By Jim Smith
BOSTON — The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, in concert with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has written a letter to U.S. Attorney Donald Stern of the Justice Department in Boston protesting the use of the term "paddy wagon" in a brief field by S. Theodore Merritt, the chief prosecutor in the case of Boston police officer Kenneth Conley.
C.J. Doyle, executive director of the League, wrote in his letter: "Whether intentionally insulting or not, the expression [paddy wagon] is an appalling anti-Irish slur which finds its origins in ethnic prejudice and sectarian bigotry. It is astonishing to us that in an era of heightened sensitivity to all forms of racism and hate language, those charged with protecting our civil rights would make such a crude and archaic reference to the Irish. . . . We trust that you will not hesitate to issue appropriate guidelines ensuring that the use of this repugnant and abusive term will be promptly and permanently discontinued."
Merritt’s use of the term is included in a section of his brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals referring to Conley’s arrest of a murder suspect on Jan. 25, 1995: "Conley then testified that he chased the suspect a great distance, arrested and handcuffed him, and turned him over to a paddy wagon."
Conley is facing nearly three years in federal prison for perjury. He was involved in a 1995 pursuit of four black murder suspects during which a black plaincothes cop was allegedly mistaken for a suspect and severely beaten by fellow officers. After being granted immunity from prosecution, Conley was asked about his observations. He denied seeing the plainclothes officer being beaten, and he further testified that he had not seen officer chasing a suspect up to a nearby fence.
On March 19, Brian O’Connor, head of the U.S. Attorney’s public corruption and special prosecutor’s unit, told the Echo that Merritt meant no offense in using the term. O’Connor acknowledged that Conley himself had not used it in his testimony before the grand jury. "Some of us in the office have been educated in recent days about this issue," he said. "There was clearly no intention to offend anyone."
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