A guard has been posted at gang unit headquarters since a fatal shooting. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
City police have been on high alert and taking unusual safety precautions since Saturday, when the death of a 19-year-old in a shootout with gang unit officers sparked threats of retaliation.
Since Sunday, an armored truck from the department’s SWAT team has been parked outside the gang unit headquarters in Dorchester, with an officer in protective gear standing sentry.
Officers who patrol the city’s toughest neighborhoods have been ordered to ride tandem until further notice, barred from driving alone because that practice is now viewed as too risky.
Gang unit officers have been advised to put untraceable license plates on their personal cars and are being told by supervisors to be vigilant as they go in and out of their headquarters, according to law enforcement officials with knowledge of the precautions.
The tension arises from a fatal shooting Saturday night, in which three Boston officers and a state trooper chased Manuel DaVeiga on a Dorchester street after approaching him at a makeshift memorial to a slain teenager. The teenagers and the police officers fired on one another, and DaVeiga was killed.
Prosecutors say DaVeiga fired first, with a .45-caliber handgun, and then shot himself in the head after being wounded in the hand, hip, and chest by police. But some community activists say many residents are skeptical and are urging a complete investigation that will describe what happened that night.
Anger over the shooting began almost immediately and has apparently not been assuaged by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s assertion that DaVeiga shot himself.
Immediately after the shooting, an angry crowd gathered at the scene and yelled threats at officers, police said. Since then, the department has received more threats of retaliation, though police declined to be specific.
“We are taking those threats very seriously,’’ Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, said yesterday. “Unfortunately, such threats are not an unusual occurrence after a traumatic incident . . . Officer safety is paramount, and the department will take any precautions necessary to ensure the protection of officers.’’
The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, who runs the Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester, said he plans to hold a press conference this morning urging those concerned by the shooting, particularly teenagers, to tone down their rhetoric and remain calm. As the summer approaches, he said, it is imperative that city police and neighborhood leaders work together to keep down tensions on the street.
“The community must stand with the police and communicate that one does not shoot at cops, and one should not talk about or threaten, in whatever idle fashion, about shooting’’ police, Rivers said.
Rivers said he has grown concerned about the threats after speaking with young people on the street.
“Certain young people have been toying with the rhetoric of shooting at cops,’’ Rivers said. “Some feel that the shooting incident was unjustified, that the young man had mental illness so he should not have been shot.’’
DaVeiga, who according to court records was associated with a gang, had been diagnosed with several psychological conditions, including bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, and post-traumatic stress syndrome, according to court records. He had often dealt with depression and anger, according to the records, but his family has said he would not kill himself.
Driscoll said that witnesses at the scene saw DaVeiga shoot himself.
“Several community member witness accounts, autopsy findings, and specific physical evidence all indicate that Mr. DaVeiga shot himself in the head,’’ she said. “Unfortunately, I’m unable to get more specific at this time.
“But we are committed to a transparent investigation, and when appropriate we will provide more details.’’
Jake Wark, spokesman for Conley, whose office is conducting the investigation along with city homicide detectives, said it is difficult to say when the investigation will be finished.
“We can’t promise a timetable with so much evidence from so many sources,’’ he said. “The family, the community, and the officers involved deserve a full, meticulous investigation.’’
Many people are eager to learn more details about what exactly happened in the moments before DaVeiga’s death, said the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, pastor of Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester.
“They’re waiting to hear full disclosure of what took place on that particular day,’’ he said. “It is important that there is this transparency, because it only strengthens the police and community relations.’’
Driscoll said Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who met with neighborhood leaders earlier this week, has encouraged members of his command staff to find ways to ease tensions.
“The vast majority in the affected neighborhoods are good people,’’ she said. “Officers are aware of that, and we’re keeping that uppermost in our minds.’’
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / April 9, 2010