Did The Tsarnaev Manhunt Go Too Far? A State Report Says Shots Were Fired Improperly

With the trial of Dzokhar Tsarnaev for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing well underway, it's little surprise that people are thirsty for more information. Whether about the trial itself, the grisly attack, or the manhunt that ensued, the entire affair has left a heavy mark on the city of Boston, its people, and its law enforcement. And Friday, a new report came out on the law enforcement front, shining some light on some troubling facts. Namely, did the Tsarnaev manhunt go too far?

To be clear, when I say "too far," I'm not casting any doubt on just how imperative it was to catch Tsarnaev, who at the time was a prime suspect on the run, and considered an extreme danger to anyone around him. Rather, I'm talking about the behavior of the police during those frantic hours, as detailed extensively in a new Massachusetts state after action report on the manhunt.

Here's the upshot: in their push to apprehend Tsarnaev, the report (which has been a long two years in the making) claims that officers among the responding authorities displayed improper discipline with their firearms, a situation which created potentially dangerous situations for innocent citizens. In other words, in the course of a harried, touch-and-go search for a dangerous fugitive, some alleged errors were made.

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Make no mistake, on the whole the report regards the Tsarnaev manhunt positively, and that isn't hard to understand. Given the urgency of the situation, you can hardly fault the Boston Police for being on-edge. After all, the Tzarnaev brothers (Tamerlan, the elder, was slain while the two fled from the authorities) were, for all intents and purposes, considered the perpetrators of one of the most shocking acts of violence in Boston's modern history. With hundreds of police scouring Boston's Watertown suburb for hours, and in the dead of night, it's pretty easy to see how accidents might happen.

But, that's why protocols for safety exist. Here are some takeaways from the report, as detailed by USA Today.

  • Police fired on a pickup truck being driven by plainclothes officers, wrongly believing it was a stolen vehicle.
  • Police fired shots at Dzhokhar's fleeing car from both sides of the street, creating one of several "dangerous crossfire situations."
  • While engaged in a firefight with both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, officers fired without aiming their weapons properly.
  • While Dzhokhar was holed up inside a boat prior to his capture, one officer fired a shot without authorization, causing others to start shooting under the mistaken impression they'd been fired upon.
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The report nonetheless concludes that the response to the bombing and the manhunt, on the whole, "must be considered a great success," reported snafus and all. As noted by the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery, the report also describes conditions that would make it only natural for mistakes to be made — the report says that responding officers had inadequate downtime throughout the manhunt, fueling exhaustion and stress.

And meanwhile, the trial is racing towards its conclusion, as the defense has closed its arguments and the jury will soon be entering deliberations. It'll be interesting to see what they ultimately decide — the attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev haven't even argued for their client's innocence, but are simply fighting to spare him a potential death sentence.

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