A Massachusetts state judge ruled Friday that 13 Boston police officers had used excessive force in severely beating a handcuffed motorist who had led them on a car chase but offered no resistance when he was arrested.
The case, which invited comparison to the Rodney G. King incident except that the victim was white, was brought by the Massachusetts attorney general in a civil suit, which alleged the civil rights of motorist John Smith were violated.
Smith was hit repeatedly with nightsticks and fists while lying on the ground handcuffed after police caught him near his Brookline, Mass., home in the early morning of May 12, 1988.
Smith later admitted he was under the influence of crack and driving erratically the night he was arrested. But he said he did not resist arrest, and witnesses corroborated his story.
Neighbors who saw the beating asked a resident to bring it to the attention of a friend in the attorney general’s office.
The not guilty verdicts returned in the trial of four Los Angeles police officers in the King case ignited the worst race riots of this century.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Hiller B. Zobel said seeking parallels with a “superficially similar” situation was useless but Boston Police Assn. attorney Frank McGee was only one of many involved in the case who drew a comparison.
“I just hope the police community doesn’t go out and burn down the city because they’re upset about the decision,” McGee said.
Zobel ordered the 13 officers to refrain from using excessive force while detaining, apprehending or arresting individuals or failing to report when fellow officers do so.
Any violation of the order constitutes a criminal offense punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and 2 1/2 years in jail. If bodily injury results from a violation, the penalty ranges up to $10,000 and 10 years in jail.
Criminal charges were never brought against the officers, who waived a jury trial. Unlike the case against the Los Angeles officers, the Smith trial was a civil matter, where a preponderance of the evidence is all that is needed to prevail.
“Even before the Rodney King case it was very hard to bring an excessive force prosecution against police officers,” said prosecutor Stanley Eichner.