911, police tapes key in Gates case
Officials mull release of recorded evidence
By Richard Weir, Laurel J. Sweet and Benjamin Bell | Friday, July 24, 2009 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Coverage
Mounting pressure to get to the bottom of the controversial arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is centering on recorded police tapes that may offer a dose of reality amid all the media and political noise.
Cambridge police brass and lawyers are weighing making the tapes public, which could include the 911 call reporting a break-in at Gates’ home and radio transmissions by the cop who busted him July 16 for disorderly conduct.
“It’s powerful evidence because the (people involved) have not had a chance to reflect and you are getting their state of mind captured on tape,” said former prosecutor and New York City police officer Eugene O’Donnell, who is now a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas said last night he has asked City Solicitor Donald Drisdell to review the 911 tape, which has the potential to either bolster or impugn Gates’ stance that he is a blameless victim of racial profiling at his own home.
Further, Sgt. James Crowley noted in his report that he radioed police headquarters to let them know he was with the person who appeared to be the home’s lawful resident, but who was “very uncooperative.”
Upon receiving Gates’ Harvard ID, Crowley wrote he radioed in to request “the presence of the Harvard University Police.”
In a radio interview yesterday morning with WEEI’s John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, Crowley, a 42-year-old father of three, said he hasn’t heard the tapes.
“One of my first transmissions was to slow the units down and I’m in the residence with somebody I believe resides here, but he’s being very uncooperative. So, that’s in real time,” Crowley told the sports-talk hosts.
“I’m not really sure how much you could hear from Professor Gates, you know, in the background. I, I don’t know. I haven’t heard the tapes.”
Haas did not share with reporters what can be heard on the tapes, but commented, “I don’t believe Sgt. Crowley acted with any racial motivation at all.”
Gates, 58, a world-renowned scholar and documentary filmmaker on black history, allegedly ranted to police at his Ware Street home, “This is what happens to black men in America!” and “You don’t know who you’re messing with!” in addition to verbally dragging Crowley’s mother into the fray.
“More often than not,” O’Donnell said, “as the facts come out, they are more favorable to the cop. It’s crucial in the sense that it provides independent evidence. There is no question it provides corroboration. He called the tapes potentially “crucial” to Crowley’s ability to defend himself against charges of racism.
Attorney Stuart London, who has defended countless cops in high-profile cases, including one of the NYPD officers charged in the 1998 beating and plunger torture of Abner Louima in 1998, said, “If (the officer is dealing) with someone who is not being cooperative and is unruly, (the tape) gives you more insight into the state of mind of the officer. That’s the most important part.”
“I don’t believe this officer did anything wrong, and given what we know, I don’t think he would be afraid to share the tapes at all, either,” said Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association. “It’s public record. From dispatch to conclusion, it’s all on tape.”