After months of pressure, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett has completed his investigation into the Sept. 5, 2013 killing of Army Specialist Denis Reynoso at his home in Lynn. Yesterday, he released his finding that police were justified in killing him. His findings could be summed up as, “Sure, he hadn’t committed any crime, and sure, the police came into his home without a warrant, but he was acting all cray-cray, so we’re good.”
DA Blodgett’s elaborate work of speculative fiction provides several specific reasons making it justifiable for armed intruders to have killed Spc. Reynoso in his home.
1) Property managers had reported a man “screaming and acting irrationally”, “screaming at passing cars while shirtless and punching his chest.”
Let’s assume that that’s completely true. If it is, then it’s not a crime. It’s dumb, and disruptive, but not criminal. A sensible member of the public might figure, Wow, here we’ve got somebody who really needs to be calmed down, and maybe gotten to a hospital for medication and psychiatric treatment. Here in America, the property managers simply called the police.
2) A “postal worker” identified the shirtless man, possibly mistakenly, as Reynoso.
He also describes him as “yelling and irrational”, which, again, is not a crime. Approximately 100% of TV news involves irrationality and yelling, but you don’t see armed police descending on the set of Crossfire.
3) When the armed men went to Reynoso’s apartment, they say that a man answering the description of the shirtless man answered the door, and then, for no reason that the DA was able to determine, seized one of their guns.
When police deal with a possibly mentally ill or disabled person, sadly, death is often the result. There have been many, many cases where police tase or even kill mentally ill people who posed no actual threat, simply because being mentally ill, they cannot as easily display the outward symbols of compliance that are the most likely way to avoid police violence. Even being deaf, sometimes, is enough to earn a bullet.
4) The DA’s office found that there was no DNA from Reynoso on the gun in question, and they speculate that “it may have been scrubbed during surgery or dissipated in the four hours between the shots being fired and the autopsy.”
Yes, it may have. You know, like President Obama may have been born in Kenya. But when you’re assessing “may haves”, you’ve got to look at all the assumptions required in order for that to happen. In this case, we would have to assume that medical personnel would have spent time scrubbing a gun while trying to save the life of a shooting victim, and that gun residue would spontaneously dissipate in precisely the timeframe necessary to exonerate the officers in this shooting. The most recent relevant article on the subject suggests that in fact, inorganic gunshot residue is detectable on shooters’ hands for five days after the shooting. Perhaps the same OCD nurses who insisted on washing the gun, also repeatedly washed their patient’s hands during surgery to remove the residue? Maybe that’s the source of Lynn Union Hospital’s good record on rates of hospital reinfections?
5) The armed intruders then illegally searched their victim’s apartment, and allege that they found a bag of marijuana. The DA enthusiastically reports this fact, along with the fact that Specialist Reynoso received a diagnosis of PTSD back in 2012.
The purpose of including these facts in their press release is obvious. Finding a bag of marijuana after the fact cannot possibly serve to justify having already shot someone. The PTSD diagnosis merely points up the ineptitude of the police in dealing with mental illness. However, both facts may bolster the public perception that Reynoso was a Bad Person who Deserved to Die.
As things stand, beyond the officers’ say-so, there is not the least evidence that Reynoso ever took one of the armed intruders’ guns. And prior to that, in any case, comes the fact that the said armed intruders, having no evidence that a crime had been committed, had no business being in Reynoso’s apartment in the first place, and no warrant for searching it. Even accepting their version of events up till they appear at his door, all that they have at that point is reports of a possibly mentally ill person, who may have been Reynoso or may merely have resembled him, who acted in a way that was legal but made other people feel uncomfortable, and who then (if he was Reynoso) went back home. I call this a whitewash because it does not provide any kind of evidence, other than the uncorroborated statements of the intruders themselves, as to why it was justified for them to commit the intrusion that led to their killing the home’s resident.
What, also, of Reynoso’s five-year-old son, who according to Reynoso’s fiancee saw his father killed in front of him and was splashed with his blood? Did the DA’s office interview him as the only non-police eyewitness? They don’t say, and the fact that they have been pressed repeatedly on this point suggests that no, they didn’t collect testimony from the only person who would have been in any position to threaten the intruders’ version of events. Now, of course, it’s too late; his recollections would be too tainted now to be of use. But at the time, an appropriately careful interview would have significantly helped to establish what really happened.
“Whenever a police officer uses deadly force, it is important to conduct a careful and thorough investigation,” DA Blodgett said. “In this case, we interviewed police and civilian witnesses, reviewed radio transmissions, the evidence at the scene and the reports of the Medical Examiner, a state police ballistician and armorer. When Mr. Reynoso gained control of an officer’s gun and fired two rounds in close proximity to two police officers despite their attempts to get the gun away from him, he put their lives in imminent danger, thus justifying the use of lethal force by a third officer.”
In the absence of any forensic evidence at all corroborating the police version of events, we’re left with their say-so. And as we know, the police would never ever lie about such things. The situation reminds me of the curious spate of handcuffed suspects allegedly stealing officers’ guns and spontaneously shooting themselves in the head while sitting in the back seat of a squad car. No matter how much their version of events defies common sense or even video footage, internal investigations in Massachusetts routinely exonerate cops and DA Blodgett’s office has exonerated cops in all previous police shooting cases that have come before them.
We call for a genuinely independent investigation into Specialist Reynoso’s death. Nothing can bring this little boy’s father back. But we should all be worried at the fact that DA Blodgett is OK with armed intruders killing people in Lynn, provided that the intruders are wearing a particular uniform and pinky swear, honest injun, cross my heart and hope to die, that despite a complete lack of forensic evidence, the guy they killed started it.
UPDATE, 01/30/14: An interested reader notes, “The report does not speculate that hospital personnel washed the DNA off the gun, it speculates that they washed the gunshot residue off his hands. Still, the DA did not appear to link any DNA on the gun to Reynoso. The report vaguely states that “The DNA profile is a mixture of at least three people and Reynoso cannot be excluded as a possible contributor to this mixture.” We stand corrected!
There will be a rally tonight in Salem at 4:30pm.