BOSTON (AP) – Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole promised a wide-ranging and exhaustive investigation into the death of a college student shot by police with a pepper-spray pellet during an unruly Red Sox celebration.

O’Toole said two separate investigations into the Oct. 21 death of 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove will examine whether police had adequate training in the use of the compressed-air guns that fired the pellets, whether the guns worked properly and whether police made bad decisions as they tried to bring a rowdy crowd under control.

Snelgrove died hours after a pellet fired by police penetrated her eye socket. Police used the pepper guns after some fans in a crowd estimated at 80,000 began hurling bottles, setting fires and rocking cars after the Red Sox defeated their archrivals, the New York Yankees, to win the American League pennant.

“We need to consider the possibility of human failure, product failure,” O’Toole said in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors Friday. “We have to consider every possibility, and it may be a combination of many factors.”

An internal police group is investigating Snelgrove’s death, and earlier this week, O’Toole announced that former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern has agreed to head an independent investigative panel. Janice Howe, a former state prosecutor and an expert on product liability cases, has also been named to Stern’s commission.

The manufacturer of the guns, FN Herstal, said 29 Boston police officers were trained to use the weapons.

But media reports have raised questions about whether the police commander in charge of crowd control that night – Deputy Superintendent Robert O’Toole Jr. – and other officers had proper training.

Bucky Mills, deputy director of law enforcement sales, marketing, and training for the company, said that during training, officers are repeatedly told never to intentionally aim at the neck or head. But at least two other fans besides Snelgrove were struck in the face by the pellets.

The commissioner, who is not related to Robert O’Toole, said Stern’s group will also investigate how police fired the guns. Some witnesses have said several officers – including Robert O’Toole – appeared to fire randomly into the crowd.

“I don’t know whether they fired randomly or not – that’s something we really need to look at,” she said, adding that investigators expect to get copies of video shot by television stations that night in an attempt to piece together the events.

Robert O’Toole’s attorney, Timothy Burke, has said O’Toole received training in the use of the gun during a five-day seminar he and other police officers attended in preparation for the Democratic National Convention, held in Boston in July.

Kathleen O’Toole said the guns were highly touted by officers inside and outside of the department as a non-lethal weapon used for crowd control during unruly gatherings.

“Certainly, none of the commanders ever expected that this device would cause the ultimate result,” she said.

The commissioner said the investigation will also look at the decisions Robert O’Toole made that night as the senior ranking tactical commander on the scene.

“Some of the questions that will be asked is he had to make some split-second decisions – How far away were the other public order platoons? Could they have come to help? He apparently … made a decision to quickly assemble a group of his highly trained special operations officers to assist him going in,” O’Toole said.

Kathleen O’Toole promoted Robert O’Toole to deputy superintendent two months after she took over as police commissioner in February. Robert O’Toole had been demoted by former police Commissioner Francis Roache following an episode during the 1986 World Series, when a local television crew filmed him slapping a fan after he was taken into protective custody for being intoxicated.

“I consider him a professional and personal friend … but at the end of the day, I’m the police commissioner, and the fact that I know him professionally and personally is irrelevant,” O’Toole said. “He will be treated like everybody else.”



Editors’ Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues. She can be reached at dlavoie(at)ap.org

AP-ES-10-29-04 1627EDT



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