Based on actual events which occurred in Boston in January 1975, A Case of Deadly Force is a shocking portrayal police corruption and brutality and the courage of one lawyer to stand up to the system.
Attorney Lawrence O’Donnel, Sr. (Richard Crenna) is a former cop in the Boston Police Department. Now considered to be a “cop’s” lawyer, O’Donnell remains close to the tight-knit Irish cop fraternity.
However, the shooting of a black hospital worker, James Bowden, by two Irish cops threatens to change O’Donnell’s relationship with the police. When Bowden’s widow, Patricia (Lorraine Toussaint) calls on O’Donnell to defend her dead husband, he agrees to take the case.
The police claim that Bowden robbed a store and then tried to run them over with his car. The official word is that the police shooting was in self-defense. The store-owner has identified Bowden as the man who robbed him with a revolver. A gun found near the scene of the crime is traced to Bowden by the police. Virtually everyone agrees that the cops have an airtight case. Yet, O’Donnell becomes concerned that the police are covering up an unjustifiable shooting, and he determines to clear Bowden’s name.
The police try to block the discovery of vital information. They intimidate witnesses and tamper with court evidence. However, as a result of O’Donnell’s relentless investigation, the departments’ case begins to unravel. It turns out that the gun traced to Bowden was found 100 feet away from the shooting and it was an automatic, not a revolver. Key witnesses also fail to describe Bowden accurately. When it is revealed that Bowden was shot in the back of the head, it is obvious that the self-defense claim by the police is a lie.
O’Donnell’s triumph in court marks the first time in history that a wrongful death suit is successfully brought against the police department. Justice is finally served and James Bowden’s name is cleared.