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BPD Officers Describe Alleged Beating

Say Byrne beat then-student unprovoked

By Simon W. Vozick-levinson, Crimson Staff Writer

BOSTON—Two Boston Police Department (BPD) officers testified yesterday that they witnessed their supervisor assault a Harvard undergraduate in a Brighton station house nearly two years ago.

BPD Sgt. Harry A. Byrne Jr. is being tried in U.S. District Court for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of Garett D. Trombly ’03, then a junior economics concentrator, by using excessive force while Trombly was under arrest. Byrne is also accused of witness tampering in the aftermath of the alleged assault.

Compelled to testify by federal subpoenas, two BPD officers told their version of events on the night that Byrne allegedly beat Trombly, breaking his jaw. In January 2002, the prosecution granted the officers immunity from any charges other than perjury resulting from their testimony.

Gregory Lynch, the BPD officer who arrested Trombly, gave the jury a detailed description of the alleged beating, echoing much of Trombly’s earlier testimony.

Lynch said that after leaving Byrne alone with Trombly in a guard room, he heard a loud noise and turned to see the sergeant on top of Trombly, holding him on a wooden bench. He testified that he saw Byrne go on to push Trombly against a wall, throw him into a table and hold him with one hand while hitting him on the side of the face with the other—shouting obscenities and insults at the student all the while.

Lynch said he saw Trombly offer no resistance or act belligerently in any way.

Jeremiah Harrigan, another BPD officer, said he had seen less of the alleged assault, but testified that Byrne had hit Trombly with an open hand and knocked him into the guardroom table, leaving the student “visibly shaken” and “on the verge of tears.”

Byrne’s attorney said in his opening statement Tuesday that while his client had hit Trombly, it was justified by the circumstances.

Defense attorney Frank A. Libby Jr. said that Byrne attempted to restrain Trombly after the student suddenly reach into his baggy jeans pocket, for what turned out to be a cell phone.

The charges faced by Byrne stem from a series of escalating confrontations he had with students over two days in the fall of 2001, unfolding outside the 2021 Commonwealth Ave. apartment of one of Trombly’s friends.

Prosecution witnesses have said that on the night of Friday, Sept. 7, 2001, a party was held at the apartment, attracting the attention of Byrne. Byrne, who was then working overtime as part of a BPD underage-drinking detail, arrested several members of the Boston College women’s basketball team that night for drinking in public outside the apartment.

Maureen Leahy, a friend of Trombly’s, testified Tuesday that she had been verbally harassed by Byrne as he arrested her teammates that night.

Shortly after midnight the next night, Byrne encountered Trombly, Leahy and other friends as they left another gathering at the apartment. The prosecution and its witnesses have said that Byrne again hurled profanities at Leahy, making her weep, while the defense has said the officer spoke politely to her out of a spirit of concern.

Trombly has said that he went to console his friend, uttering a remark critical of Byrne, and walked away as others in the small crowd shouted cruder comments.

According to the defense, Trombly also spit on Byrne’s uniform—an act which they say led to his arrest minutes later on charges of assault and battery on a police officer as well as resisting arrest and public consumption of alcohol.

All those charges—which Assistant U.S. Attorney S. Theodore Merritt ’74 called “bogus” Tuesday—were dropped for lack of evidence.

The spotlight soon turned on Byrne, as both the BPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to look into Trombly’s allegation that the sergeant had viciously beat him in the District 14 station house.

Byrne was indicted in January 2002 on the federal charges currently being tried; his day in court has been delayed since then by numerous legal squabbles and continuances.

Yesterday Lynch recounted his version of the alleged beating. He also disputed several key details of the sequence of events put forth by the defense on Tuesday.

Lynch insisted that he had confiscated Trombly’s cell phone on the street at the time of arrest—contradicting Libby’s assertion that Trombly still had the phone in his pocket while being uncuffed in the station house.

Merritt also led Lynch through a series of questions concerning the alleged witness tampering. Lynch testified that as investigators began to look into Trombly’s allegations, his partner had delivered a verbal message to him from Byrne instructing him “to say that nothing happened.”

Under cross-examination from Libby, Lynch clarified that Byrne had not explicitly told him to lie to authorities.

Libby spent much of his cross-examination attempting to undermine the credibility of Lynch’s testimony, asking repeatedly if the officer had been intimidated by federal agents. He suggested that Lynch might have feared he would face a perjury charge if he gave answers contrary to those desired by the prosecution, a claim which Lynch adamantly denied.

Kristen Scheier, who lived in the same Commonwealth Ave. apartment building as Trombly’s friend, followed Lynch to the stand, testifying that she saw Byrne angrily taunting Leahy on the night of Trombly’s arrest.

Yesterday’s testimony was closed out by Harrigan, the other BPD officer.

Harrigan told jurors that he was outside the Brighton station house talking to another officer when he caught sight of Byrne and Trombly acting unusually through the station’s windows. He said that once he entered the guard room he saw Byrne swearing at Trombly as he grabbed him with one hand and hit him with the other. Harrigan said he did not see Trombly fight back.

Harrigan also testified that Byrne had initiated a conversation with him several days later, telling him that federal investigators were scrutinizing his treatment of Trombly and that there was nothing to report to them.

While cross-examining Harrigan, defense attorney R. Matthew Rickman displayed an enlarged photograph taken outside the station house in an effort to cast doubt on whether the witness could have clearly seen Trombly or Byrne from his stated angle and position.

Rickman then questioned whether an air conditioner, partially blocking the view of the guard room in the photograph, would have been removed for the winter by September that year. Harrigan replied that he was not sure.

Judge Richard G. Stearns concluded the day’s session promptly at 1 p.m., midway through Harrigan’s testimony.

The trial resumes today, and is scheduled to run until Wednesday or Thursday of next week.

—Staff writer Simon W. Vozick-Levinson can be reached at vozick@fas.harvard.edu.

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