BOSTON — A man whose family believes he was beaten by police at a sobriety checkpoint died of blunt trauma to the head, torso and chest, and a state medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
The findings support the family's claim that Kenneth Howe, 45, of Worcester, was beaten by police at the North Andover checkpoint the day before Thanksgiving, said his family's lawyer, Frances King.
"There's no doubt that he was beaten to death," King said Friday.
Authorities have said Howe was taken into custody for striking a trooper and attempting to flee. They say he slumped over and became unresponsive while being booked at the state police barracks. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The family believes he was beaten at the site of the checkpoint and was dying as he was dragged off by officers.
King said she plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit next week alleging police brutality.
A spokesman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said an investigation by an assistant district attorney and state police detectives was continuing. The spokesman, Steve O'Connell, declined to comment on the family's claim that police beat Howe.
O'Connell said Blodgett plans to meet with federal prosecutors early next week. He declined to elaborate.
The medical examiner's findings were first reported by The Eagle-Tribune newspaper and confirmed to The Associated Press by O'Connell and King. O'Connell said Howe's death certificate names cardiovascular disease as a "contributory" condition.
Blodgett said previously that state troopers, North Andover police and members of the Essex sheriff's office were conducting a sobriety checkpoint when a vehicle Howe was traveling in approached shortly before midnight.
Blodgett said a state trooper saw Howe making furtive movements. When the trooper asked him to get out of the vehicle, Howe jumped out, hit the trooper and ran, Blodgett said. He was arrested after a short chase, and charged with assault and battery on a police officer, Blodgett said.
King, however, said Howe did not try to resist arrest. She said Howe was smoking a marijuana cigarette and, when he realized he was approaching a police checkpoint, he tried to extinguish it and put on his seat belt.
As a state trooper approached the passenger side of the pickup truck, where Howe was sitting, he put both of his hands up and said, "It's just a marijuana cigarette," King said.
King said the driver of the truck said the trooper then pulled Howe out of the truck and screamed, "I've been assaulted."
"At that point between 10 and 20 police officers swarmed on Kenneth," King said. "The driver never saw Kenneth stand up on his own again."
King said the driver saw Howe being picked up "limp" by police and dragged to a state police cruiser.
A spokesman for state police did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
The medical examiner's office said in a statement Friday that a finding of homicide as the manner of death does not necessarily mean that a murder occurred.
"The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner uses the term homicide to mean a death at the hands of another. ... A medical examiner typically does not offer an opinion regarding criminal wrongdoing or civil liability," said Jacqueline Faherty, an attorney for the medical examiner's office.
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Howe was the co-owner of a barber shop, and had a wife and three children.