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."