BOSTON – The parents of a man who stopped breathing after his arrest during the Boston Celtics NBA championship celebration are raising questions about his death, and what happened while he was in police custody.
David Woodman died Sunday, 11 days after his arrest for allegedly drinking in public and resisting arrest.
Police say they began cardiopulmonary resuscitation immediately after noticing the 22-year-old was in medical distress.
But a lawyer for his parents said Monday he suffered significant brain damage after he stopped breathing for at least several minutes while in police custody.
Police Commissioner Edward Davis said Monday a preliminary investigation indicates the officers did not use excessive force. The Suffolk district attorney also is investigating Woodman's death.
Howard Friedman, the attorney for Jeffrey and Cathy Woodman of Southwick, said the family also is calling for an independent investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including an independent autopsy.
"What we know is that he was healthy when he encountered the police," Friedman said.
"They (police) say officers immediately realized he was not breathing and they began CPR, but that's inconsistent with the medical evidence, so we have questions," Friedman said.
Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for Boston police, said officers called in a report of an "extremely intoxicated" person — Woodman — at 12:47 a.m. on June 18, after the Celtics' victory. Woodman was carrying an open container of alcohol, Driscoll said.
"When they attempted to approach him, he fled," Driscoll said. "There was a very short pursuit but they were able to subdue David."
Davis said officers noticed Woodman was in "medical distress" while he was face down on the ground, being handcuffed.
Davis said that the officers, who had already called for an ambulance for an intoxicated person, called again to make the ambulance request more urgent and also performed CPR. One of the officers waved down a private ambulance before the Boston Emergency Medical Services ambulance arrived, Davis said during a news conference Monday.
"While our investigation is still preliminary, it appears, from the evidence we have reviewed thus far, that officers did not use excessive force," Davis said.
"It is devastating to the department and our city when tragedy occurs on a night intended for celebration," Davis said.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said a senior homicide prosecutor will lead his investigation. "While our investigation will be conducted in coordination with the Boston Police Department, our judgment will be exercised independently and objectively," he said in a statement.
Friedman said Woodman was walking with four friends after watching the Celtics game at a bar when they saw about a dozen uniformed police officers at the corner of the Fenway and Brookline Avenue. Woodman, according to one of his friends, said, "Boy this corner must be a real high-crime area," Friedman said.
"Essentially, they were all ready for a riot, but there was nothing going on at all," Friedman said.
At that point, the officers grabbed Woodman and pushed him to the ground, according to Friedman, who said he based his account on descriptions given by Woodman's friends. He said the witnesses said Woodman did not run from the officers.
Friedman said police have not been cooperative in helping the family piece together the events the night their son's arrest.
Woodman's mother told The Boston Globe that her son had scrapes on his face that resembled road burns.
Woodman, a former Emmanuel College student who lived in Brookline, was taken to Beth Deaconess Medical Center.
When he awoke five days later from a medically induced coma, it was clear he had suffered significant brain damage, Friedman said. But he recognized his parents, and was able to communicate with them a bit. His parents expected he would eventually be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, Friedman said.
Woodman died at 2:30 a.m. Sunday. An autopsy was being performed Monday.
Friedman said Woodman had a pre-existing heart condition, but had always been active and had played a pickup basketball game with his friends the day before his arrest.
Thomas Drechsler, an attorney representing the officers involved in Woodman's arrest, said police did not use excessive force.
"Certainly, he struggled during the arrest, he resisted," Drechsler said.
"The bottom line is the officers did everything they could for this young man. It's very unfortunate ... whatever happened wasn't the fault of the officers. I'm sure the family is upset, and we understand that."