The dean of students at Boston’s English High School was arraigned today after being charged with shooting a student in the back of the head.
The Reverend Shaun Harrison pleaded not guilty to charges including armed assault with intent to murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, and unlawful possession of ammunition. Bail was set at $250,000, and if he posts the bail, Harrison will be required to wear a GPS monitor and be confined to his home.
Prosecutors allege that Harrison was operating a marijuana distribution scheme and employed a 17-year-old student, who he was tutoring in English, to deal drugs for him. Something caused the relationship to sour, and the Commonwealth contends that while walking on Magazine Street in Roxbury Tuesday night, Harrison shot the student in the back of the head. The bullet grazed the back of the student’s head and lodged in his cheek, where it was removed by doctors at Boston Medical Center. The student told the police that he had been selling marijuana for Harrison for the past several months. On Tuesday night before the shooting, Harrison allegedly told the student they were going to get marijuana from a house, and there would be girls present for the student.
Police went to Harrison’s home after the shooting and discovered three of his alleged accomplices, who were in possession of marijuana, guns, and a police scanner. The accomplices were all arrested and charged with drug crimes. The police investigation continues, and media reports have suggested that there may be surveillance footage of the shooting and the aftermath.
Community leaders have reacted to the shooting and Harrison’s alleged involvement with surprise. Harrison has been characterized as a advocate against violence who worked in many difference capacities in the Boston Public School System. He was involved in efforts to rid the streets from handguns and gangs. Since the shooting, he has been fired by English High.
It will be interesting to see how Harrison decides to defend this case. There are a number of legal issues that will need to be addressed during the discovery and pretrial phases of the litigation. The first, and most important, question is whether the student will testify against Harrison in court. The student clearly has a Fifth Amendment privilege to decline to testify. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, no person can be forced to testify under oath if his testimony would constitute an admission of criminal conduct. In this case, because the student is an admitted drug dealer, he could assert his Fifth Amendment privilege and refuse to testify if he wanted (anyone can waive a Fifth Amendment privilege and testify, even under the danger of self-incrimination). However, it is very likely that the prosecutor will tell the student that he will not be charged for his drug dealing crimes if he cooperates with the Commonwealth’s efforts to prosecute Harrison for the shooting. The prosecutor can grant immunity to the student, which eliminates the possibility of prosecution.
If the student cooperates, Harrison will likely have to consider a self-defense argument. The viability of that argument may well depend on the quality of the surveillance video that captures the shooting.