Category: Archive

Hub rallies for accused Southie cop

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

SOUTH BOSTON — The signs are up on houses and storefronts throughout South Boston: "Justice for Kenny Conley." And at the annual St. Patrick’s breakfast and parade on March 14, prominent politicians and thousands of residents wore stickers in support of the suspended Irish-American Boston police officer who is facing nearly three years in federal prison for crimes he and legions of local supporters claim he did not commit.

The bizarre story begins on Jan. 25, 1995, when Officer Conley joins a 2:30 a.m. nine-mile pursuit of four black men who had allegedly murdered a man in Roxbury.

After the fugitives were cornered on a dead-end street by responding cruisers, Conley leaped a chain-link fence and nabbed one of the fleeing suspects. Nearly 50 police officers eventually converged on the scene from various parts of the city.

During the commotion, a black officer in plain clothes, Michael Cox, was set upon and brutally beaten by fellow officers, who mistook him for one of the suspects. Once it quickly became obvious that Cox was a cop, his attackers scattered, leaving him bleeding profusely with head and kidney injuries.

As the other suspects were rounded up, Cox was belatedly transported by ambulance to a hospital. For months, inquiries about Cox’s beating were met with a wall of silence.

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Over the course of the next year, an internal investigation by the Boston police department, a criminal investigation by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, and a state grand jury investigation failed to determine who was responsible for the assault on Cox, who had been hit from behind by a flashlight, knocked semi-conscious, and kicked about his face and body.

As the case took on dimensions of an obvious coverup of cop-on-cop brutality, a federal grand jury began investigating the incident in April of 1997. The targets of that inquiry were two black officers and a white officer, whom federal authorities suspected of having beaten and abandoned Cox.

Although many officers from various departments responded to the scene, prosecutors believed Conley, a smart, well-respected street cop who was at the scene around the same time that Cox was beaten, could unravel the mystery and help them break through the wall of silence.

After being granted immunity from prosecution, Conley was asked about his observations. He denied seeing Cox being beaten, and he further testified that he had not seen Cox chasing a suspect up to a nearby fence, a statement that would later result in a perjury conviction.

Conley, who has ancestral roots in Connemara, had wanted to be a cop since his days at St. Peter’s School in Southie. After is graduation from Don Bosco High he became a police cadet, and in 1991 an officer with the Boston police department. Now 30, he is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.

Some of his supporters suggest that the reputation he earned as a smart, honest cop with a clean record made him more preferable as a witness to federal prosecutors than some of the other dozens of officers at the scene.

Two months after his grand jury testimony, federal prosecutors offered him another chance to "tell the truth." When he refused to alter his testimony, he was charged in a three-count indictment with perjury and obstruction of justice.

He was found not guilty of the other perjury charge, that he had lied when he said he had not witnessed the beating of Cox.

Last Sept. 29, Conley was sentenced to 34 months in prison. He remains free pending an appeal.

On Dec. 22, two officers, one black and one white, were found liable by a federal civil jury for the 1995 beating of Cox. Another black officer was found liable for ignoring Cox’s medical needs. The civil jury found Ken Conley not liable for any of the offenses.

Despite that exoneration in the civil trial, Conley is the only officer criminally charged in the more than four years that the case has been under investigation.

Supporters of Conley, including state Sen. Stephen Lynch and City Council President Jim Kelly of South Boston, have publicly stated in recent weeks that the zealous prosecution of Conley stems from a lingering reservoir of ill will directed by elitists and others in power toward the predominantly Irish-American Southie community. "I believe he’s a scapegoat who was targeted and convicted because he’s from South Boston," Lynch said.

Lynch suggested that a pervasive "politically correct" mindset prompted federal officials to avoid targeting any of the minority officers who were at the scene of Cox’s beating.

One member of the jury that convicted Conley has also recently gone public in support of Conley. Burgess Nichols told a Channel 4 TV reporter last Thursday that he deeply regretted his decision to vote guilty on two of the counts.

On Saturday, Nichols told the Echo that he and "four or five" of the other jurors had voted to acquit Conley of all charges in a straw poll done at the start of the deliberations. "But then we started to retry the case, and one guy took over and the dynamics changed," he said. "Some of us got worn out and caved in. I’m very disappointed in myself for not holding out for not guilty verdicts on all the counts."

Nichols said that he went out to the cul-de-sac on a recent night to recreate in his mind the events of that early morning of Jan. 25, 1995.

The perjury case against Conley involved a chase which Conley claimed he had not witnessed, involving Cox and a suspect. The relatively short distance of that chase, less than 20 feet in the tightly confined area of the cul-de-sac, would have taken only several seconds to complete. The jury never visited that site during the trial.

"I believe Conley was focused on getting his man, not on all the commotion around him," Nichols said. "He went after his man and he got him. I believed at the end of the trial he was innocent, and I believe it now more than ever."

On April 7, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston will hear the Conley case. The Justice for Kenny Conley Committee in Boston has established a hotline for persons seeking information or offering support. The number is (617) 268-4353.

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