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Settlement Reached in Case of New Bedford Teen Slain by Police

Christina Gracia

The city of New Bedford has reached a half-million-dollar settlement with the family of a teen who was killed during a police altercation in 2012. Fifteen-year-old Malcolm Gracia was shot and killed after police say he pulled a knife on an officer. A judge later said police stopped Gracia illegally.

WCAI's Morning Edition host Kathryn Eident spoke with reporter Jennette Barnes about the case.

Eident: Yesterday’s settlement means the Police Department and the city do not have to admit any wrongdoing. But Mayor Jon Mitchell said in a statement that the whole issue is “tragic.” Jennette, tell us what happened, to help us understand what's going on.

Barnes: So this is a complicated case, and many of the circumstances are disputed, but this is what we know. A supervisor in the gang unit at the Police Department was watching surveillance video — this is back in 2012 at the police station — and saw Gracia and another teen engage in what police believed was, or called, an elaborate handshake. The teens were not familiar to the police. But the officers suspected that the handshake could be part of gang activity in the area.

The supervisor sent four detectives out to the location, which was outside an apartment complex. The idea was to encounter the teens, identify them and find out what they were doing in the area. According to one of the detectives, he asked the teens to take their hands out of their pockets, and they refused. He then asked them to place their hands on a car to be patted down.

Gracia tried to run away. Another detective grabbed Gracia. Police say that Gracia brandished a knife and they ordered him to drop it, but he didn't. In the police version of the story, Gracia stabbed Detective Tyson Barnes. But the attorney for the Gracia family disputes the idea that a stabbing took place.

There is evidence that police also used a Taser during the encounter. But the timing of the Taser is disputed. Gracia was fatally shot three times in the back and once in the head. Police say it was a justified use of force. That was also what the district attorney's office concluded in their review at the time.

Eident: Now, you just mentioned there's some disputed facts in the case, which I want to go into in more detail. As we said, police were never charged in the incident. This was settled in civil court. But there are some disputes talk about.

Barnes: Right. So as you said, it was a civil case of Gracia’s sister. Christina Gracia sued the city and seven police officers for wrongful death on the basis of negligence and violation of civil rights. Police say that Gracia stabbed the detective. The lawyer for Gracia’s family disputes the idea that any stabbing took place. And actually yesterday he told me that he was questioning whether Gracia really even used the knife, although a knife was found at the scene.

There are also some questions about the Taser that police used. The dispute is over whether the timestamp of the taser is correct, because it could put the use of the Taser either before or after some of the gunshots fired by police.

The lawyer for Gracia’s sister says that there are more details they want to reveal in public. They could not do that until now because they were under a gag order, but that was lifted yesterday. He says they will release more information on May 16th, when they’re planning to actually give a public presentation on their view of the evidence.

Eident: There's been some criticism in the aftermath of this tragedy, with some, like the New Bedford branch of the NAACP, calling for a review last year of the Police Department and some of the policies.

Barnes: Yes, the NAACP’s LaSella Hall told me yesterday that policies similar to what is well-known from New York as “stop and frisk” that target people of color are harmful policies, and that communities really should be questioning whether those policies are keeping them safer. Gracia was of Cape Verdean heritage, and again, he was just 15.

Eident: And that is WCAI’s Jennette Barnes giving us a little bit of background, for our understanding of a case that's been many years in the making, and that has to do with Malcolm Gracia, a New Bedford teen shot about eight years ago, and there was a settlement in civil court. Jennette Barnes, thanks so much for this detail.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.