Captain John Danilecki presents a Clear and Present Danger to Boston

Christopher Schmidt
Sep 3 · 8 min read
Captain John Danilecki, threatening protesters on the ground with further pepper spray.

In numerous videos of the march held in Boston yesterday, there was one figure who stood out. A Captain in the Boston Police Department — and the only BPD officer wearing a black vest covering his badge — this officer seemed to be routinely on the front lines in several violent altercations with protesters. He was seen routinely pushing protesters, leading the charge in scrums, and was even seen using pepper spray aggressively after crowds were already actively backing away. Based on several eyewitness confirmations — including matching the number on his helmet to Boston Police Department records — that person is Boston Police Captain John “Jack” Danilecki¹.

Danilecki is the Captain of the Boston Police Department Bike Unit; he has been with the Boston Police Department for more than 25 years, and based on observations, was in command of the bike unit at Saturday’s protest event. Throughout the event, in almost every circumstance where there was violence against protesters, Captain Danilecki was on hand, and often directly leading the charge.

Before the Parade

Long before the parade began — reportedly at close to 10am — the first clash between police and protesters arrived. Reportedly on the order of Captain Danilecki, officers were ordered to remove masks from protesters at the event: “All of them covering their faces, get those masks off.” Not only is this his direction to officers, he participated personally, roughly tearing the hoodie down off of a protester (0:14).

Danilecki is shown tearing the hood off of a counter-protester, despite issuing no instructions or statements.

During this altercation, you can see Captain Danilecki standing by as the crowd chants “Off his head” at 0:30 — asking the officers to take their knees off the head of the protester that had been brought to the ground.

Closer to noon, shortly before the Parade began, the bike unit decided to move through the location of the gathered protesters, rather than using the established and barricaded parade route: That is, Boston police decided to ride their bikes through the *crowd* side of the barricades for no clear reason. Since the crowd had already gathered on the street behind the barricade, this led to a altercation with the crowd (0:35) where multiple initial arrests occurred. Captain Danilecki was not visibly directly involved in the front line of this push, but was seen supervising the arrests (1:17 and others) as several protesters were placed into the back of a police wagon after being pulled from the crowd during it.

About 10 minutes later — but still before the start of the parade — there was an event where cops pushed through the barricades into the crowd in order to make unprovoked arrests. This charge was directly led by Captain Danilecki: he was the first through the crowd, and pepper sprayed and then knocked down a protester (0:04). This is not part of a mixed crowd led by other officers: Danilecki is the first officer to take action here.

Captain Danilecki spraying a protester, still from the video linked above.

After this, the officers rush forward in a scrum, seemingly arresting two participants for no clear reason. This is the first reported incident of pepper spray use during the event. A photo was taken showing him holding up pepper spray in a large crowd, immediately before spraying that spray indiscriminately into the crowd again, which is largely just reacting to being assaulted by police with truncheons (0:12, another angle shows an entire crowd moving away from pepper spray (0:06)), followed by video of him holding pepper spray directly in the faces of protesters (0:39). His use of pepper spray was reportedly “without any specific aim and unprovoked”, though another attendee described it as an intentional way to attack a person carrying a medic bag.

Clearing Congress Street

The other major incident happened at around 4pm, as the police attempted to clear Congress Street; when protesters refused to move for motorcycles/clear the street, they used bikes as barricades to push back the crowd (without clearly communicating what was being requested). This second incident appears to have been one one of the most violent portions of the protest, with the cops having a clear agenda that was at no point clearly communicated to protesters, and with significant use of physical force to move otherwise peaceful protesters.

The police formed a line using bikes, which was pushed right into protesters. From here, there were a number of scuffles, including a State Trooper shoving a medic then violently tackling him.

However, the main cause of the overall scuffle in the 4pm melee was simple: after wielding his pepper spray in the face of a protester, the Captain drops his canister of pepper spray. In order to retrieve it, he rapidly pushes back the protester in front of him, and the person to his right punches the protester in the jaw in order to make more space for the Captain to retrieve his pepper spray. In parallel, a second officer uses his pepper spray to break up the fight — and 4 seconds later, after the Captain retreives his pepper spray, he pops back up and sprays the entire crowd again.

Screenshots for these images are from this video.

It appears that the main cause of the scuffle was when the Captain held his pepper spray directly in the face of a protester before dropping his pepper spray, then shoving them(44:52->45:01; alternative viewpoint shows the shove starting from another officer, followed by Captain Danilecki hopping in) During this time was some scuffle, and a second officer used pepper spray (0:14; alternative viewpoint 0:07). After the crowd was forced back, Captain Donelecki had picked up his own pepper spray and sprayed the crowd again (0:18). He then walks through the front of the police line, using pepper spray again against the brick wall at the base of city hall (0:31; alternative viewpoint at 0:00) and then walking forward further while holding up pepper spray, shoving a pepper sprayed protester (0:09) and then standing threateningly with the pepper spray in hand (0:20–0:30; also in photo form), before reportedly spraying again. A longer form of this section of the events can be seen on YouTube, which gives longer context both before and after.

Throughout these videos, there is no call for the crowd to disperse; while the words “move back” are shouted a couple times, for anyone at the front, there is no “back” to move to, as the crowd is forced entirely up against the police bikes being used as barricades.

State St. Arrests

About 20 minutes after the fight by City Hall, the bike cops had moved the crowd back to State St. The cops lined their bikes up across Congress, and stood there for 5ish minutes with no particular shift. Suddenly, at about 4:40pm, there was a massive rush — started by one or two cops, but eventually with a full force of 30–40 officers jumping in. I have watched this incident from 6 different angles now (1, 2 (1:06:30), 3, 4, 5 (8:10), 6), and none of them seems to show any risk: the only explanation I can come up with is that there was an intent to take any noise-making devices away from anyone who had them: bullhorns, drums, etc.

Initially, this did not seem to include Officer Danilecki, who showed up later. However, I realized on further investigation, this was wrong: From Rod Webber’s livestream (active as he was arrested), Danilecki was charging at Rod Webber (8:10), but is intercepted by another man in a white shirt, who Danilecki appears to punch in the jaw (8:13). Danilecki then ensures that this person is held by two other officers, before running to the street holding up his mace can and again threatening to deploy mace against documenting the arrest in the middle of the street (0:44).

Other Events

There was also another incident of violence perpetrated by this Police Captain. During an arrest earlier in the day, the Captain shoved multiple people who were observing the arrest (0:26–0:31). He also pushed into the crowd in order to take someone’s bullhorn and illegally search their bag earlier along the parade route.

Beyond today’s events, Danilecki has also been seen as the first to use pepper spray on at least one other occasion in 2017, when he used pepper spray as part of moving a crowd at the Fight Supremacy rally in 2017 (0:39; there is a similar looking officer who is not a captain shoving at the start).

In Total

This police captain appeared to be the primary user of pepper spray in at least three different cases where the crowd was either peaceful, or otherwise retreating; and was actively participating in several scrums that resulted in participants being pushed to the ground. He reportedly punched a protester, triggering a violent melee in which at least 4 people were left on the ground. He was shown assaulting at multiple observers who were doing nothing other than standing nearby while officers were performing an arrest. He was in the front lines in almost every incident of violence, with the exception of those who (earlier in the day) blocked the unnecessary large line of police motorcycles.

Captain Danilecki was a menace and a danger to the community on Saturday, plain and simple. I truly believe that were it not for his behavior yesterday, the protest would have been a largely unremarkable event: there would have been no use of pepper spray, no violent altercations, and many fewer arrests. While there were minor clashes and incidents of violence throughout the day, every major incident involved exactly one person: Officer Danilecki.

We can talk about the drastic overmilitarization of this event some other day, but first, let’s ensure that Mayor Marty Walsh knows that the Boston Police Department, and Officer Danilecki professionally, need to face consequences for their behavior on Saturday.

p.s.

Thank you to those who put themselves on the line yesterday to stand up for the values that I know Boston has. I wasn’t at the event on Saturday, but it’s only through your effort to witness that I was able to piece any of this together. There were dozens of people documenting in real-time, and that’s the only reason I could tie these things together at all. Thank you.

[1] Danilecki’s badge was not visible due to his vest, so he was not identified by badge number. However, his captain’s bars were visible, and he was seen wearing helmet number 8947. 8947 is listed as Danilecki’s Personnel ID in a FOIA request in 2016. With his role as captain of the Boston Bike Unit and the matching ID number, combined with confirmation from several on the ground witnesses, I feel confident that this is Captain Danilecki.

Officer Danilecki, immediately before pepper spraying a protester. Photo by Justin O’Donnell.

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