Civil Rights Groups Seek Reopening of Inquiry Into Shooting Death of Teen by New Bedford Police

January 14, 2013 1:37 pm

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Evidence in report on the killing of 15-year-old Malcolm Gracia does not support conclusion that shooting was justified. Stop by New Bedford police challenged as unconstitutional.

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666;

BOSTON – Four civil rights organizations today released a statement on the shooting of Malcolm Gracia, a teenager fatally shot by New Bedford police officers on May 17, 2012. The four organizations are the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the New England Area Conference NAACP, the New Bedford Branch of NAACP and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. The statement takes issue with the findings and conclusions in the report of the investigation issued by Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter. Calling the District Attorney’s investigation inadequate and leaving many questions unanswered, they have sent a letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley, requesting a judicial inquest into Gracia’s death. The organizations also called for a separate investigation by the Civil Rights Division into whether New Bedford police officers are lawfully implementing the Department’s “meet-and-greet” program in their encounters with minority youth and a review of the firearms training received by police officers.

According to the District Attorney’s report, two sets of shots were fired at Gracia. The statement issued today does not question the initial use of deadly force, which is explained in the report by the finding that, after stabbing a police officer, Gracia was advancing toward another officer with a weapon in his hand. But the DA’s report provides no separate explanation for the second, and fatal shots, fired when Gracia attempted to get up.

The statement notes, among other things, that Gracia was disabled by the first shots and was armed only with a knife. Also noted was the fact that three of the four shots which struck Gracia were fired from behind him, and the fourth came from his right. None was fired from directly in front of him. “The justification for the use of deadly force needs to be carefully examined,” said John Reinstein, Senior Legal Counsel for the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The second set of shots fired at Gracia was justified only if the police had a basis for believing that Gracia still posed a threat to their safety. Whether that is so is a question that quite simply has not been answered.”

“We believe that there has not been an adequate explanation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Malcolm Gracia and that further investigation is required, ” said Juan Cofield, President of the New England Area Conference of NAACP. “Because the District Attorney has concluded that the Gracia shooting was justified and has terminated his investigation, we are asking that the Attorney General exercise her authority to require a judicial inquest into Malcolm Gracia’s death, and that her office assist in this proceeding to ensure that there is a thorough and independent investigation of Gracia’s death.”

The groups also question whether the police stop that led to this tragedy was lawful. The incident reportedly began when officers saw Gracia and his companion on a video feed from the basketball courts at Temple Landing, a neighborhood park. They reportedly decided to investigate because they did not recognize either teen and observed them greeting others with what they thought could have been a “gang handshake.” Four New Bedford police detectives then drove to Temple Landing where they stopped Gracia and his companion, pushing them against a car in order to search them.

Based on a review of the findings in the District Attorney’s report, the statement issued today concludes that the stop was illegal and criticizes the District Attorney’s approval of the conduct of the police. Nothing that the two young men did provided any basis for believing they were involved in illegal activity and could therefore be stopped. Citing complaints received by the New Bedford Branch of NAACP, the statement notes that the unlawful stop of Gracia and his friend was not an isolated incident and calls for a review of the police department’s so-called “meet and greet” program.

For more information about the incident, including copies of the statement and letter, go to:

For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:

For more information about the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, go to:

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release