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Friday, February 5, 2010

Massachusetts Family Sues, Claims Man Beaten to Death by Police after Caught Smoking Joint at Sobriety Checkpoint

Massachusetts Family Sues, Claims Man Beaten to Death by Police after Caught Smoking Joint at Sobriety Checkpoint

The family of a Massachusetts man who died in police custody after being stopped at sobriety checkpoint filed a federal lawsuit January 28 claiming police beat him to death. The federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit names dozens of state troopers, local police, and county sheriff's deputies assigned to a North Andover checkpoint the night of November 25.

That was the night Kenneth Howe, a passenger in a vehicle driven by one of his friends, was killed after an altercation at the checkpoint. The official version of events is that Howe assaulted an officer, tried to flee, was taken into custody, and became unresponsive during booking. Police took him to a hospital, where he died.

The family has a different version of events. Citing the driver of the pickup, they say Howe was smoking a joint when the truck suddenly came upon the checkpoint. He attempted to buckle his seat belt and put out the joint when a female trooper came to his window and ordered him out of the truck. Howe held up his hands and tried to explain that the joint was all he was holding.

Then, according to the lawsuit, the trooper "forcefully removed Kenneth from the truck and screamed, 'He assaulted me.' At that point, between approximately 10 and 20 law enforcement officers swarmed on Kenneth." Then Howe was dragged on the ground to a state police cruiser and taken away.

The lawsuit cites more than 40 photographs of the incident taken by a local newspaper photographer who was there covering the checkpoint. They show Howe face down on the ground and surrounded by police officers. The lawsuit says there are additional photos showing Howe's bruised and bloodied body.

The lawsuit also cited a finding by a state medical examiner who ruled Howe's death a homicide. He was killed by "blunt impact of head and torso with compression of chest," family attorney Frances King said at a press conference before filing the suit.

"There is no rationale and no justification for beating this man to death," King said as she stood beside Howe's wife and two of his daughters.

The death is being investigated by the Essex District Attorney's office, but King said the US attorney's office and FBI needed to step in. "It is nothing short of absurd" to have state police within the prosecutor's office investigate other state police, she said.

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