BPD: Pellet guns to be destroyed

by Beacon Staff • February 28, 2007

All 13 pepper-pellet guns will be melted down and refashioned into sewer caps, police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said.,The Boston Police Department has found a suitable use for the "less lethal" crowd-control weapons that caused the death of Emerson student Victoria Snelgrove more than two years ago.

All 13 pepper-pellet guns will be melted down and refashioned into sewer caps, police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said.

Police commissioner Ed Davis vowed to editors of The Boston Herald last week to destroy the FN303 Less-Lethal Launchers.

"Never," he told The Herald. "They'll never again be used in the city of Boston."

The guns have been stored in the BPD's armory since October 2004, when Snelgrove was killed by policemen who fired the guns into a crowd outside Fenway Park after a Red Sox playoff victory.

It was the first and last time the weapons were used.

In 2005, an independent panel found Snelgrove's death was the avoidable result of "serious errors in judgment" by Boston police commanders and officers and that the officers had fired indiscriminately into the crowd.

Driscoll said the guns would be included in the next routine destruction of seized and obsolete firearms.

Commissioner Davis told editors of The Herald the guns were "an inherent problem" because they were more powerful and lethal than had been anticipated. The 13 FN303s were purchased in 2004 while Kathleen O'Toole was Boston's police commissioner.

City Councilor Chuck Turner said he agreed with the commissioner on destroying the guns.

"They never should have been bought in the first place," said Turner, who represents part of the Fenway area.

Two others were wounded in the face the night Snelgrove was killed, including one man who was shot more than a dozen times by one police officer, The Beacon reported in 2005.

Two BPD officers, including the one who shot Snelgrove, were suspended for 45 days for their roles in the shootings.

Snelgrove's death prompted a review and revision of the BPD's peace-keeping procedures in riot situations, Driscoll said.

They now use horse-mounted units and pepper-spray foggers for crowd control.

Dr. Gregory Payne, an Emerson professor who's been studying the use of force during riots since the Kent State College shootings in 1970, said the lack of proper judgment on the part of the BPD contributed more to Snelgrove's death than the weapons did.

"The problem wasn't the bullets, it was the lack of training," the organizational and political communications professor said. "The issue is not the weapons themselves, but who is holding the weapons."

Catherine Parrotta, who worked with Snelgrove for a year at the Emerson Broadcasting Network (WEBN), said she too believed improperly trained police officers were more responsible than the FN303s for her friend's death.

However, she said the decision to destroy the pepper-pellet guns does bring some closure to the tragic episode.

"The fact they're getting rid of them is a relief," the senior broadcast journalism major said. "But it's not going to bring Torie back. It's too late for that."