the incident of May 24, 2007, at Town Hall involving Arthur Wellington Conquest III and others, and the subsequent events involving the Brookline Police and the Board of Selectmen. We hope that a summary of our analysis and concerns will be of interest to the members of your Committee during its deliberations.
The overarching point we would like to make is that race is still an issue, in society at large and no less in Brookline. Things happened on May 24 that shouldn’t have happened, and the Town did not respond as well as it should have. At the very least, we need to learn the right lessons from this incident and change our policies and practices where called for. In addition, we hope that as individual citizens we may learn from the work of the Committee in ways that will beneficially affect the course of any similar occurrences in the future.
Given the complexity of the events, some organization of the response is necessary. We call upon the Committee to address the following questions:
What happened at Town Hall on May 24, 2007, both on the sixth floor of Town Hall and in the lobby?
To what extent was the behavior of Town officials on the sixth floor inappropriate, and possibly racially motivated?
Could the police have responded in a more constructive manner? If so, are there implications for improving police procedures and/or training?
Was the response of the Board of Selectmen appropriate? If not, what changes should be made in Board procedures regarding citizen complaints?
Does the Board of Selectmen have the institutional capability to serve effectively as the Town’s civilian review board? If not, what alternative mechanism should we adopt?
Was Arthur Conquest wronged? If so, how can we as a community make him whole again?
Under what circumstances should written submissions by citizens (e.g., witnesses to the events in question who dispute certain aspects of the police investigative report) be required to be appended to the police report as part of the official record of the events?
What happened on May 24?
Any evaluation of the responses to the events of May 24 requires, first of all, a better understanding of what it fact transpired. Much has been written about that day, including a 30- page official police report. But some crucial details are lacking, and a number of points
are in dispute. It is probably impossible to recreate the reality of that day to everyone’s satisfaction, but we think there is much of importance that can be clarified by a skillful inquiry. Some of the questions that need to be better resolved include, in chronological order:
What actually transpired between Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Conquest?
What was said, in what tone of voice, and with what physical gestures?
On what basis did Ms. Selkoe and Ms. Dopazo each decide to call the police?
When Mr. Conquest identified himself to police in the lobby, what, precisely, transpired next? What was said and done by Officer Ford, Mr. Conquest, and others at the scene?
When Officer Ford arrived at the sixth floor, how did he and his fellow officers interact with those on the scene, including Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Dopazo? In particular, was his interaction with Mr. Kaplan consistent with his earlier interaction with Mr. Conquest?
On what basis did Ms. Dopazo opine that Mr. Conquest was the party at fault, especially given that she apparently did not witness most of what transpired between Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Conquest?
Behavior of Town officials
This incident became a police matter, it would seem, primarily because of the sensibilities of (at least) two people: Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Dopazo. According to witnesses, Mr. Kaplan emotionally and strenuously argued with Ruthann Sneider, and then with Mr. Conquest. But at some point it was he, according to his police interview, who said he felt threatened by Mr. Conquest. While this may be an unanswerable question (even, perhaps, to Mr. Kaplan), it would be useful to know to what extent his feelings were justified, and to what extent they may have been influenced by Mr. Conquest’s race. It is fair to wonder whether a white man behaving in the same manner would have caused Mr. Kaplan to seek police intervention.
Ms. Dopazo placed one of the two calls made to the police. When the police arrived, she apparently implicated Mr. Conquest, and only Mr. Conquest, as the aggressor. She seems to have made this judgment despite having not witnessed the earlier part of the confrontation between the two men. The police report is vague as to why she made this judgment. Third-party witnesses, however, lay the blame equally, if not more so, on Mr. Kaplan.
Nearly everyone involved seems to think that this matter was not worthy of police intervention. Two Town officials (Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Dopazo) determined otherwise. On what basis? The only threatening gesture mentioned in the report is a pointing finger (Mr. Conquest’s). There was a brief but heated confrontation that had run its course well before the police arrived.
Based on the testimony of all the citizens who witnessed the events in the lobby of Town Hall – in particular, those citizens not previously acquainted with Mr. Conquest – there is a real question as to the appropriateness of Officer Ford’s initial interaction with Mr. Conquest. Officer Ford seems to have deemed it necessary to deal with Mr. Conquest in a very aggressive manner, which in turn upset Mr. Conquest and interfered with his ability to relate his version of earlier events. It is easy to speculate that, if Officer Ford had approached Mr. Conquest in a calmer manner, Mr. Conquest would have been forthcoming with his narrative. So the question arises, why did Officer Ford choose the approach that he did? To what extent was he responding according to his training? If he was responding “according to the book,” then should police procedures that govern this kind of situation be reviewed? If Officer Ford is deemed to have overreacted, possibly because of Mr. Conquest’s race, then is additional sensitivity training of Brookline Police called for?
Another question that needs to be answered is why the other citizens in the lobby were not questioned by police at that time. Several, if not all, of them testify that they were ready and willing to explain what happened on the sixth floor – especially that it was indeed all over – and find it unaccountable that the police showed no interest in hearing from them.
Finally, there is a considerable contrast between the police approach in the lobby and the manner in which they interacted with the Town officials they encountered on the sixth floor. There is no suggestion in the report that the police felt a need here to “control the situation;” in fact, their interaction with the people on the sixth floor seems to have been friendly and conversational. It would seem there was an assumption that Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Dopazo were inherently accurate sources of information as to the earlier events. In contrast, the interactions in the lobby were more aggressive, and the bystander witnesses were not questioned. Why such a disparity in the way the police conducted their investigation in the two locations?
Response of the Board of Selectmen
In Brookline the Selectmen serve as our civilian review board. This case was, and continues to be, a test of that body’s ability to fulfill its obligations in that regard.
It seems to us that a careful reading of the police report by any independent reviewer would generate many important questions, to several of which we have drawn attention in this letter. It has to be a matter of concern that only one selectman, Gil Hoy, attempted to raise any of these questions, and that they were met with seeming indifference by the other three selectmen present. The three-member majority not only turned a deaf ear to the issues raised by Selectman Hoy, they reached their decisions without the benefit of testimony from anyone other than the police themselves.
It is an historical truism that few organizations are able to competently investigate themselves when facing charges of misconduct from outside the organization. This is certainly true of police departments in general, and there is little reason to expect that the Brookline Police Department would be different in this regard, in spite of its generally excellent and well-deserved reputation. It is precisely in this kind of case that outside oversight is essential.
So there is a fundamental question that must be answered: Did the Brookline Board of Selectmen adequately fulfill its obligations in its review of this case, and if not, why not? Was it a failure of this particular board, an event unlikely to be repeated? Or was a failure (if any) predictably based on the structural relationship between the Police Department and the Board of Selectmen?
What is owed to Arthur Conquest?
Finally, a most difficult judgment must be made as to whether the Town of Brookline, intentionally or accidentally, has caused unnecessary harm to Mr. Conquest. If the answer to that question is yes, as we seriously suspect it to be, then the Committee needs to make some recommendation that attempts to heal the wound – to Mr. Conquest personally, and to the reputation of our Town as a community that holds high the standards of justice and respect for all its citizens.
Note concerning Marty Rosenthal’s relation to this letter
Finally, please note that the initial decision to prepare and submit this letter was taken by the Brookline PAX board in the absence of PAX co-chair Marty Rosenthal, a member of your Committee, who was out of town. Upon learning of the board’s intent, Marty expressed discomfort with the likelihood of a perceived conflict between his co-chairship of PAX and his membership on your Committee and made it clear that he wished to be strictly excluded from any communication concerning the letter prior to its submission. The PAX board's final decision to submit it was therefore made in knowledge of, but in spite of, Marty's concerns.
Co-chair (with Marty Rosenthal)