By Seth Daniel
An early morning police response to an alleged illegal rooming house on Francis Street has police defending their actions this week in what they believed to be a firearm incident with children involved, and tenants from Morocco in the second floor questioning the response and their treatment by police.
Around 4:30 a.m., Revere 9-1-1 received a phone call from a man appearing to have no accent (whether it be a Boston accent or a foreign accent) and speaking with a sense of urgency. He tells operators he has heard gunfire in his building and has run out to the sidewalk and grabbed a stranger’s cell phone to call police.
“There were shots being fired in my building,” he says. “I have to run back in. I still have a kid in there. I’ll be right back. I’ll try to get my phone and call right back.”
He states he is at 22 Francis Avenue, though there is only a Francis Street, and that the shots clearly came from unit 2.
When the dispatcher asks for more information, the man has hung up.
Police responded with a decent amount of force to the Ward 2 home, and tried to get the attention of residents in unit 2. However, police said the residents turned off the lights and closed the curtains. No one would come to the door or acknowledge the police being there.
At the same time, the officer in charge, described as being very familiar with firearms, and another officer were fairly certain they smelled gunpowder; or the smell of a recently fired gun.
Officers on the scene tried to get the attention of the occupants by using a loudspeaker and asking for them to open the door so they could make sure everyone was okay. No one from inside had yet been seen or spoken to, officers said.
Police also, at the same time, continued to try to call the cell phone that had been used for the 9-1-1 call, but to no avail.
Believing that the caller and a possible child could be in danger, and getting no cooperation from anyone inside, police then set up a perimeter around the scene and deployed the Special Operations Unit – commonly referred to as the SWAT team.
Finally, police said they were able to get people from the basement floor apartment out of their residence for safety’s sake. Those people were transported to the Community Room of the Police Station in order to keep them comfortable and safe as the situation unfolded.
“We gave them coffee and donuts and water and tried to give them a comfortable place to stay because we knew this was going to take some time,” said Lt. John Goodwin.
No one was particularly helpful in giving police information about who lived in the alleged illegal rooming house and if anyone was in danger. Finally, three people did come out of unit 2 and said there were two more people inside.
After several additional requests on the loudspeaker, a fourth man came out and said there were two other people inside. A negotiator from the SWAT team was able to convince a fifth man, still inside, to call 9-1-1 and talk to an operator there. After that unfolded, the fifth man did exit the home, but said a sixth and final man in a back bedroom wasn’t going to come out.
Unable to get the last man out, and still fearing that there could be people in danger and also getting little cooperation from those who had exited the home, the SWAT team shot a chemical irritant device through the bedroom window.
The final man then exited the home, marking three hours on the scene for police.
Police then took all six of the occupants, who are all of the Moroccan nationality, to the Station and held them until after a search warrant was written, approved and executed.
Police said that not getting cooperation from tenants and the uncertain situation with the 9-1-1 caller and the potential child inside necessitated the need for them to search the premises.
Reports in the Boston media have indicated that the home was turned upside down and heavily damaged during the warrant process.
Police refuted that, though, saying only the bedroom window, two doors and a ceiling suffered any major damage.
The home is believed to have contained several illegal rooming units, with locks on many of the doors within apartments. The Inspectional Services Department and Building Department have apparently begun working on a case involving the home.
Criticism has erupted also in the Boston media against the Revere Police for instituting the SWAT team and, perhaps, being too aggressive. There are also allegations that things were ramped up for police when they learned the occupants were Moroccan.
Police say that is absolutely not the case.
“All of this could have been averted if they had just come to the door,” said Goodwin, stressing they didn’t know who was inside or what had transpired inside for most of the three-hour standoff.
Some advocates for the Muslim faith said they are keeping a close eye on the situation and want to make sure things were done properly and no one was targeted.
“Given the background and the state of Muslims in America, we’re concerned anytime a situation like this happens,” said John Robbins, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Massachusetts chapter. “Obviously there is a concern whether the SWAT team was deployed properly during the incident. Our interest is to make sure this is proper and what the motivations were in doing this.”
Robbins said they also want to figure out more about the original caller.
“We’re trying to figure out whether the original call was a hoax or a valid concern,” he said. “We have now a number of ‘Spoofing’ or ‘Swatting’ incidents nationwide where police are called out on a mosque.”
Spoofing or Swatting is when someone with knowledge of phone systems calls into 9-1-1 centers anywhere in America and reports a dangerous situation at an address. This has happened around the country and often ends with great confusion.
That is also something the police are interested in.
Goodwin said they have tried to call the number and are in full investigative mode in finding out where the call came from.
“We don’t think it was ‘Spoofed,’ but it could have been,” he said. “We have subpoenas out to get where the cell phone was from.”
The incident remains under investigation.
Photos by Mike Layhe Sr.
The Revere Police SWAT team gathering in front of 22 Francis St.
A SWAT officer walking the perimeter of the crime scene.
A SWAT team officer heading to the scene with a K-9 Unit.