Nov 6 2013

State trooper who leaked Tsarnaev photos retires after signing off on disciplinary charges

Dr. Q


Boston Magazine reports:

Three and a half months after releasing the dramatic behind-the-scenes photos he took during the manhunt for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sgt. Sean Murphy has retired from the Massachusetts State Police.

As part of a negotiated agreement, Murphy has also signed off on five disciplinary charges that were brought against him for the unauthorized release of the photos: violation of rules; unbecoming conduct; unsatisfactory performance; insubordination; and dissemination of information.

Under the agreement, Murphy waived his right to contest the charges before a trial board; was docked five of the vacation days he’d accrued; and received an honorable discharge. “I think it’s fair,” he told me this morning. “It could have been much worse.” His retirement, which comes after 25 years with the State Police, is effective Nov. 1.

When I asked him whether he’d been forced into the action, he replied: “My lawyer put it this way: ‘One can only form their own conclusions.’ I didn’t have to retire, but I realize and understand that I’ll never photograph again for the Mass State Police. I could work the midnight desk sergeant shift in Athol, but I have 25 years and I can retire.”

State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed that Murphy retired last week. “The process took its course, and Sgt. Murphy went through the disciplinary process,” Procopio said. “He chose to retire.” Procopio said that the marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed will always be a part of Massachusetts State Police history, and that “Sean’s release of the photographs will always be a footnote in it. I don’t think there’s much more I want to say about it.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Nov 6 2013

Boston police hope to acquire more semiautomatic weapons

Dr. Q

Yesterday, The Boston Globe announced the parting gift of Ed Davis, who recently stepped down as Commissioner of the Boston Police Department: more police militarization. According to the Globe, the Boston police plan to acquire more military-style, semiautomatic weapons to be used by patrol officers.

Four years after Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed concerns about arming more Boston police with military-style rifles, the department is quietly preparing to train 99 patrol officers to use such semiautomatic rifles, a dramatic boost in firepower that some officials say is excessive.

Under the plan, 22 uniformed officers on every shift — two for each of the city’s 11 districts — would have routine access to the weapons in their cruisers after they are trained. It represents a substantial increase from the current complement of four to eight specialized officers who patrol the city in “gun cars” equipped with an M4 semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun.

It is one of the final policy changes instituted by Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who left the department Friday after nearly seven years at the helm.

“It’s standard operating procedure across the nation, and the officers have to be able to protect themselves,” Davis said in an interview last week. “I think it’s a practical and appropriate plan.”

Davis said officials had been planning the change months before the April 15 Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, but the tragedy underscored the need for a greater number of more powerful weapons.

“An incident like that reinforces the need for equipment that’s necessary to defend the community,” he said.

It’s interesting that Davis would choose the Boston Marathon bombing to justify increasing the firepower of the Boston police because that incident actually shows precisely why the police shouldn’t be trusted with more powerful weapons.

During the manhunt for Marathon Bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, police became involved in a gun fight with the Tsarnaevs on Laurel Street. During the fight, police recklessly fired countless rounds in an attempt to hit the Tsarnaevs, perforating nearby homes with bullets and putting residents in mortal danger. According to WGBH:

Watertown resident Mike Doucette looked out from his house on Laurel Street just a few feet from where police were exchanging gunfire with the suspects on the night of April 19. He said officers that night saved lives.

“They’re heroes in my mind,” he said.

But now, six months later Doucette wonders if the gunfight could have played out differently.

“The whole shoot out was pretty wild,” he said. “Bullets were flying everywhere. Every one of these houses was hit by something. I mean, they could have had more control over what they were shooting at, maybe.”

Among the many unanswered questions: Why were so many bullets fired into homes — and should this have been avoided? At least a dozen homes were hit by bullets in Watertown that night, including that of Andy Fehlner and his wife, Michelle Smith, who woke up to the sound of explosions and gunfire.

“Something was dropping in the house and it was something I never heard before,” Fehlner said. “And then we picked these items up that were flying in our house and we realized pretty quickly that they’re bullets. And all of them were coming from that side of the house, so we ran and grabbed the kids because the bullets were coming very close to their bed.”

Fehlner said one bullet came within 12 inches of his toddler’s bed.

Many of the bullets that struck homes were fired by police — most from departments outside Watertown, according to confidential law enforcement sources. The intended target: the stolen SUV driven by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he tried to escape.

Police argue the circumstances in Watertown necessitated extreme action, but we wondered whether proper police protocol was followed. Boston Police policy states: “Officers who find it necessary, under the provisions of this rule, to discharge firearms shall exercise due care for the safety of persons and property in the area and shall fire only when reasonably certain that there is no substantial risk to bystanders.” Similar policies apply to Watertown, Cambridge and the Massachusetts State Police

Kitzenberg said his roommate got up from his chair just moments before a bullet came through the wall of his apartment.

“It had penetrated the wall and the desk chair clean through,” he said.

Police didn’t just endanger members of the public with their wild, reckless shootout. The police were a danger to themselves as well. Two police officers were hit by “friendly fire” during the shootout, one of whom almost died. Police also mistakenly shot up one of their own vehicles, although no one was injured in this case. The Boston Globe reports:

Eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard H. Donohue Jr. was shot and nearly killed by a fellow officer in Watertown April 19 during the hail of gunfire unleashed on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the suspected terrorist made a getaway in a carjacked sport utility vehicle.

Donohue went down in the early-morning darkness during an extraordinary gunfight in which at least a dozen police ­officers from four departments exchanged up to 300 rounds of gunfire with Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The Tsarnaevs also allegedly set off explosives, including a pressure cooker bomb similar to the ones used in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Jane Dyson, who lives 140 feet from where Donohue was shot on Dexter Avenue, said she saw the police officer collapse and fall to the ground near the end of the gunfight as 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sped away. She said the officer ­appeared to be a victim of “friendly fire.”

“A black SUV appeared, and rapid gun fire was focused on the vehicle,” Dyson wrote in a statement provided to the Globe, referring to the vehicle Tsarnaev allegedly drove in his escape. “It appeared to me that an individual at the corner [of the street] fell to the ground and had probably been hit in the gunfire.”

“I later learned that the individual who had been shot was Officer Richard Donohue,” she wrote.

It would later become ­apparent that the suspects were no longer armed when Dyson saw Donohue fall, suggesting that the shot that wounded him came from police. Two witnesses support Dyson’s account that Donohue appeared to be wounded in the final volley of shots fired at the fleeing younger suspect.

Donohue and his partner were among the first officers to arrive at the intersection of Dexter Avenue and Laurel Street, moments after the ­Tsarnaev brothers pulled over in the SUV they had allegedly carjacked in Allston.

In the ensuing 10 minutes, police officers fired what may be an unprecedented number of rounds in a single police incident in recent state history. They apparently wounded both suspects, but also sprayed the neighborhood. Shots fired in the battle left at least a dozen nearby houses pockmarked with dozens of bullet holes, includ­ing a second-floor bedroom where two children slept.

Donohue suffered a three-quarter inch bullet wound to the top of his right thigh and nearly bled to death at the scene; “he was deceased,” as one emergency medical provider described him. Besides that shooting, authorities are also investigating an incident in which another MBTA Transit Police officer was grazed in the buttocks by gunfire. The identity of that officer and the circumstances of his shooting have not been disclosed.

In a third potential friendly-fire incident, a state trooper fired at an unmarked Boston police SUV, en route to the scene, the Globe ­reported April 22. No one was hurt when the trooper, apparently thinking the SUV was the one stolen by the Tsarnaevs, fired multiple rounds at the ­vehicle, blowing out the back window.

After Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in the shootout, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped and managed to hide from police until a Watertown resident discovered him hiding out in the boat in his backyard and alerted the police. Tsarnaev was unarmed and injured from the shootout, but that didn’t stop police from continuing to recklessly shoot countless rounds at him. According to The Boston Globe:

Some neighbors, whose homes were also taken over by police and strafed by automatic weapons, are also coping with the lingering impact of what happened here six months ago.

Olga Ciuc, who lives two doors down on Franklin Street, refuses to sleep in her old bedroom, which overlooks their backyard, and remains too afraid to walk her dog at night.

“What happened here was crazy,” she said.

Her husband, Dumitru, said he and other neighbors are now more vigilant.

“There’s a greater sense of insecurity,” he said, showing the bullet holes in the back of their house, in their fence, and in their grill. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen; you don’t know who’s a friend and who’s an enemy.”

WBUR reports that “Ciuc’s house was hit by seven bullets that night. Their neighbor’s house was riddled with 27.”

Giving police greater access to weapons does not automatically translate into greater public safety. If police had access to even more powerful weaponry during the manhunt, they would have caused even more property damage and the chances of them injuring or even killing Watertown residents with their weapons would have increased.

BPD Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey told the Globe that “The department wants to add 33 semiautomatic rifles to supplement the more than 60 SWAT team officers who use M4 rifles.” The new guns “could cost about $2,500 each, plus $500 for ammunition.” That adds up to an initial cost of almost $100,000 worth of taxpayer money.

This isn’t a done deal yet. The funding request will first have to be approved by Marty Walsh, who was just elected mayor of Boston. Hopefully Walsh will reject this attempt to further militarize the Boston Police Department.

Instead of spending $100,000 on more powerful weapons for the police, perhaps the money could be spent on making the police more transparent and accountable. A recent and very promising idea is having police attach wearable cameras to their clothing so that they are always on camera. 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. According to the Times, these cameras can cost up to $900 which means the Boston police could afford at least 110 of them for the same price as the semiautomatic weapons and ammunition they are seeking.

Greater police accountability would do much more to keep the residents of Boston safe than greater police firepower.

Aug 1 2013

GateHouse Media objects to marathon bombing trial secrecy

Dr. Q

By Michael Gagne
Herald News Staff Reporter

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

BOSTON — GateHouse Media Inc., the parent company of several Massachusetts-based community newspapers — including The Herald News, the Patriot Ledger and the MetroWest Daily News — on Wednesday submitted a letter to federal district court objecting that the public docket maintained in the criminal case against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is missing entries.

According to the letter, “a review of the docket sheet for this case [United States v. Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev] indicates that numerous entries have not even been listed.”

“Wide swaths of court records have been omitted in their entirety from the docket listings,” the letter states. “The incomplete public docket sheet maintained in this case … does not accurately reflect the materials on file with the Court. As a result, the Newspapers’ constitutionally protected newsgathering and reporting efforts have been frustrated.”

The letter further points out that “only 27 of a total of 69 numbered court filings are available to the press and public,” and notes that at least 42 court filings are missing completely from the docket sheet, “as if they do not exist.”

“The perception of judicial integrity is enhanced when court records are readily accessible to, not secreted away from, the public,” said attorney Michael J. Grygiel, who submitted the letter for GateHouse Media.

“Numerous entries appear to have been omitted from the public docket sheet in this important case,” Grygiel said. “The omissions apparently include motions that have been filed under seal, without notice to the press and public that impoundment was occurring, as constitutional procedures require.”

The missing entries include a sealed motion that was the subject of an electronic order issued on May 20, 2013. Referred to in the order as “30 Sealed Motion,” it was granted in part by the court.

“However, the listed docket entries nowhere include an entry numbered 30 that was evidently the subject of the Court’s order on May 20, 2013, let alone indicate that it was a motion filed under seal. Nor do they indicate whether either party electronically filed a motion for impoundment” as required by court rules, the letter reads.

The letter states that the public has “a presumptive First Amendment right to inspect and copy judicial documents.” That right “ensures that proceedings are fairly conducted, and allows the public to know that the system is working properly. These concerns take on heightened importance in a prominent case such as this, where public education and the perception of fairness are critical.”

The omission of filings leaves the press “without a meaningful mechanism by which to find the documents necessary to learn what has actually transpired in this Court in this case,” according to the letter.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of perpetrating the April 15, 2013, bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The two explosions killed three people and injured more than 200 others. On April 18, Federal Bureau of Investigations officials released photographs of the pair, identifying them as suspects in the bombings.

In the events that followed, the pair allegedly killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, carjacked a Mercedes Benz and led police on a chase and shootout throughout Cambridge and Watertown. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died that night from injuries sustained when he was run over by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found the next day hiding under a boat in the backyard of a Watertown residence. He has since received a court hearing during his hospital recovery from injuries sustained in the shootout with police. Tsarnaev also appeared in a pretrial hearing federal district court on July 10, where he pleaded not guilty to 30 charges, which include use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is scheduled to appear in court again in September.

This article was originally published by The Herald News under the title “GateHouse Media files letter objecting to incomplete docket in Tsarnaev case.” It has been republished under a Creative Commons license per Herald News policy. Follow the link to back to see a .pdf format copy of the complaint.

Jul 17 2013

Things you should be more pissed off about than Rolling Stone magazine

Dr. Q

rolling-stone-coverApparently lots of people are pissed off about Rolling Stone magazine’s latest cover which features a photograph of Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect of the Boston marathon bombings (for example, see here, here, here, and here). There’s even a Facebook page called “Boycott Rolling Stone Magazine for their latest cover” which has almost 80,000 fans as of the moment I type this sentence.

People are saying that the cover “glamorizes” Tsarnaev and makes him out to be a “rock star” or some sort of pop culture icon. I find this to be a pretty unusual conclusion considering the cover explicitly refers to Tsarnaev as a “monster.” Furthermore, the picture of Tsarnaev used by Rolling Stone was once featured on the front page of The New York Times and, as far as I know, no one got angry about that. Given that the featured article in Rolling Stone is about Tsarnaev, I’m having a pretty hard time understanding what the outrage is all about. If The New York Times can put this picture of Tsarnaev on their front page to accompany an article about him, why can’t Rolling Stone do the same thing?

Instead of getting mad about this magazine cover, maybe people should be mad about the fact that the bombings may have been prevented by the Waltham police if they had done a more thorough investigation of a grisly triple murder that the Tsarnaev brothers are now believed to have perpetrated. Maybe people should be mad about the fact that the FBI is stonewalling a Congressional investigation into the bombings. Maybe people should be outraged about the recent revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance programs which represent an almost unbelievable threat to our privacy. Surely these things are much more consequential than who the editors at Rolling Stone decide to put on the cover of their magazine, even if you do, for some reason, find their choice to be tasteless or offensive.

There are plenty of things to be pissed off about, but this magazine cover is not one of them.

Update (same day as the original post): Apparently a number of stores are actually refusing to stock this issue of Rolling Stone and Boston Mayor Tom Menino has sent an angry letter to the editors (see here.) I can’t help but think that all the negative attention this is getting will just result in more people seeing the cover and reading the article (the so-called “Streisand effect”). Even if a lot of stores refuse to stock the issue, tons of websites are reporting on the controversy and re-publishing the cover to their readers and anyone with an internet connection who wants to read the story can do so for free at Rolling Stone’s website.

May 11 2013

Massachusetts Cop Block is back

Dr. Q

Massachusetts Cop Block was started in 2011 to raise awareness about police brutality and misconduct in my home state. I stopped working on the site over a year ago for personal reasons. Basically I was suffering from activism burnout and social media burnout. It’s pretty time consuming to keep one’s self informed about every police misconduct case and every civil liberties threat in the state and it can be exhausting trying to do it on top of other everyday commitments. I did all the work for the site in my free time. I was never paid anything for the work I did and, in fact, I invested some of my own money in the site and in various projects for it.

While it was probably good that I took a break, I occasionally thought about starting the site back up again. I even felt a little guilty sometimes for not being involved with activism. The feelings became a little stronger recently and I started getting more serious about resuming work on the site. Shortly after the Boston marathon bombing and the subsequent police manhunt, I finally decided it was time.

I felt genuinely creeped out as I watched the TV coverage of the manhunt and saw the thousands police officers – with their black and camouflage body armor, their military-grade weapons, their armored personnel carriers – moving through Boston and surrounding towns and cities. Some of the scenes I was watching looked more like occupied Iraq than Boston.

I was relieved when the police finally caught Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 19, but I still felt uneasy. The talking heads I was listening to on TV proclaimed the cops to be heroes, but I knew that even if the police arrest the occasional terrorist, the United States still has problems with police brutality, misconduct, and corruption, not to mention the fact that even many of the “legal” things police do – like locking people up for victimless “crimes” – cause society a lot more harm than good. I also expected that the marathon bombing would produce the typical demands from the government officials and the media that ordinary people must permanently give up more of their freedoms in exchange for so-called security.

With these things in mind, I felt I could no longer in good conscience refrain from participating in activism of some kind and I decided to resume work on Massachusetts Cop Block. I want this website is to be a tool for anyone who lives or works in Massachusetts and is interested in police accountability. Just to give you an idea of the direction I want to take the site in, here are the projects I am currently working on or planning:

  • The other day, I started a “Know your rights” page. I plan to post all kinds of educational material on this page to help people understand and protect their rights during encounters with the police. So far, all I have is links to a few videos (which are great, by the way), but I expect to add lots more material to this page in the future.
  • Another thing I want to work on is improving the site’s police misconduct report database.

    The old reports were all taken from David Packman’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project which has since been taken over by the Cato Institute. I’d really like to clean up these old reports quite a bit. When I’m done, all reports will be in complete sentences with no abbreviations (they were originally written for Twitter) and some will be expanded with more details or re-written entirely. Many of the sources for the old reports are now dead links, so I will replace them with links to other news stories. In some cases, I will also replace source articles with more comprehensive and/or more credible sources. Also, I will be using direct links instead of shortened links for the sources to decrease the chances of link rot.

    In addition to re-working the old reports (which only covered 2009 and 2010), I’d also like to add reports for 2011 to the present.

    I hope to add all new misconduct reports to the blog as I find out about them and then periodically update the database to keep it current.

  • I’m also interested in tracking all police shootings that take place in Massachusetts using media reports. Before I can start, I need to figure out the criteria for what stories go into the database and what kind of info gets tracked. I also need to find the best method for collecting data (which media outlets I should search, which search terms to use, etc).If I do work on this project, I would not start collecting data until July at the earliest (so I would have data for half the year) or possibly October (so I would have data for the quarter).
  • Finally, I appreciate it when people share information with me. If some have information about a police misconduct incident, a threat to civil liberties, or something along those lines, please send it to me. Also, if you’re planning some sort of event like a Flex Your Rights video showing, a CopWatching meetup, or anything that you think readers of this site will be interested, you can send it to me and I’ll try to help get the word out. I can be reached on Twitter or Facebook or you can email me using the “Contact” page.

Thanks for reading.