Celtics Fan Death Disputed

This article is more than 12 years old.

The Boston police are awaiting autopsy results on a 22-year old man who died more than a week after struggling with officers the night of the Celtics championship game. The young man's parents are challenging the police version of what happened that night and calling for an independent investigation. WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness reports.


VAZQUEZ TONESS: Heading into the Celtics championship, Boston police talked tough. They vowed not to tolerate drinking in public or vandalism. But they were also under pressure not to repeat the same mistake of 2004, when pepper pellets they used to disperse crowds after the Red Sox won the pennant, killed a young woman.

This year's death after a championship didn't happen in a crowd. David Woodman was far away from the vandalism near the Garden. Just how he came into contact with police and how they treated him is in dispute.

There are certain facts that aren't debated, such as where and when it all started. Here's Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis at a press conference yesterday.

DAVIS: At about 12:47 a.m., officers were assigned to Brookline avenue in the Fenway area to monitor pedestrian and vehicle traffic after the Celtics victory.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: That night, David Woodman was shooting pool while watching the game at a bar in Kenmore square. he and and four friends were walking home and were in front of Emmanuel College when they saw police officers. Both sides agree Woodman was carrying a cup of what was probably beer. And that's why the police were interested.

Davis describes what happened next according to his officers.


DAVIS: Officers attempted to conduct an inquiry when the suspect attempted to flee. he was quickly stopped by officers. the suspect began struggling as they handcuffed him.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: That's where the accounts start to diverge. Attorney Howard Friedman, who represents Woodman's parents says he interviewed Woodman's friends who were with him that night. He says they told him Woodman didn't flee.

FRIEDMAN: When he saw the officers he said something like, 'boy there must be a lot of crime on this corner.'
Obviously the police officers heard him. They then heard officers say, "hey you, hey you". They continued walking as they did before. Then Dave thought, wait, maybe they mean me. When they realized that, he was grabbed by police. pushed up against the fence.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: Friedman says the officers then told Woodman not to resist.

FRIEDMAN: The officers struggled with him. Eventually four officers put him on the ground. He was handcuffed behind his back and placed facedown on the sidewalk.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: It's at this point that police commissioner Davis says that the officers noticed Woodman wasn't breathing. By now, there were nine officers on the scene.

DAVIS: They noticed he was in distress while he was on the ground and they immediately began to take the handcuffs off and administer CPR. As to how long the incident unfolded before that, it was just a matter of a couple of minutes. I don't have the specific time.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: The amount of time remains in question and that's what Woodman's parents want to know.

Attorney Howard Friedman estimates that it must have been 6 and half minutes between the time police noticed Woodman stopped breathing and when they started CPR. That's important since it takes only four to five minutes without oxygen to cause brain damage. And that's how Woodman arrived at the hospital that night, according to Friedman, with brain damage.

FRIEDMAN: What were these nine officers doing while he lay there not breathing? They were not giving him CPR or this would not have happened.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: Police Commisioner Ed Davis says there's no sign that his officers did anything wrong. They didn't use excessive force and acted appropriately when Woodman showed signs of medical distress.

Police brought charges against Woodman for having an open container of alcohol in public and resisting arrest. But prosecutors were never able to arraign him. Woodman was in a medically induced coma after his struggle with the police, but he did eventually regain consciousness. He could talk, but didn't remember what happened the night of the Celtics game. He was improving but suddenly took a turn for the worse. He died on Sunday.

Complicating this whole story is the fact Woodman was born with a heart defect, that has been repaired surgically when he was an infant. He was monitored ever since. Friedman says His condition shouldn't have caused a sudden heart attack.

The official autopsy report may shed light on what caused Woodman to stop breathing. Police Commissioner DAvis hasn't promised a timeline for his department's investigation, but he did pledge transparency. Meanwhile, Woodman's parents are planning to commission their own autopsy. They are also asking the FBI to get involved.

This program aired on July 1, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.