An investigation summary report released by Police Chief Daniel O’Leary and Human Resources Director Sandra Debow, found that a Brookline police officer involved in an incident on October 15 at BHS, was not in violation of the Town’s Policy Against Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Retaliation. In what was by all accounts an ugly situation, an off-duty officer, his adult daughter and ex-wife were engaged in an altercation with 4 BHS students after he pulled into a parking spot during Back to School night at the school. The incident was investigated by the Brookline Police Department, and the findings were released to the media on November 24. The summary report did not name the officer involved, and police have not confirmed his identity, but witnesses identified him as Officer Robert Collins.
On the evening of October 15th, Officer Collins, his 21-year old daughter and ex-wife came to Brookline High to watch their other daughter, a BHS student, play volleyball. It was a busy night at the school. In addition to the game, several other activities were held. A confrontation occurred between the Collins family and BHS students standing in a parking spot in front of the school when Officer Collins pulled in to park. The students contended that Collins’ car was traveling at an excessive speed and nearly hit one of them, prompting the altercation.
The Brookline Police Department’s Findings
Many assertions in the investigation summary were consistent with previous reports, and some new information was introduced. In the report, Collin acknowledged his 21-year old daughter left the vehicle to confront the students and engaged in a shouting match with them. It was the officer’s determination the confrontation was going to turn violent. Police also confirmed Collin’s ex-wife attempted to calm the situation, but in doing so told the students, “don’t use the race card.” According to the report, everyone involved was “yelling and screaming at each other in a chaotic manner.” The report indicated Officer Collins did not direct discriminatory language toward the teenagers. Further, according to the report, there were conflicting statements over whether the officer was yelling at the students and his daughter, or just his daughter.
In some areas the summary report was inconsistent with earlier reporting, and in other areas failed to address some contentions made by witnesses. The report indicated the incident stemmed from Collins pulling into a parking spot “where two high school students continued to stand,” but it did not address why the officer failed to ask the students to move before pulling in. Police acknowledged previously that the students involved claimed the officer pulled in at an accelerated speed, but their allegations were not mentioned in the summary report. The report also did not indicate whether the speed of the vehicle or witness’ claims that the vehicle came close to striking one of the students sparked the confrontation. The summary indicated Collins tried to defuse the situation by identifying himself as an officer, but earlier reports indicated Collins did not attempt to calm the situation and indeed added to the confrontational tone by threatening to report the students to the police. According to the summary report, Collins stated that he remained in his vehicle until challenged by the students to exit the car. Witnesses on the scene also claim Collin’s adult daughter clearly threatened the students, including calling one of them a derogatory term commonly considered to be prejudicial in nature.
This was clearly a nuanced situation, and according to witness testimony as well as the summary report, much of the incendiary behavior came from the officer’s adult daughter and ex-wife. It should be noted that the actions of these women were outside the scope of the investigation. Given these facts, it is understandable that the investigation did not find the officer guilty of violating Town discrimination laws. It is also reasonable to conclude that recollections of incident details could have differed considering it was, by all accounts, a volatile situation.
Collin’s ex-wife added to the hostilities in the following weeks by disseminating derogatory information online about one of the students. This included contacting BrooklineHub.com through FaceBook Messenger. The message included a photo of the student.
The summary report concluded with a statement that this incident “presents an opportunity for the community, including the school, police department, students and public to discuss race relations and unconscious biases that are exhibited by and between both the students, police and the public.” The report also stated that Brookline Police Department’s training division is developing a program called “Police Legitimacy” to address topics such as procedural justice and unconscious bias.
While we applaud the Town’s acknowledgment that the October 15 incident represents a learning opportunity for the community, a concerning takeaway from the report is that its scope was limited to whether the officer violated the Town’s discrimination policy. In doing so, it failed to conclude that this was a case of adults ‘acting badly’ toward high school students on school property, with one of the adults being an employee of the Town. While it’s reasonable to conclude the kids on the scene did not act like adults, the question remains, did the adults act like adults? While the report determined much of the blame for fueling hostilities rested with the passengers — “the actions and language of the officer’s adult daughter and the ex-wife’s ‘race card’ comment exacerbated the situation”; it is clear none of the adults in Collins’s car treated the students in a way most would consider adult-like. It is this publication’s position that whether all the actions of the adults involved on October 15 fell within the scope of what the Town could investigate or not, an acknowledgement and apology from those in Collins’s car, the Brookline Police Department and the Town to the students involved is appropriate. We believe this would set the proper example to our young people about taking responsibility and how mistakes should be addressed.
Some in the community have questioned whether this incident would have been treated the same if the students at the scene had ‘prominent’ parents. This is particularly troubling, and as such, the Town must strive to insure that follow-up examinations of incidents involving Town employees are treated the same no matter who is involved.
R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher