Q&A with Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary about after school atrium incident

Read a Q&A with O’Leary to hear the officer’s perspective on the March 8 after-school altercation between Brookline police officers and high school students. After talking to student eye witnesses, the police perspective was still missing. The Q&A provides more background information on the officers involved and what people should do when interacting with police.

Police Chief Dan OLeary standing outside the Coolidge Corner Theatre at an earlier event. Kendall McGowan/ Sagamore Staff

Police Chief Dan O’Leary standing outside the Coolidge Corner Theatre at an earlier event. Kendall McGowan/ Sagamore Staff

Sara Hogenboom, News Writing Editor

5What is proper protocol in that situation, when the officers saw the play-fight that they believed to be a real fight?

See, our job is to make sure people are safe. Our job is to make sure things do not escalate. Our job is to make sure that if there’s something that starts to go wrong, we have to prevent it from happening. The steps that (the officer) took were to prevent a fight and to prevent somebody from getting hurt. And that’s why he removed (the student) from the scene of the group of kids, which is protocol. It’s that you get a person who you believe is about to get involved in an altercation away from that situation and let them calm down. And that’s what (the officer) did. He didn’t do anything wrong.

So what happened that afternoon?

I’ll tell you what I learned from speaking to the officers that were involved. I’m going to speak from their perspective.

The officers had come out of an (unrelated, personal) call that had taken place in the high school. Two officers were in the process of leaving. There was a third officer that had responded to the call. He was in his cruiser down on the street.

So, the officer that remained behind, he is assigned to the high school about two days a week. He has seen kids hussing around and doing fake fights in the past, and he said this was something that had been different from what he has observed in the past. He explained that when he was on the steps he saw one individual knock down a second individual. The individual fell on the ground and started to cover himself up, which he interpreted it as him expecting to be kicked or punched while he was on the ground. The same guy that was involved in that, the same student, pushed a second individual very hard in his back, forcing him forward.

After he did that, the officer saw him start clenching his fist and he th ought that a fight was ready to break out. And he said that there were a bunch of kids and he was the only police officer there. He went down the steps, took the kid who he felt was the aggressor up the steps and into the lobby. That was done to eliminate the possibility of any conflicts taking place or anybody getting into a fight, and him having to break something up that he was totally outnumbered with. There was no doubt in his mind that it was different from what had gone on in the past and a fight was about to take place.

They got inside the lobby, he was talking to the student and everything was on a certain level until other kids started filing into the lobby. The kid started raising his voice. And if you look at the video the officer is not raising his voice, the officer is trying to talk to the kid. As that’s going on, he sees that he’s really not successfully talking to the kid, another officer,  came back into the building and he sees them standing there.

The third officer that was parked in front came into the building as well, and he starts to try and move the kids out of the lobby let them handle the one that they felt was the aggressor. When that wasn’t working one of the deans stepped in and the officer turned it over to the dean. And basically the whole thing was over at that point.

What were the officers’ names?

Officer Walker, who is the African-American officer. He was the one who removed the kid from the altercation. There was Sergeant Thornton.   He was the one standing with Officer Walker. There was a third officer, Lieutenant Harrington, who was trying to get students outside the lobby to allow for the officers to talk to the student.

What do you think you would want students to know about this?

I don’t think they should be roughhousing like that on the front steps of the school. Anybody, whether it’s a group of adults or a group of students that roughhouse like that, somebody is going to take offense to it. And it’s going to erupt into something. That’s what Officer Walker felt was going to be happening there. There are other things to do instead of roughhousing like that. And they may have believed that they were kidding around,  but that’s not what the officer saw and what the officer believes. Imagine if it was a fight and the officer just walked by it. I think we’d be having a different conversation then.

How do you think kids should respond to police?

I think that they should have let Officer Walker and the student talk to each other about what happened out front. I think that when they came into the lobby, according to Officer Walker, that’s when the kid started raising his voice. He wasn’t like that when they were first in there talking. We all grew up going to school, we all grew up and had our own interaction with police officers, but we were there to make sure everyone was safe.

Officer Walker is stationed outside of the school for safety reasons. We’re not anyone’s enemy.  That was a preventative thing that Officer Walker did.

A witness said that Officer Walker took the student by the backpack without talking to him first, do you think that’s true?

Well, I can’t answer that, I don’t know. I know that he took him out of that situation, took him up the stairs where they were going to have a one-on-one conversation. He took him into the lobby, that part was true, how they got up there I don’t know. But our protocol is, if you have a confrontation taking place, is you remove somebody from that confrontation so it calms down. And that’s all he was doing. I never heard that it was forced. But I mean, if it was, we still have to make sure that people don’t aggravate the situation.

Which was the officer that was sort of pulling students out of the lobby?

I know what you’re driving at, that student in the light sweater was asked to leave and you can see that he does go out but comes back in, ignoring the Lieutenant (Harrington). The Lieutenant (Harrington) took him by the arm and guided him back to the door, and he left the building. He was already asked to leave by the Lieutenant (Harrington). He started to leave and then came back a second time. Then he tried to ask everybody else to leave. Most students did what the Lieutenant (Harrington) asked.

That is done to calm the situation down. You can’t have people trying to have a conversation with other people, especially their friends raising their voices in the lobby. Everything gets to be a confusing mess. And that’s when things deteriorate.