An Open Letter To Mark Wahlberg

Mr. Wahlberg:

Some years ago, a veteran of the Boston Police Department swore to me that, back in the day, everybody in the department believed that Danny Keeler had staged the heroic Charles River rescue that earned him fame and top honors in August, 1980.

I have no reason to believe that it’s true. It’s one of many unconfirmed or unconfirmable tales I’ve heard about Keeler over the years, in addition to the definitely true stories I have reported. But the fact that a colleague would believe such a remarkable thing surely suggests something about Keeler’s self-aggrandizing and manipulative tendencies.

So, I find myself a bit concerned to read that you will be portraying Keeler in your upcoming movie about the Boston Marathon bombing, and that you have been spending time with him in preparation for the role.

I earlier had some concerns, upon realizing that Keeler was featured in the book Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge, which is one of your source materials. But, I was relieved by the treatment of Keller in that book (which, by the way, I recommend). Sherman and Wedge portrayed Keeler as one of many people pulled into the events, whose collective experiences paint a tapestry of the city’s experience.

The book made no attempt to show Keeler actually doing much of anything significant that day, or in the subsequent investigation and pursuit of the Tsarnaevs. This fits with what was reported in the Boston Globe and elsewhere.

I might wonder whether Keeler’s self-reported thoughts were quite as cliched as reported in that book. But I don’t generally doubt his bravery, ability to take charge, and compassion for victims, all of which he has shown elsewhere in his policing career.

Sherman and Wedge even go out of their way to recount some of Keeler’s past lowlights, in their brief overview of his back story. So does the excellent columnist Kevin Cullen, in his generally flattering Boston Globe article about Keeler today.

Although, there is a lot they don’t include; you may want to read, for example, my 2006 dive into his troubling record.

If you have time, you might want to also read my award-winning feature dubbing his unit “The Worst Homicide Squad In The Country.” Or my investigation documenting how Keeler and other homicide detectives routinely came forward with “significant, previously undisclosed evidence [that] came to light often just days before trial.” Or this shorter piece where I showed that “Keeler’s Poison Spreads To Federal Court.” Or this article in which I revealed that the work of Keeler and others had created “Reasonable Bias” among Bostonians against the Boston Police Department. Or my expose of “The Overtime Game” his homicide unit was using to rack up bogus overtime pay.

There was no need for Sherman and Wedge to get into all that. But if your movie is going to star you as Keeler, I have to suspect that you will expand his role in the events around the bombing, making it significantly greater than it actually was. That seems to be confirmed in Cullen’s article, which says that your “Keeler” character will be “a composite of other police officers who worked on various parts of the bombing case.”

I have no issue with movies creating composite characters, and fictionalizing events. I get that. I can even accept it as part of the process of making a movie about something as important to Boston as the bombing.

But turning Keeler into a hero of those events would be a great mistake. It would, in fact, be one more in his long, inglorious career of spinning his own heroic story to cover his actual grave failings.

Consider this: by spinning a tale of his Patriots Day heroism and leadership, Keeler has effectively forestalled questions about why he was placed in charge of the Boylston Street security detail, which was specifically tasked with watching the crowds for potential harm-makers — and how that team completely failed in that task. (None were able to recall anything useful about the suspiciously acting young men after the fact.)

It wouldn’t be the first time Keeler has used self-created public glorification to cover for his own inadequacies. He has a long history of headline-grabbing, to overshadow his long trail of wrongful convictions, poor investigations, untruthfulness, and other misdeeds.

Indeed, that’s why the crazy story of staging a fake suicide rescue seems just a little bit plausible: that front-page heroism effectively saved Keeler from very nearly washing out of the department in his first year, on the heels of a four-day suspension and other troubles.

So, Mr. Wahlberg, please be wary of believing anything Keeler tells you, or of turning him into a Boston hero on-screen. There are others far more worthy of your attention and portrayal.

 

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