Oct 28 2013

Why are the Massachusetts State Police camera shy?

Dr. Q

On October 11, a Massachusetts state trooper shot two unarmed men at a traffic stop in Medford. The state police have claimed that the trooper feared for his life and was forced to shoot when the driver, a 19-year-old man, attempted to hit the state trooper with his vehicle. The driver has been charged with numerous crimes including assault with a dangerous weapon. The passenger, who was also shot, has not been accused of doing anything wrong — nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So far, the only evidence presented to the public that either of the shooting victims did anything wrong is the word of the very state trooper who shot them. Personally I don’t think that’s good enough. When a police officer shoots someone, we deserve real evidence that the shooting was justified.

There’s a very simple measure that the Massachusetts State Police can take to assure the public that they are justified when they shoot: they can go on camera.

Many police departments use video cameras to bring more transparency to their actions. One type of camera that police departments use is the dashboard-camera (or dashcam). These cameras are mounted in a police cruiser. They can be used to examine why a police officer pulled someone over and what happened during the traffic stop.

A dashcam would have been perfect for recording the police shooting in Medford. A dashcam also could have been used to record another recent incident during which a state trooper shot a mentally ill man to death after the man allegedly tried to kill the trooper with a pen.

Dashcams are not a new technology. They have been in use for decades. After the infamous 1991 Rodney King beating — an incident that was only brought to the public’s attention because a bystander video-recorded it — the Christopher Commission, a blue ribbon commission appointed by the mayor, recommended that the Los Angeles Police Department begin using dashcams. The Christopher Commission wrote that dashcams offered “A promising possibility for reducing excessive force and assisting the LAPD and the City in defending civil litigation.” The use of dashcams would likely reduce excessive force claims “because the tapes demonstrate that the officer acted appropriately and because officers would be more careful to use force appropriately.” The Commission suggested that the cameras might even pay for themselves by reducing the number of lawsuits against the LAPD.

Since the Christopher Commission wrote its report over two decades ago, dashcam use by police has become much more common, although it is still not universal. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 61% of local police departments and 67% of sheriff’s departments used dashcams in 2007.

A more recent and very promising idea is having police attach wearable cameras to their clothing (I’ve sometimes heard them called “bodycams”). In Rialto, California, police recently began using wearable cameras. “In the first year after the cameras were introduced [in Rialto] in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period,” according to The New York Times. Bodycams would be useful for recording shootings that don’t occur at traffic stops such as the recent fatal shooting of Denis Reynoso by the Lynn Police Department.

Unfortunately, the Massachusetts State Police, the largest police department in the state, still haven’t gotten with the times. I recently submitted a public records request to the Massachusetts State Police asking for any dashcam videos of the Medford shooting and any policy documents related to dashcams. Here’s what I was told:

Please be advised that no video recording was created relative to your request. Further, the Department does not utilize dash-mounted video cameras in Department vehicles. Therefore, the Department does not have policies pertaining to the use of such equipment to provide to you.

If you think the idea of requiring police to be on camera constantly is ridiculous, consider what two Dallas, Texas police officers recently did when they thought they weren’t on camera. The officers shot a mentally ill man who was just standing still then lied on their police report, saying that the man lunged at them with a knife. Thankfully, their lies were exposed when the shooting was recorded by a nearby surveillance camera.

Police are human beings, not angels. They can commit crimes and lie just like everyone else. When police shoot someone, we shouldn’t have to take the word of the police on faith.

It’s about time the Massachusetts State Police and all the other police departments in the state start going on camera.


Oct 25 2013

Former Northborough police officer indicted for stealing from union

Dr. Q

A former Northborough police officer who previously resigned after being accused of stealing from the police union has been indicted. The MetroWest Daily News reports:

The former head of the Northborough Police patrolman’s union has been indicted on a charge he stole more than $25,000 from the union over a three-year period, the Worcester district attorney’s office said on Friday.

Nathan W.S. Fiske Sr., 33, of 318 Holden St., Holden was indicted by a Worcester County grand jury on Thursday on larceny of more than $250 by a common scheme.

Fiske is scheduled to be arraigned in Worcester Superior Court Nov. 6.

Fiske, who was a Northborough Police officer for six years, recently resigned from the force.

Authorities say Fiske stole more than $25,000 from the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (Mass. C.O.P.) Local 165, between Dec. 17, 2009 and March 14, 2013. He was the president of the union from September 2008 through May 2012.

“This was done over a period of time,” said current Local 165 President Detective Jeff Noel. “It wasn’t like he took one big chunk. He took smaller chunks.”

Each of the 25 union members paid $12 a week for union dues. Noel later found out that the union was at least three years behind on its dues for Mass. C.O.P., which was about $4,800.

“We’re up-to-date now,” said Noel. “There was a little bit left. We were able to pay back the dues.”

The thefts were discovered after Noel became union president and had the account switched from Fiske’s name in the spring. Union members noticed that more than $25,000 was missing.

Because of that deficit an officer who attended an annual Mass. C.O.P. conference in Hyannis this year had to pay for it out of pocket rather than have it paid for by the union.

Noel said he could not talk about the specifics of the case against Fiske.

“I didn’t do the investigation so I can’t get into anything of that nature,” Noel said.

Update (10/27/2013): Used a more thorough article.


Oct 24 2013

October 22 anti-police brutality rally at Lynn City Hall

Dr. Q

For years now, October 22 has been set as the “National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation,” a day when people gather around to country to hold grassroots rallies to protest police violence in their communities. I attended one such rally in Lynn, Massachusetts where family members of Denis Reynoso and their supporters gathered outside the Lynn City Hall.

Reynoso was an Iraq war veteran who was shot to death in his own home by Lynn police officers who entered without a warrant. Police have claimed that they shot Reynoso in self-defense after he tried to grab a police officer’s weapon.

The investigation into the shooting is being handled by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office, but the family has called for an independent investigation.

At the October 22 rally, people gathered outside city hall. After a while, an open mic (and later, a bullhorn) was set up. A number of people talked about Denis Reynoso while others recounted their own personal experiences. I recorded most of the speeches, but I made an amateurish mistake and ended up losing my video. A number of other people were recording the speeches, so I’ll post links to their videos if they are shared online.

There was also a rally for Reynoso on October 5 which I reported on. At that rally, protesters first gathered at the Lynn Commons then marched to the police station. Reynoso’s wife Jessica Spinney entered the police station and handed in a petition asking for an independent investigation and changes to the Lynn Police Department’s use-of-force policies.

The Daily Item reports that Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger has said that “If anyone else wants to come in and look at this [the shooting] — a legitimate entity or agency — you will have our full cooperation. We have nothing to hide.” However, James Lamanna, the attorney for the city, has refused to share records about the shooting with the family’s attorney, Howard Friedman. Lamanna told the Item that the DA advised him not to disclose the records yet.

You can sign an online petition calling on Lynn Mayor Judith Kennedy and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to provide an independent investigation of the Denis Reynoso shooting here.

Below, you can see some photos I took at the rally.

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You can see a few additional photographs here.


Oct 23 2013

Mendon police lieutenant charged with attacking fellow officers with knife, taser

Dr. Q

Recently, Lieutenant Donald R. Blanchette, Jr. of the Mendon Police Department was placed on paid leave while under investigation for misconduct by the Worcester District Attorney’s Office. The Police Department and DA’s office refused to say what he was being investigated for. Now, the officer is facing criminal charges and the results of the investigation have been disclosed.

The Telegram & Gazette reports:

Lt. Blanchette, 50, pleaded not guilty Monday in Milford District Court to four counts of assault and battery, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and a count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Judge Robert Calagione ordered Lt. Blanchette to stay away from the alleged victims.

The judge allowed motions to impound or redact the lieutenant’s address and waived his appearance at the next pretrial conference. The case was continued to Dec. 16.

The judge indicated he intends to have the case transferred to another court, Timothy J. Connolly, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr., said today.

Lt. Blanchette was arrested Monday by state police assigned to Mr. Early’s office.

The lieutenant allegedly assaulted Officer Christopher Bettencourt with a knife on Sept. 10, the police report said.

Officer Bettencourt was placed in fear when the lieutenant raised an open folding tactical knife toward Officer Bettencourt’s neck and groin, state police said.

On “diverse dates” from Jan. 11 to May 17, Lt. Blanchette assaulted Officer Bruce Poirier by striking him with a closed fist, the report said.

Without notice or provocation the lieutenant punched Officer Poirier in the chest, state police said.

Within the same time, Lt. Blanchette struck Officer Poirier’s chest and back, state police said.

On Sept. 17, Lt. Blanchette struck Officer Bettencourt in the ribs, investigators said.

From 2008 to 2013, Lt. Blanchette struck Officer Bettencourt in the chest. He punched Officer Bettencourt in the arm with a closed fist without notice or provocation, the report said.

On or about Jan. 11, Lt. Blanchette attempted to use his department issued Taser to “drive stun” Officer Poirier in the groin, state police said.

From Nov. 19 to April 29, Lt. Blanchette aimed a Taser at Officer Poirier, the report said.

From 2008 to January 2010, Lt. Blanchette used “an antenna-like” device in a whipping motion to strike Officer Poirier, the report said.

Last week, Mendon Police Chief Ernest Horn confirmed that Lt. Blanchette had been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

On Tuesday, Chief Horn said Lt. Blanchette will be transferring to medical leave at the end of the week for an unrelated medical issue.


Oct 19 2013

Worcester police reviewing appropriateness of officer’s reality show audition tape

Dr. Q

The Telegram & Gazette reports:

A city cop’s three-year-old audition video for a reality show, in which he strips from his department-issued uniform down to his underpants, has now raised the eyebrows of police officials.

Police Chief Gary J. Gemme confirmed Friday night that police are internally reviewing the video created by veteran Officer John M. McGuiness, who currently works the patrol wagon and in the cell room. The officer, who has been on the job for roughly 20 years, has not been suspended, the chief said.

The just over two-minute video features Officer McGuiness as he auditioned for what he says is a reality show in the Boston and Cape Cod area called Wicked Summer. Posted on the web site Vimeo.com, the video description says it was filmed for the casting company.

In it, Officer McGuiness says he is an openly gay police officer and expresses his desire to be cast for the show, which was never made.

Although the investigation has just begun, the chief said it doesn’t appear there is any type of violation that would merit suspension or termination of Officer McGuiness. There was no intent to disrespect the department’s badge or the department, the chief said.

There are department regulations involving police uniforms and badges for personal benefits.

“I think the only issue I have is in regard to prominently displaying the police badge, because using that badge in that context may not be appropriate,” he said. “That is something we will evaluate. On the surface it doesn’t appear to be anything that would result in serious disciplinary action.”

The chief said the review has just began and a determination would be made upon the review’s completion.

Officer McGuiness has been an excellent employee during his time on the force, Chief Gemme said. The context of why the video was made, the venue for which the video was intended to be aired and how the video became public must all be looked at by police officials, he added.

Here’s the video:


Oct 19 2013

Curry College campus officer fired after home invasion arrest

Dr. Q

The Patriot Ledger reports:

A Marshfield man being held without bail on home invasion and gun charges for allegedly entering the home of a woman he knows and pointing a police baton and a handgun at her has been fired from his job as a public safety officer at Curry College.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Frances L. Jackson, director of communication at the Milton college, confirmed that Paul Kodzis, 26, of 54 Primrose Lane had been fired.

“The matter remains under investigation with external law enforcement agencies, and the college is grateful for their service,’’ Jackson said.

Kodzis was arraigned Tuesday in Plymouth District Court on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, home invasion with a firearm, domestic assault, improper storage of a large-capacity firearm, armed burglary and witness intimidation.

Kodzis’ bail may be reconsidered following a dangerousness hearing scheduled for Friday.

Marshfield police arrested Kodzis on Monday night after a woman went to the police station to report that she had awakened at about 1 a.m. Monday to find a man, later identified as Kodzis, pointing a police baton and handgun at her and yelling, Marshfield police Lt. Paul Taber said. Taber said the woman, who lives in Marshfield, knows Kodzis “from the past.”

The woman told police she ran into the room of one of her roommates, and Kodzis followed her. The roommates were then able to talk Kodzis into handing over the gun, Taber said.

The witnesses told police they left the gun in the bathroom while the victim called Kodzis’ parents, who “picked him up and took control of the gun and the police baton that he had brought with him,” Taber said.

Police found two loaded, unsecured handguns in the attic of Kodzis’ home, Taber said.

Police have since suspended Kodzis’ license to carry firearms.