Both Boston mayoral candidates say it's "unacceptable" how Boston police treated a Black man who was having a stroke behind the wheel of his parked car.
Instead of immediately calling an ambulance, police assumed he was drunk, arrested him and left him in a holding cell for five hours.
City councilor Annissa Essaibi George says Al Copeland’s arrest in 2019 was a tragedy. She says the city should have disclosed the incident at the time and must provide more information now.
"We need to release the full details of that entire day, those hours, that experience," she says. "I want to know what happened that day."
WBUR learned through a records request that the city quietly paid Copeland $1.3 million last summer to avoid a lawsuit. Nothing was said publicly at the time.
Councilor Michelle Wu, who is also running for mayor, says the incident is horrible, both for Copeland and public trust in the police. She says it speaks to the need to root out and eradicate racial bias in the city.
"We need changes to the structures and culture of our police department in Boston, and that includes making sure that there's accountability and transparency," she says.
Wu added that the city’s new police watchdog agency needs to get fully up and running.
Copeland's wife, Valerie, said she is glad the mayoral candidates are talking about her husband’s treatment. But she wishes they would provide more concrete plans to make sure it never happens again.
"They sounded like the statements of a candidate for mayor, for political office," she says.
Copeland questioned what Wu or Essaibi George will actually do once one of them takes office.
"The city has a level of delusion around how good their police department is," she says. Until police officers are held accountable, Copeland says, "we will continue to have these issues."
The three officers involved in Copeland’s arrest — Sgt. Thomas Carty, Officer Ismael Almeida, and Officer David Marshall — haven’t been disciplined, even though the department completed its investigation more than a year ago. A police spokesperson declined an interview on the officers' behalf.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s office also declined to discuss Copeland’s treatment, except to note the settlement came under the previous administration. Instead, her office issued a statement listing efforts they have made to staff the new police watchdog office.
Copeland says nobody from the city or the police department has contacted them since the incident two-and-a-half years ago. She says she’s not surprised, but says the next mayor has the opportunity to change the system.
"They can treat it as something that they just have to respond to until they get to City Hall, or they can let this be an opportunity to really figure out what went wrong," she says.
Copeland also has a recommendation for whoever wins the mayor’s race: Meet with her husband. Hear his story. Then, do something about it.
This segment aired on October 18, 2021.