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Officer Who Fatally Shot Sayed Faisal Could Have Been ‘Legally and Ethically’ Named, External Review Finds

Protesters have demonstrated for months over the killing of Cambridge reisdent Sayed Faisal by a Cambridge Police Department officer in January.
Protesters have demonstrated for months over the killing of Cambridge reisdent Sayed Faisal by a Cambridge Police Department officer in January. By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen
By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen and Yusuf S. Mian, Crimson Staff Writers

The name of the Cambridge Police Department officer who shot and killed local 20-year-old student Sayed Faisal on Jan 4. could have been revealed without legal consequences, a July report suggested.

Faisal, a University of Massachusetts Boston student of Bangladeshi origin, was fatally shot by CPD when he allegedly moved toward officers with a knife, after being pursued through several blocks in Cambridgeport.

Faisal’s death has led to dozens of protests in the months since, organized mainly by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Demonstrators have repeatedly demanded that CPD name, fire, and prosecute the officers involved, as well as release the full unredacted police report.

CPD Commissioner Christine A. Elow and city manager Yi-An Huang ’05 maintain that, in accordance with departmental policy, the report and officers’ names can only be disclosed once the ongoing Middlesex District Attorney’s investigation is completed.

But a July report from the Police Executive Research Forum — a national police policy think tank commissioned by the city to analyze CPD’s practices and provide policy recommendations — concluded that CPD could have “legally and ethically” released the names in the weeks following the shooting.

The PERF report states CPD chose to withhold the names due to past departmental practices, actions observed in other Massachusetts law enforcement groups, and the absence of “relevant” CPD policies. It also highlights two primary factors contributing to public outrage over the incident: the lack of body cameras worn by Cambridge Police officers and the rarity of officer-involved fatalities in Cambridge, with Faisal’s case being the first in more than 20 years.

“At the time of the fatal shooting, CPD’s policy governing officer-involved shootings had not been updated since 2008,” the report reads. “Because CPD had no policy requiring the release of the officer’s name within a specified time frame — or prohibiting it — CPD was free from the inception to make its own choice about whether to release the shooting officer’s name.”

The report further states that, while CPD “could have legitimately” released the officer’s name immediately following the shooting, a court order issued shortly after by the overseeing judge now prohibits the department from doing so.

The PERF report, first discussed by city councilors at an August 7 meeting, proposed a policy moving forward where CPD would release preliminary information about the incident and the involved officers within 24 to 36 hours, along with a timeline for further information release.

It also suggested that CPD publicly disclose the names of involved officers within two to five days, “unless circumstances exist that justify not releasing that information.”

“When we asked repeatedly for the name to be released, we were refused. And this report seems to vindicate our requests and says that it could have been done,” City Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan said at the meeting.

Elow, also at the meeting, told councilors that the department will begin constructing a policy on the issue in tandem with the Cambridge Police union “as soon as possible.”

“We understand, again, the priority in the city. This is a priority for us in the police department, and we’re going to be moving forward as fast as possible,” Elow said.

Elow added the department is also prioritizing implementing body cameras in their ongoing negotiations with the union.

Tahmid Rahman, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said the report shows that their demands — which were largely unmet — were “actually indeed quite reasonable.”

“I’m eager and excited about the release of the report,” he added. “It’s the first step to continue applying pressure so that we can get some material change so that this doesn’t happen again.”

—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at ryan.doannguyen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @ryandoannguyen.

—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at yusuf.mian@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @yusuf_mian2.

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