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Man who opened fire on police during May 31 riots gets five years in federal prison; still faces state charges

A federal judge yesterday sentenced John Boampong of Dorchester to five years in prison for the way he responded to police ordering him to drive away from Arlington Street by shooting at them repeatedly at the tail end of the rioting that started following a George Floyd protest on May 31, 2020, the US Attorney's office reports.

Boampong, 37, who still faces separate state charges, had pleaded guilty in January to federal charges of interfering with a law enforcement officer during the commission of a civil disorder, receipt of a firearm by a person under indictment for a felony offense, and assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers or employees.

In a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors urged a sentence of 63 months, higher than the average for such convictions, but less than the ten years he would have gotten had he gone to trial and been found guilty:

Why did the defendant do this? To protect himself, a friend, or a relative who was in danger? No: he fired because he was mad at the policeman who (he says) broke his car windshield . . . a windshield that the policeman had tapped so that Defendant Boampong would pay attention and not run over others or hit other cars.

Did the defendant act on the spur of the moment act, without time for thought? No again: after the windshield incident, the defendant drove away, circled the Boston Common, drove to a side street, parked, opened his car, got out, and walked away from it. Only then did he open fire. He had plenty of time to think and rethink.

Miraculously, Defendant Boampong hit none of the officers and the rounds were fired over their heads. But this only underscores what makes his crime so inexcusable: that he had time to think and plan, but did not, and that he was willing to risk reckless injury to officers, property and others in the building above. Over all of this hangs, of course, the fact that while the police sought to protect the public and restore order amidst chaos, the defendant wanted only revenge for some minor property damage.

The memorandum continues:

None of this is to suggest any disapproval with the original demonstration’s peaceful intentions or with the idea that Defendant Boampong should have been able to petition the government if he thought that the police had broken his windshield illegally. The First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to petition their government with grievances. But it does not guarantee them the right to petition the government with a loaded gun.

Boampong's attorney argued for a sentence of 42 months, because Boampong is a good father to his 12-year-old son, that he pleaded guilty in part to provide a lesson to his son and because he, like so many others, was inflamed that night by both Covid-19 - he was laid off from his health-club job because of it - and the national anger over George Floyd's death.

That anger, his attorney continued, stemmed in part from his own experiences with police - after a racially motivated attack with a tire iron in South Boston left him partially paralyzed for months, police did nothing and then, later, after his son was born, Braintree police beat him at a local motel, where they were called on a report of a Hispanic man beating a dog there - and ended up attacking him even though he is Black, not Hispanic. Couple that with his increasing difficulty to get the psychiatric medications he needed, because of his layoff and the death of his mother and top it off with the anger over George Floyd and more general racism in Boston and Boampong was a man on the edge, his attorney writes.

The government, at John's detention hearing, expressed its belief that John's conduct on June 1, 2020 represented a concerning escalation of anti-police behavior and aggression. But neither animus nor aggression motivated John's conduct that night.

His encounter with police and his reaction in its aftermath was not planned. Having attended the peaceful protest that started at Nubian Square in Roxbury, John was on his way home when he received an urgent call from his cousin, asking to be picked up. After picking up his cousin, his wife, and John's girlfriend, John drove through a scene of chaos: a heavy police presence covered downtown Boston and officers' interactions with civilians ranged from peaceful to violent.

When John drove his car down Boylston Street, he was stopped by multiple police officers and ordered to "move, move!" The occupants of John’s car (not John) became verbally combative with officers and as John went to back up, an officer smashed his windshield with a baton. For John, this "echoed his traumatic experience in 2010, when he, his fiancée and their infant son were all pepper sprayed, and he was misidentified as a criminal suspect." "'Out of frustration with everything,' John drove around the block, pulled out a gun and fired it toward the direction of Arlington and Boylston Streets, where BPD officers were standing. Officers undoubtedly thought they were under attack, and this deeply regrettable and stupid act could have caused the very violence that John protested earlier that day.

John knows now he should have just driven away, gone home to be with his son, and never possessed or fired a gun. But he asks this Honorable Court to consider his actions on the night of June 1, 2020 in the context of the perfect storm of loss that came before, and the vulnerability of his particular psychological trauma response and history.

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