We hope you have restful and restorative long weekend (+ school vacation week for some!), and that you find this week’s news of interest. We plan to return to election-related news next week.
Week of Feb. 19: Lexington News Roundup
Reported by Sophie Culpepper
- Community members ask for answers about 98 Hancock St. shooting.
- This week’s School Committee Meeting: If all goes well, masks could come off in LPS (and in town) March 15, but sooner is unlikely.
- COVID-19 Weekly Update: Cases almost low enough to dream of the day we don’t need this section (it’s not here yet, but it’s looking better than it has in a while. Knock on all the wood.).
- Community Announcements: Free Town COVID-19 testing every Saturday; Social Justice Candidate Forum today; Townwide survey closing soon.
Community members ask for answers about 98 Hancock St. shooting
Well over a dozen bouquets lay at the Hancock St. roundabout Thursday evening, where a man was shot and killed by a police officer after deescalation attempts in a confrontation one week ago. (Sophie Culpepper / LexObserver)
What do we know about what happened at 98 Hancock St. a week ago? Still, very little.
- We previously reported that a still-unidentified 35-year-old man holding a knife was shot and killed by a Lexington police officer last Saturday after a confrontation in the roundabout by 98 Hancock St.
- We know this man was one of three residents of the 98 Hancock St. house, and that this house is operated by Eliot Community Human Services, whose services include support for individuals suffering from mental illness. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said that multiple police officers responded to a 911 call from a jogger who saw a man in the window of 98 Hancock St. begging for someone to call the police because another man was “trying to kill him.”
- Upon the officers’ arrival at the house, the man with the knife exited the house and advanced toward the officers. The officers attempted deescalation, Ryan said, by asking the man to drop the knife and shooting bean bag-type non-lethal rounds which repeatedly knocked the man down; he continued to get back up, and when a police officer backing up fell and the man advanced toward him, Ryan said another officer fired his service weapon at the man, who later died in the hospital. An independent investigation by the District Attorney is ongoing.
- The facility at 98 Hancock St. appears to be an Adult Clinical Community Services (ACCS) facility. A spokesperson for Eliot declined to answer a request for explicit confirmation of this classification, but according to Eliot’s website, this is the only kind of residential facility operated by Eliot with “Metro Suburban” locations. ACCS facilities are designed to serve adults suffering from “severe and persistent mental illness.”
- Property records suggest that Eliot has three total locations in Lexington, including their corporate headquarters. According to those records, Eliot has operated the 98 Hancock St. facility since 1973, when it was purchased by Mystic Valley Mental Health Center, the previous name for Eliot. A neighbor to the Hancock St. facility confirmed to LexObserver that it has existed for decades.
- “Eliot Community Human Services is cooperating with law enforcement officials in their investigation into Saturday’s fatal incident in Lexington,” Mary McGeown, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) at Eliot, wrote in an email to LexObserver Wednesday. She expressed appreciation for the support of the Lexington community “during this difficult time” and added that Eliot is focused on “the safety and well-being of the residents who live in the home.”
Many statements, few answers
- On Monday, Feb. 14, Chair Jill Hai released a statement on behalf of the Select Board acknowledging that the shooting on Hancock St. “has deeply affected us all.” She extended condolences to the family of the man killed, and “hope for healing for our employees, the staff and residents of Eliot Community Human Services, their neighbors, and all residents of our community.” In the meantime, the Select Board is committed to supporting first responders and to providing “the best possible public safety and services.”
- Not all residents in town are satisfied with this response. The four residents constituting the community advocacy group Lexington Residents Reimagining Public Safety (LRRPS) emailed a statement expressing their desire for more answers to the Select Board Tuesday morning. While appreciative of the sentiments of the statement, “we believe there is more that must be said and done by Town leaders, including the Police Chief, to address the tragic fact that a Lexington resident was killed by police on Saturday,” they wrote.
- “The shooting raises a range of thoughts and feelings within the community, including anxiety, fear, and mistrust,” the members added. Residents who support and care for individuals with mental health find this incident “especially upsetting.” Moving forward, the shooting “tragically reinforces for us the need to expand the discussion [of how public safety looks and operates in Lexington], including the consideration of emerging best practices for addressing public safety crises related to mental health issues.”
- The Select Board did not take any public comment during their meeting Tuesday evening. Hai acknowledged that the Select Board had received many questions from community members, but could not comment due to the ongoing investigation. “I know…that is not an easy thing to hear, but we have no alternative,” Hai said at the meeting.
- LexObserver contacted both Eliot Community Human Services and Chief Michael McLean of the Lexington Police Department, asking to discuss and clarify general policies and details about the operations of both entities rather than the specific circumstances of the incident. Both declined to answer questions at this time.
- “When a tragic incident like this occurs in town it affects the entire community,” Chief McLean wrote in an email to LexObserver Thursday. While he says it is “completely understandable” that people have questions about what happened, he wrote “we are unable to discuss any details of the incident during the investigative time frame,” adding, “The Lexington Police Department is dedicated to transparency and will be more than willing to share what information we can once we are able to do so.” He “will not be addressing the LRRPS statement at this time,” he added.
- Also on Thursday, McLean and Town Manager Jim Malloy released a joint statement to the community, writing that “we care and…understand various community members may be impacted differently” and that they “are committed to transparency and action when the time is appropriate.” They will hold a community conversation “to listen to your concerns and answer any questions you may have” once the investigation is complete, they added. They directed residents needing “free and confidential” support to the Town’s Human Services Department, which can be reached at 781-698-4840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding existing LPD policies
- The Lexington Police Department has a policy section posted publicly on its website. According to the limited available information about this case, most of the policies which may have relevance to the shooting at Hancock St. fall under Section 41 of the LPD Policies and Procedures Manual.
- Section 41B outlines policies for “Use of Force – Defensive Actions.” Section 41C covers “Firearms.” And Section 41O covers “Responding to the Mentally Ill.”
- Beyond these policies, the department published a memorandum outlining how their policies fit with the Eight Can’t Wait initiative, a combination of eight specific measures which restrict use of force and mandate transparency, in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. These measures include de-escalation; former Police Chief Mark Corr wrote in this memo that “de-escalation is a required learning point in the [Municipal Police Training Committee] MPTC recruit academy and is required in annual in-service training.”
- Additionally, the LPD has “made it a point” to train officers in several areas over the past two years, including “de-escalation [and] Crisis Intervention Training,” a type of training and program focused on responding to mental health crises, Chief McLean told LexObserver last month. In his Jan. 26 email to LexObserver, McLean had also stressed that the department had “requested additional funds in our budget for training in these areas and they will be part of our yearly training curriculum.” He declined to elaborate further on current LPD training procedures and funding at this time.
- Section 41B notes that policies cannot anticipate or address every circumstance: “Due to the uncertainty and rapidly changing nature of these situations, no written policy can offer definitive answers to every situation in which the use of force might be appropriate,” the policy introduction states. Rather, the policies should “provide officers with a basis on which to utilize sound judgment in making reasonable and prudent decisions.” Additionally, “all officers of the Lexington Police Department will use only the force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives.”
- Section 41B defines and references a “Super Sock Round” as “a flexible projectile referred to as a ‘bean bag’ round, fired from a 12 gauge shotgun specifically assigned to less lethal use only.” This description appears to match that of the non-lethal projectiles fired at the man at 98 Hancock St. before he was shot with a bullet. LexObserver could not find any mention of Tasers, electroshock weapons, electronic control weapons or stun guns in this policy.
- Under Section 41O, at least two officers should be dispatched in incidents involving the mentally ill, as well as a “street supervisor” when available. Officers should try to avoid acting with haste if circumstances permit, “avoid excitement” e.g. by dispersing crowds, ignore any abusive language, and offer reassurance and respect to the individual while trying to learn as much as possible about their situation, per the policy. “It is not necessarily true that mentally ill persons will be armed or resort to violence,” the policy states. “However, this possibility should not be ruled out and because of the potential dangers, the officer should take all precautions to protect everyone involved.”
- Many questions remain about what happened at Hancock St. that the ongoing investigation may answer. We don’t know how many rounds were fired; we don’t know the race or condition of the man killed; we don’t know what kind of support he was receiving. We encourage anyone with information about this incident that you feel is of public interest to reach out at email@example.com. We’d also appreciate the chance to hear from anyone who left a bouquet at the makeshift memorial, or the person who made the sign pictured above.
This week’s School Committee Meeting: If all goes well, masks could come off in LPS March 15, but sooner is unlikely
We post Twitter summaries of School Committee meetings the evening they take place; follow us to get those @ObserverLex.
- Some parents seek expedited repeal of mandate: A handful of parents spoke during both public comment periods at Tuesday’s meeting. During the first Community Speak, similar to the previous meeting, a few parents asked that School Committee members consider removing masks ASAP – specifically, Feb. 28, to coincide with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)’s mask mandate end date. Parents especially referenced having young children, including children with special education needs such as dyslexia, who struggle to learn reading and phonics with the inhibition of masks. One added that clear ‘smile masks,’ a possible workaround, fog up, so don’t resolve this.
- Additionally, at least one parent alleged some silent lunches were taking place at the elementary school level as a result of ongoing COVID restrictions. At the meeting, Superintendent Julie Hackett said she had not seen this in any of her many school visits, but encouraged parents to speak up if this is happening.
- Hackett also noted that she sent a letter to the Lexington Board of Health Tuesday asking that the mask mandate remain in place until March 15, as planned. If “positive trends continue,” it can be lifted across LPS then, without being extended, she said. She cited cases increasing after both the Thanksgiving and winter breaks this school year as one big reason to keep the mandate in place for roughly two weeks after the LPS February break next week.
- Additionally, conflicting guidance remains in place at state and federal levels, she noted — for instance, DESE school masking guidance diverges from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, with the latter continuing to recommend universal indoor masking in schools.
- Hackett wants the district to be set up for success when it finally does lift the mandate, so a mask requirement does not need to be reimplemented, she said. Students and staff will be allowed to keep wearing masks if they want after the mandate ends, she added.
- Concurrence at a Board of Health meeting the same night: The Board of Health also discussed the mask mandate at their meeting Tuesday, with Hackett and LPS Director of Health Services Karen Rufo both speaking in favor of keeping the mandate until March 15 at the meeting. Despite all six public commenters asking for Lexington to become mask-optional sooner (including two parents who also spoke at the School Committee meeting), the majority of the five board members wanted to keep the mandate until March 15. Only member Dr. David Geller said he’d like to see the mandate revisited sooner rather than later if possible – “even a week after break, a week earlier than the 15th” – but stressed his great respect for the school staff and their position. Later in the meeting, Chair Wendy Heiger-Bernays expressed appreciation for the respectful tone of all the public commenters. The Board of Health did not take any vote about the mask mandate at their meeting Tuesday.
- Finally time for a new high school? In her report, Hackett also referenced her letter last week announcing a positive sign that the district might finally be accepted into the state Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) pipeline for funding for a new or renovated high school this year. An official vote by the MSBA is expected March 2. You can read that letter here.
- Progress in diversity and equity: A n annual report summarized progress the district has made to reduce systemic barriers to equity and ongoing work to be done in areas including diverse hiring, delivering a diverse curriculum, and addressing disproportionate use of suspensions. You can view the whole presentation here, and read the full report here.
- A few parents cite, do not elaborate on an issue at Bowman: During both public comment periods, a few different parents referenced written complaints submitted about major concerns and negative experiences of some students at Bowman Elementary School. It was unclear exactly what the negative experiences were that the parents were referring to. One parent called for an independent, thorough investigation. “We’d love to talk to you about the issues, but we are not at liberty to do so due to confidentiality and privacy laws,” Hackett wrote in an email to LexObserver Friday, adding that she had told parents this as well. “There are always two sides to every story. I have spent many, many hours looking into the complaints, and I am confident that Principal [Jennifer] Corduck [of Bowman] and her staff continue to put the needs of all children first and have the matter well in hand,” she wrote.
- Hackett responds to special ed forum: In another section of her report, Hackett also responded to LexObserver’s account of last week’s SEPAC/SEPTA special education forum, pointing specifically to three areas of questions asked and comments made at the forum which she said lacked context and needed clarification. You can read Hackett’s full report here.
- During the second Community Speak of the meeting, parent Mona Roy, an LHS liaison to LexSEPTA present at last week’s forum, pushed back against some of these comments, maintaining that community progress happens when community members speak up, and that questions at the forum reflected realities of parent and student pandemic experiences. She also stressed her appreciation for the hard work School Committee members do for the special education community.
- Unit C contract ratified: After a half-hour executive session early in the meeting, School Committee members voted unanimously to ratify a Memorandum of Agreement with Unit C, hourly employees who hold the lowest-paid benefit-eligible positions. This contract took “the better part of a year” to negotiate, Lexington Education Association President Avon Lewis told LexObserver last week; the previous contract expired in September.
- A goodbye for one member: Tuesday’s School Committee meeting was the last for member Scott Bokun, who is completing his three-year term and previously opted not to run for reelection. A student performance and School Committee proclamation were both presented in his honor at the beginning of the meeting. Every member delivered a heartfelt tribute to Bokun, praising him for leaving a “lasting impact” on fellow members and on the LPS district, from his passion for the LPS core values to his deft emoji use in digital communications. Multiple members, including Bokun, appeared teary.
COVID-19 Weekly Update: Cases continue to drop
While last week, Lexington had 85 new COVID-19 cases, the Town is down to 36 new cases as of Thursday, Feb. 17 — so local cases have now been dropping for over a month straight, and are back to pre-Omicron levels.
- The case number outlook continues to look good at Lexington Public Schools as well. As of Thursday, the school system had only 9 students and teachers absent who had tested positive, and just 2 students, but no staff, on quarantine. Last week, 21 students were absent who had tested positive, while 3 students were on quarantine. Six buildings — LCP, Estabrook, Fiske, Harrington, LHS and the Central Office — appeared totally COVID-free this week.
- Free Town PCR COVID testing every Saturday (including today) until March 5: Between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Feb. 19, 26 and March 5, Lexington residents can get a free PCR test at the LPS Administration Building thanks to town ARPA funding. You can find out more and register here.
- Social Justice Candidate Forum today: LexPride is holding a virtual Candidate Forum on Social Justice today from 4:00 to 5:45 p.m. In addition to hearing from Select Board, School Committee and Planning Board candidates, you can hear from proponents and opponents of Question 1 referring to gas-powered leaf blowers. You can register here and submit questions to the candidates here.
- Townwide survey closing soon: We reported last month on some of the ways the Town-wide survey conducted every five years can inform town decision-making. The Town announced this week that this year’s survey is closing soon. You can fill out the survey, which should take about 20 minutes, here.
That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up and donate too! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with tips and questions anytime. As always, you can also check out and share our website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages. Thanks so much again for reading and have a great weekend.
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi