West Springfield officials released a report Friday detailing six allegations of misconduct against Police Capt. Daniel M. O’Brien.
O’Brien has been on paid administrative leave since January 2012. He makes about $104,000 a year, according to the city. He was one of three finalists for police chief last year.
The mayor said he will have to decide on possible disciplinary action which could include termination. A lawyer for O’Brien said the officer looks forward to a hearing on the matter.
The report contains a photo of a woman in a restraint chair. Her head is bound to the chair by red packing tape, the type used to secure evidence. The tape covers her mouth and wraps all the way around her head and part of the chair.
Police rules say the chair is to be used only for those who are a danger to themselves or to staff.
O’Brien is accused of binding the woman with the tape in violation of department policy and, said Police Chief Ronald P. Campurciani, in defiance of basic safety precautions.
“If she aspirates, she dies,” said Campurciani said, referring to the choking hazard. “You can’t get the tape off fast enough.”
West Springfield Mayor Gregory C. Neffinger added: “It would be to hard to grab an edge. You would have to cut it off.”
Both Neffinger and Campurciani sat for an hour-long interview Friday detailing the two-inch-thick report compiled by former Tewskbury Police Chief Alfred P. Donovan and Donovan’s company, APD Management Inc., at the direction of the city.
The woman, whose full name was not included in the report given to The Republican, allegedly caused a disturbance at the Big E on Sept. 30, 2011, but was calm by the time she was bought to the police station at 26 Central St. She was calm enough to not need handcuffs, according to the report. But the woman later became upset and didn’t want to go into her cell.
According to the report, it was then that O’Brien had her placed in the chair.
“At some point while he was taping my head, I remember him saying ‘See how much you like this, fat bitch’ and something about dying,” the woman is quoted as telling an investigator hired by the city. “I was very scared at that point and remember crying and trying to get him to let me out. I was having some difficulty breathing; my nose was stuffed up from crying. I was hyperventilating.”
Campurciani said she was in the chair for 15 or 20 minutes. She was never charged with a crime.
Campurciani said proper procedure for use of the chair is to bind the subject’s hands and feet so they cannot hurt themselves or others. The person’s face and mouth and nose are to be left free.
The chair with the detained person is then to be placed in a secure area under constant video surveillance as a further safety precaution.
“It’s clear what this is,” Campurciani said, drawing attention to the photograph. “How this doesn’t shock the consciousness of everyone is beyond me. I just can’t find words.”
There are two other incidents detailed in the report involving the chair. One, from Dec. 1, 2011, involves a man who had admitted spitting at police. In that case, O’Brien is accused of placing a paper bag over the man’s head and later pulling the man’s sweatshirt hood over the man’s head and taping it in place.
O’Brien said he had no recall of this event, putting his credibility in question according to investigators.
The third incident involves a different woman O’Brien placed in the chair for about 20 minutes on Sept. 26, 2011. The woman refused to go back to the cell after making her phone call, but she was not a danger to herself and others, according to the report. Police rules say the chair is only to be used for those who are a danger to themselves or to staff.
Three additional allegations involve O’Brien’s failure to disclose information about his medical background when applying for police jobs in Belchertown and in West Springfield in 1987 and 1988 and O’Brien’s Army enlistment papers prior to that.
O’Brien said he was told by the recruiting sergeant not to tell the Army about his medical background and he said the late Police Chief Thomas P. McNamara Jr. not to disclose his medical background or military service on his police applications.
O’Brien didn’t stay in the service, according to the report, which was redacted to preserve his medical confidentiality.
The series of issues with O’Brien came to light on Dec. 16, 2011, after the photo and an accompanying letter were sent to the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office and to the Office of the U.S. Attorney.
Neffinger said the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, instead passing the ball to federal prosecutors.
It was the FBI, Campurciani said, that discovered discrepancies in the applications and enlistment paperwork, and FBI agents uncovered the other chair incidents. They interviewed more than 20 West Springfield police, and three gave statements.
But in the end, federal prosecutors declined to bring charges, saying they needed to show “lasting harm” under federal civil rights legislation. The lasting harm was not there, prosecutors told the city.
The case also has become a bit of a political football in West Springfield, with O’Brien supporters attending City Council meetings and shouting down Neffinger in debates as Neffinger runs for re-election.
Neffinger said it isn’t about politics.The investigation was delayed in order to protect O’Brien’s rights.
Before making a decision about O’Brien, Neffinger first must wait for a formal recommendation from Campurciani, a move the chief expects to make next week. That recommendation will be kept confidential as a personnel matter.
But Neffinger said he has to weigh a number of concerns, not the least of which is that defense attorneys will use the allegations of untruth in O’Brien’s background against him every time a case goes to trial.
Secondly, there is the impact on other officers. One presumably tipped off the feds to begin with – no one but a cop or civilian employee would have been in a position to take the photo – and three officers gave detailed statements against O’Brien. If O’Brein came back he’d be their commander.
“This is a senior member of the department that new officers are supposed to look up to,” Neffinger said.
Burke, O’Brien’s attorney, said there will be a hearing and that he is looking forward to defending his client at that time.
After being on paid administrative leave for the last two years, and a deal regarding his employment fell through last week, West Springfield Capt. Daniel O’Brien has been fired from the force.
Mayor Gregory Neffinger made the announcement late Monday afternoon. He adds that a termination letter from him, along with a letter from Police Chief Ronald Campurciani, a copy of the investigative report, and a copy of the state statute were hand delivered to O’Brien Monday.
The termination takes effect immediately.
“We felt that we were trying to do the best deal for him and the City of West Springfield,” Neffinger said. “There were certain issues in the investigative report that really made it difficult for him to continue as a police officer in West Springfield.”
O’Brien had been on paid administrative leave since an incident in September 2011, during which a woman in police custody and in a restraint chair had her mouth taped shut while at the police station.
A hearing involving O’Brien, his attorney, and city officials was held on Friday, October 18, following which all parties acknowledged a deal had reached as to O’Brien’s employment status, and added that they were all satisfied with the outcome.
A final agreement was set to be signed by Friday, October 25.
So what went wrong? O’Brien says after careful review, it wasn’t fair.
O’Brien was flagged for six incidents in an internal affairs investigation over his career, including the 2011 incident. He says each of them has a set of facts that counters what the report states, however, and that’s why he is going to appeal his firing.