The Strange Death of Larry Largey
Two years later, There Are Still More Questions Than Answers
Recent complaints of police brutality in Cambridge have resurrected grim memories of the still unexplained death of 17-year old East Cambridge resident Lawrence P. Largey in the early hours of October 22, 1972.
East Cambridge residents interviewed this week believe that the youth was the victim of an unwarranted beating by four city police officers. They also believe police and city officials in the two years since Largey's death have done little to rectify a police-community relationship the residents consider "frustrating."
"God, do I remember the Largey incident," pharmacist John R. Petricone said Wednesday. Petricone works out of a small drugstore across the street from Roosevelt Towers, the dingy public housing site where Largey tangled with police about four hours before his death.
"The police used to give the kids a hard time," Petricone said. "Now it seems the police are afraid to come around. They've turned their backs to our problems."
"It's frustrating. Last week a gang of kids slashed about 40 sets of tires and the police didn't respond. There's still a lot of vandalism and crime here, but now the police aren't paying any attention to us," he said.
Two years ago, city police covered East Cambridge and Roosevelt Towers in a rather haphazard way. On some nights several foot patrolmen would roam through the concrete courtyards of the three and four story buildings that make up the Towers, breaking up fights among youths and arresting vandals. On other nights there was a paucity of police protection at the Towers.
On October 21, 1972, night-duty police officers Peter E. DeLuca, Rudolph Carbone, Robert Mills and David Witham patrolled the Towers area and Inman Square. At about 11:30 p.m. they arrested Larry Largey for throwing a rock at a nearby store window.
Witnesses to the arrest told The Crimson Largey was drunk: He had apparently had a lengthy drinking session at the Towers with friends, among them 19-year old Thomas F. Doyle. The witnesses also said Doyle tried to talk the police out of arresting Largey, assuring the officers that he'd take his drunk friend home.
But Officer Carbone allegedly pushed Doyle on the sidewalk with a knee to his back and struck the boy on the head twice. Several accounts say that DeLuca and the other officers then pushed Doyle and Largey into a paddy wagon and beat them with clubs.
Capt. Francis Pisani arrived at the scene and ordered the patrolmen to take Largey, who was bleeding from apparent head wounds, to the hospital and Doyle to a Police Department cellblock in Central Square, according to witnesses.
A Crimson investigation of police records indicated that neither prisoner was actually taken from East Cambridge to the hospital. the police record book had the words, "Night stick used to effect arrest."
At 3 a.m. October 22, police found Largey unconscious in his jail cell and took his to Cambridge City Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
News of Largey's death caused five successive nights of rioting at Roosevelt Towers. Pharmacist Petricone recalled that youths broke windows at almost every store lining Cambridge Street set cars on fire and spray-painted obscenities on every naked wall. The words "Pigs Suck"--in bright red paint--still adorn a wall on a Towers building fronting Cambridge Street. Residents said the sign is a holdover from the 1972 riots.
The riots surfaced because Roosevelt Towers residents saw Largey's death as one episode in a series of police abuses. Crimson interviews taken during the week of riots showed most residents were upset that police and city officials were slow to uncover the full story of the Largey incident.
Medical examiner Dr. Charles R. Robinson issued a preliminary autopsy report that showed "absolutely no evidence" that Largey's death was "caused by physical injuries." Angry citizens called the report a "whitewash."
The actual cause of death became even less certain on November 9, 1972, when a second autopsy, performed by Dr. David Spain at the request of the Largey family, found "conclusive evidence of injuries to the head and extremities."
The Largey family, represented by Cambridge attorney Michael J. Haroz, filed a $1.1 million damage suit in federal court against the four patrolmen and their supervisors, Pisani, Lt. Anthony Temmallo, Sgt. Alphaeus Yetman and Police Chief James F. Reagan. The suit, filed February 21, 1973, also named then-City Manager John H. Corcoran as a defendant.
The suit, which alleges that Largey was "wrongfully beaten" and refuses proper and immediate medical care, has not yet been heard in court.
The last brief entered in the docket bears the date June 12, 1973, when attorney Haroz wrote Federal District Court Judge Frank J. Murray that he planned to secure oral testimony from Chief Reagan and Corcoran.
Haroz said Wednesday the case "still sits in limbo." He said he has no idea why it has been delayed for so long. Federal court clerks said recently there is a backlog of cases and that they could not predict when the Largey suit would come up for trial.
The unresolved court suit is just part of the reason that questions of how Largey died and what role the police may have had in his death are still unanswered. There have also been two independent investigations of the incident that reached similar conclusions and reached similar dead-end fates.
Community uproar over a possible police beating forced City Manager Corcoran to hire Boston University Law Professor Paul J. Liacos as an outside consultant to conduct a full investigation into the case. At the same time, Middlesex County District Attorney John J. Droney began an inquest that would sent its findings to a grand jury.
The inquest report recommended that Officers DeLuca and Carbone be charged with assault and manslaughter, but a Middlesex grand jury of February 16, 1973 declined to return indictments because of insufficient evidence.
The Liacos study met a different fate. Liacos, who had access to al relevant police records and who tried to interview as many of the principals ad witnesses as possible, recommended in late November 1972 that disciplinary action be taken against DeLuca and Carbone. The report said the city police use "unwarranted and unjustifiable force" in Largey's arrest, cited Officer Mills for evading investigators and for "untruthful testimony" and named Lt.Temmallo for failing to provide "proper and timely medical examination."
Despite the report's strong language, the city manager failed to carry out any of its recommendations. Third District Court records show that Officer DeLuca made a concerted effort to prevent scheduling any disciplinary hearings.
DeLuca, through his attorney Daniel J. O'Connell, filed for a court injunction on December 1, 1972, to bar a hearing before City Manager Corcoran, charging that Corcoran could not act as a neutral party. He cited a letter Concoran sent him before either the Liacos or inquest reports were completed that said, "I am contemplating discharging you from the police department for several charges."
DeLuca's injunction request also charged that Corcoran violated DeLuca's rights to face and cross-examine witnesses who participate in the Liacos investigation. DeLuca argued further that newspaper publicity on the Largey incident caused him "irreparable injury."
Corcoran and DeLuca agreed twice out of court to postpone any disciplinary hearings until the Middlesex grand jury ruled on the criminal aspects of the case. A hearing scheduled for March 30, 1972, never took place because DeLuca won a preliminary injunction against it.
DeLuca, along with Carbone, continues to work the night shift, but Roosevelt Towers residents say they don't see them any more. A police spokesman said recently the officers rotate beats in four areas of town, one of which is Inman Square, close to Roosevelt Towers.
"I don't think DeLuca would be dumb enough to show his face here," says a woman who has lived at the Towers for four years. She recalled that three youths attacked DeLuca in Inman Square on March 6 last year. A month later a district court judge found the youths guilty of assault and gave them one-year suspended sentences.
Earlier this month, Haroz, the Largey family attorney, asked the present City Manager, James L. Sullivan, to "immediately initiate appropriate steps" to eliminate "legal impediments" affecting disciplinary hearings for DeLuca. In an October 8 letter, Haroz also asked Sullivan to investigate "the failure of Chief Reagan to implement the internal disciplinary action" against officers in the two-year-old case, as recommend by Liacos.
Haroz said Wednesday Sullivan has failed to reply. "If nothing happens in the next week or so, I'm going to write more letters," he said.
The letter to Sullivan made repeated references to the Liacos study, which said in part:
"[The Cambridge Police Department] must make efforts to come to grips with the attitudes of the people who are frustrated and who feel that the police are not their friends, but their enemies. To this extent the City of Cambridge is a sick community."
Some of the Rosevelt Towers residents who expressed frustration with police activities said they don't care how the Largey case is resolved. One woman said she "gave up" on the city's capacity to provide redress for police abuses "a long, long time ago."