Lunch with the Chief: Officer of the Year named, Boston bombing explored

Former Massachusetts police chief recounts manhunt during Marco Police Foundation luncheon

Lance Shearer

At the Marco Police Foundation “Lunch with the Chief” event, Tuesday at Hideaway Beach Club, the chief had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. No, not MIPD Chief Tracy Frazzano, although she was there presenting the Officer of the Year award. And not the tasty filet ordered up by MPF director Lynne Minnozzi.

The chief in question was Ed Deveau, retired police chief from Watertown, Mass., and he had the crowd hanging on every word of his play-by-play retelling of the events in the manhunt for and shootout with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing in April, 2013. When one of his officers spotted the car the suspects had carjacked shortly after midnight on April 19, a firefight ensued when the brothers exited their car and immediately opened fire on the police.

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In addition to shooting, the criminals, who had killed people as young as eight years old and wounded hundreds with their bombs before “executing” a police officer near the MIT campus, threw a succession of improvised hand grenades and bombs similar to the pressure cooker devices they had used in the initial bombing at the Watertown officers, said Deveau. Had they escaped, they were planning to travel to New York and detonate additional devices in Times Square.

Watertown is a suburb of Boston, and the police force there had no idea they would be thrust into a high-profile confrontation with terrorist suspects, he said, and in fact many of the officers involved didn’t even know who it was who was trying to kill them until the “fog of war” lifted after the shooting stopped. When it did, one of the brothers was mortally wounded, run over by his brother, who fled in the vehicle and later went to ground hiding in a boat stored in a nearby backyard.

Deveau made a point of focusing on his officers and not naming the bombing and shooting perpetrators in his talk, saying the media tends to devote too much coverage to the bad guys, perhaps inspiring the next wave of killers.

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One officer walked toward the suspect pointing his gun at him, even though he had run out of bullets, recounted Deveau.

“They don’t teach that at the academy ­– but now they will,” he said. That was also true, he said, of the officer who bailed out of his squad car under fire with the vehicle in gear, leaving it to creep forward unmanned.

Watertown is a generally quiet bedroom community of 35,000 people in four square miles, and the police force is small, although still boasting about 65 sworn officers versus 37 on Marco Island. Deveau had praise for the Marco police and fire departments, and is in a position to evaluate them, as he is now a winter resident of the island, while still retaining a residence in Massachusetts.

But he reserved his highest accolades for the department he used to lead, saying they aspired to be the best police force in the state, but on that April night in 2013, “for eight minutes we were the best police department in the world.”

The eight minutes is a significant number, Deveau said, as most officer-involved gunfights are over in a matter of seconds, and this was remarkable for its duration, with the officers outgunned initially and subjected to a rain of bombs unique, he said, in the annals of American policing.

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With many serving and former officers in his audience, the group was well able to appreciate Deveau’s account, and he delivered it with a polish and humor clearly born of multiple retellings.

Before lunch, MIPD Chief Frazzano and MPF master of ceremonies Vernon Geberth, who has also been a speaker at the event telling of his involvement in the O.J. Simpson murders, presented the Marco Police Foundation Officer of the Year award to Officer William Prigge. Prigge was lauded for saving an 83-year-old man and rescuing a 68-year-old woman from the water, as well as dealing with a seven-foot python.

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The MPF typically holds additional “Lunch with the Chief” events in the spring and in the fall. Tuesday’s talk was presented to a sold out crowd of 150.