BOSTON – The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects culminated in a chaotic gunfight that placed police and the public in danger because it lacked coordination and restraint, according to an otherwise largely positive report released Thursday by Harvard University on the emergency response to the explosions.
The shootout that occurred in the suburbs four days after the April 15 bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260 was one of several occasions where a lack of "micro-command" was troubling, according to the report, which cited "fault lines" between law enforcement agencies.
Watertown police as well as officers from multiple other jurisdictions descended on the scene and engaged in the gunfight that left one bombing suspect dead and a transit police officer seriously injured.
The scene became a tangle of police vehicles with flashing lights that impeded the ambulance transporting the injured officer to the hospital and hampered pursuit of the surviving suspect, according to the authors of the 50-page report by the Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Crisis Leadership.
"Control over fields of fire and authorization to fire is another critical micro-command issue in any rapidly-evolving, high-stress event, and it is dramatically more complicated in a sudden team of people from multiple agencies where there is no shared history and where, as a consequence, command is likely to be more tenuous," the report said.
Some media reports have said Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Officer Richard Donohue may have been struck by fellow officers. No official report on the shooting has been released.
The Harvard report on the response suggested better training to avoid "contagious" gunfire.
Another criticism was a lack of planning to make sure officers were properly rested, with many staying up for 24 for 36 hours with no sleep.
Overall, law enforcement response and coordination at the leadership level was excellent, according to the report.
"Boston Strong was not a chance result. It was, instead, the product of years of investment of time and hard work by people across multiple jurisdictions, levels of government, agencies, and organizations to allow command-level coordination and effective cooperation," the report said.
The authors said the report is not intended to be "an investigation or after-action report," but rather a way to apply the lessons learned during the marathon bombings and their aftermath to future crises. It was based on interviews with command-level personnel involved in the investigation as well as public documents.
The bombings are blamed on brothers with roots in the turbulent Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time of the bombings, was captured and is being detained pending a November trial after pleading not guilty to 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction. More than half the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Online: The Harvard report: http://tinyurl.com/ljrnftm