Boston’s new police boss was once mistaken for a suspect and beaten by officers

Twenty-seven years ago, undercover Boston police officer Michael Cox, a black cop, was badly beaten by two other officers when they mistook him for a suspect. Despite alleged efforts to cover up their violent mistake, Cox won a federal civil lawsuit against the department, successfully suing them for violating his civil rights and winning a $1.3 million settlement with the city.

Now, the same officer who helped shed light on corruption in the Boston Police Department will lead that department as the city’s 44th commissioner, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday.

While not expected to begin work until Aug. 15, Cox signaled Wednesday that he wants the force of more than 2,000 officers to refocus on community policing.

“When we talk about things like diversity, equity and inclusion, that’s very important to the police department,” Cox, a Boston native, said at a press conference Wednesday. “The police service must resemble the communities in which we serve. Policing needs to include every resident so we can know how you want to be watched, what’s important to you, what you’re afraid of, what you need so we can serve you better. »

Cox managed to beat out four other candidates for the job, according to the mayor’s office. His appointment follows the national trend of police departments turning to black and brown police leadership in an effort to bridge the gap between community and police. Surveys show public perception of the profession hit an all-time low in nearly three decades following the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop.

For decades, black police officers have been known to face discrimination after joining the predominantly white profession. Those who fail to get along with the work culture or break through the department’s “blue wall of silence” are often driven away by bullying and hazing.

Cox knows firsthand how badly black cops can be treated. In 1995, while pursuing a suspect in a restaurant shooting undercover, the then-police sergeant was struck from behind by an officer just as Cox was about to grab the suspect while he was climbing a fence. Several officers punched and kicked him after Cox fell to the ground, beating him unconscious. After realizing that Cox was actually one of them, the officers fled.

Cox spent six months recovering from the beatings, according to the boston globe. His attempts to report what happened to him and determine who was responsible resulted in years of harassment from fellow officers, including flat tires and late-night phone calls to his family members. Of the nearly two dozen officers who were asked to file a report on what happened to Cox, none said they witnessed exactly what happened, according to the World.

Finally, in 1998, a federal jury found that two of the officers involved in the attack had used excessive force. One of these officers committed assault and battery, according to the jury. The two officers and another officer showed willful disregard for Cox’s medical needs when they left him injured on the ground, the jury found. However, they found that Cox was not injured in an attempt to cover up the story (they have not decided whether there was an attempt to cover up the assault, according to Cox’s attorney at the time).

Although none of the officers involved faced criminal charges, Cox told reporters at the time that he was happy with the outcome of the trial. A total of four officers were disciplined in 1999 for being beaten, according to the World. That same year, Cox moved in with the city.

“It is clear that I was the victim of unconstitutional policing, no different from the incidents that probably occurred throughout the country against blacks and browns in general,” he said in reflecting on the trial on Wednesday. “The reality is that I’ve been a victim of it, but that’s not who I am. »

Cox’s career in law enforcement spans 30 years. At that time, he was a veteran member of the Boston Police Department, but has served as chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department in Michigan since 2019 and will leave that position on July 31 to return to Boston.

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