House police reform debate moves at glacial pace

Miranda amendment on 'no knock' warrants passes

THE HOUSE ON WEDNESDAY moved at a glacial pace through the 217 proposed amendments to a police reform bill. By day’s end, according to the State House News Service, six amendments had been adopted, six rejected, and 34 withdrawn without a vote, leaving 171 for Thursday.

The House bill would place limits on use of force, like chokeholds; set up commissions to study racism and diversity in civil service positions; and, like the Senate version, establish a licensing and decertification system for police. (For the key sticking points, click here.)

The House bill is not as broad as the one passed by the Senate last week, but law enforcement officials still don’t like it. Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association President Jeff Farnsworth said the bill is “nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the events happening hundreds of miles away from here” — a reference to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

Rep. Claire Cronin of Easton, the House chair of the Judiciary Committee, defended the need for the bill. “There’s a fraction — a small fraction — of the bad apples who are the bad actors, but 99.9 percent is not good enough,” she said in introducing the bill. “We can’t allow the bad apples to cause the fine men and women of law enforcement to be smeared in the eyes of their community by the actions of a few.”

One of the amendments that passed placed additional restrictions on “no-knock warrants,” which allow law enforcement to enter dwellings without notifying the residents. Filed by Boston Rep. Liz Miranda and approved by an 83-76 vote, the amendment would allow use of no-knock warrants only if law enforcement has no reason to believe that minor children or adults over the age of 65 are inside.

Miranda recalled the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Aiyana Stanley-Jones, both of whom were killed after police entered their households. Taylor, a former EMT in Louisville, Kentucky, was shot eight times when police executed a no-knock warrant, killing her in her own home. Seven-year-old Stanley-Jones died in Detroit when she was shot in the head by an officer who entered her family’s home under a no-knock warrant to detain her father, who was suspected of a murder.

“It could have happened in Massachusetts,” Miranda said, adding that her amendment “is to save women like me, like Breonna, and girls like Aiyana.” She added: “No child should be woken up by SWAT teams marching into their homes in the middle of the night.”

She also mentioned the death of Eurie Stamps, an elderly grandfather in Framingham, who was killed during a SWAT raid on his home in 2011. The Framingham SWAT team was looking for his nephew, who was suspected of selling drugs.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Brewster Republican Timothy Whelan, a former State Police trooper, said he would “likely be dead” if it weren’t for a no-knock warrant that allowed him the time to wrestle a gun out of a suspect’s hand. He said he worried about placing more restrictions on police who are going into what are often life-or-death situations.

Miranda wasn’t the only one reading off the names of those who have died. Rep. Colleen Garry of Dracut read off the names of 15 Massachusetts police officers who have been killed in the line of duty. All four of her amendments to the bill were defeated on voice votes.