Nov 8 2013

Chicopee police sergeant charged with assaulting female prisoner

Dr. Q

The Republican reports:

A veteran Chicopee police officer is facing assault charges from a February struggle with a prisoner who was spraying blood and saliva from her mouth as officers attempted to restrain her, court and police records show.

Reversing a clerk-magistrate’s decision, Holyoke District Court Judge Maureen E. Walsh ruled last month that Chicopee Police Sgt. Daniel Major can be charged with assault and battery for his handling of a prisoner who admitted being drunk and under the influence of the street drug PCP, according to police.

After reviewing the booking videotape 30 times, Walsh said the sergeant could have been acting out of frustration, not concern for his health, when he grabbed the prisoner by the throat and forced her to the floor.

“The facts in this case are not so crystal clear,” Walsh wrote in her Oct. 17 decision, adding the sergeant’s self-defense claim was not supported by “uncontradicted facts.”

The prisoner, identified as Maylene Maldonado, of Chicopee, was arrested by officer John Birks for assault and battery on a police officer after she inflicted several wounds to his face. At the police station, the prisoner, who was handcuffed, was yelling, screaming and urging six officers present to remove a piercing that was cutting her lip, according to Walsh’s ruling.

“In the videotape, Ms. Maldonado certainty appears agitated, argumentative and at times loud and non-compliant during most if not all of the booking,” Walsh wrote.

Major eventually grabbed Maldonado by the throat “because she was bleeding from her lip and spraying small droplets of blood and saliva,” Walsh said. The sergeant claims that his actions were reasonable and necessary to “protect himself and others against potentially dangerous substance (blood),” the judge said.

Major pleaded innocent to the charge Wednesday in Holyoke District Court and was released on personal recognizance.

The arrest has echoes of the West Springfield case involving Daniel O’Brien, the police captain fired last week after he was accused of several violations including taping the mouth of a spitting woman who had been taken into custody.

In Chicopee, an internal police review found that Major did not violate departmental rules, according to Capt. Mark Gilbert, who said he reviewed video footage of the booking process multiple times and found nothing objectionable.

A clerk-magistrate’s hearing in September seconded that assessment, ruling that no charges should be filed against Major.

Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni successfully appealed that ruling, however, and Major is due back in Chicopee District Court for a Dec. 6 pretrial hearing on an assault and battery charge.

And here is a video from ABC40 on this case:

Oct 12 2013

Chicopee city councilors to ask for state investigation of police, mayor

Dr. Q

Earlier this week, ABC40 reported that the mayor of Chicopee knew about an incident in which police officers took pictures of a homicide victim and shared them with fellow officers for a year before alerting the family and the public:

ABC40 has learned new details surrounding the punishment handed out to a Chicopee Police officer who took photos of the body of murder victim Amanda Plasse.

Amanda was murdered in her downtown Chicopee apartment in August 2011. An ABC40 investigation revealed last week that Mayor Michael Bissonnette knew about the incident at least a year before he told Amanda’s family and the public about it.

Last week, Mayor Bissonnette denied knowing of the photos taken of Amanda’s body until the summer of 2012, “If in fact this had been brought to my attention at the outset I think the results would have been a little bit different.”

That’s what Bissonnette told us last week about the investigation.

“The department issued letters of reprimand internally,” Bissonnette said, “Now the way the process works, Brendan, is that unless a suspension is imposed the mayor isn’t notified.”

Exclusive details now show otherwise. On April 19th, 2012, Bissonnette was sent a letter by former Police Chief John Ferraro, notifying the mayor that the officer who snapped the photos was given three extra, unpaid shifts, essentially a working suspension, as punishment for his actions.

“He knew about it and now I’ve got people over there saying ‘I knew nothing about this’, that’s not true,’” Regional Supervisor of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Robert Dickson said.

Dickson says Chicopee Police Internal Affairs investigator, Deputy Chief Bill Jebb recommended that the officer who took the photos be fired.

“He thought it was bad taste to look at the photos like that or show those around but then three or four different reports come in and they all contradict each other so he says how can we put this guy on the witness stand,” Dickson said.

But Chief Ferraro didn’t take the recommendation. The letter to the mayor officially notified Bissonnette, human resources, and the police officer of his decision. The union says the mayor can’t reopen closed cases, whether it’s the Amanda Plasse photos case or 40 internal issues an outside investigator is reviewing.

Now, ABC40 reports that Chicopee city council members plan to ask the attorney general to investigate.

After an ABC40 investigation this week revealed new details about the inquiry into the department, the City Council is now calling for an outside investigation. They’ve put together a timeline of at least three inconsistent statements made by the mayor about what and when he knew about the photos.

Councilors say he backtracked on his facts several times. Now, they are asking the Attorney General for two investigations: What knowledge the mayor had of the photos and a probe into the actual taking of the photos and their effect on the ongoing murder case.

City Councilor John Vieau told ABC40, “I want to get a look at this timeline and see this information and figure out what on earth is going on.”

“We feel that that’s probably the only way that we will get necessary information. Get right information and have it done in right matter. Amanda Plasse’s family needs closure,” notes City Council President George Moreau.

Jun 12 2013

Chicopee police under investigation

Dr. Q

The Republican reports that the mayor of Chicopee has appointed “a special investigator to review police department operations in the wake of several incidents.”

This means there are three new incidents that will eventually be added to my police misconduct database.

First, five officers have been accused of sharing cell phone pictures of homicide victim Amanda Plasse with people who do not work for the police department.

The mayor said there is some concern the disclosure that the photos made their way outside the department — and that a police officer lied about the distribution during an internal investigation of the matter — could jeopardize the prosecution of the case should an arrest be made.

“We will not let a murderer out on a technicality,” [Mayor Michael J.] Bissonnette said.

Bissonnette said he was not informed of the incident until recently and that the five officers involved were not disciplined save for letters of reprimand that were placed in their files.

“It’s the kind of thing that shocks the conscience,” Bissonnette said, adding that the photos were taken as Chicopee police secured the apartment in anticipation of the arrival of state police investigators. Bisseonnette said investigators and computer experts believe the cell phone photographs of Plasse did not go beyond that narrow group, or onto the Internet.

Bissonnette said the Plasse family has been made aware of the photo-sharing incident. Family members were not immediately available for comment Monday.

Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni has reviewed the matter and determined that no laws were violated with the sharing of the photos, Bissonnette said.

The article also mentions a separate incident that is under investigation “in which one officer aimed a loaded gun at another officer at police headquarters,” but includes no specific details.

And the article mentions that investigators will be looking into allegations of sexual harassment within the department, but includes no specific details about the alleged harassment.

Sep 19 2011

Jail sued for allowing men to video-record women being strip searched

Dr. Q

A recently filed class action lawsuit alleges that male corrections officers routinely video-record female inmates at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center while they are strip searched. According to the lawsuit (.pdf format):

Women at the WCC who cannot remain in the general prison population for mental health or disciplinary reasons are taken to the Segregation Unit. With four or more officers present, the inmate must take off all her clothes and perform a series of actions: she must lean forward, lift her arms, lift her breasts and, if large, her stomach, turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks with her hands and cough, and stand up and face the wall. An officer with a video camera stands a few feet away and records the entire strip search. This officer is almost always male, in violation of the federal Constitution, Massachusetts law, national correctional standards, and the basic human dignity that these authorities are supposed to protect.

The suit names Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Murphy as the defendants. It notes that the two “have created and maintained written strip search policies that permit male guards to record naked women. They know of and condone the fact that in practice, the guard recording the women is almost always male.”

The suit was filed by Boston-based civil rights attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton on behalf of two former inmates who were strip searched at the jail, but suggests that “hundreds of women have been subjected to this humiliating and unconstitutional practice.”

Debra Baggett, one victim named in the suit, said that she sometimes asked to be taken into protective custody when a fight caused her to be too scared to comfortably stay with the jail’s general population. When she was taken into protective custody, she was strip searched while being video-recorded by a man.

April Marlborough, the second victim named in the suit, was taken to the jail’s Segregation Unit for “disciplinary reasons.” Like Baggett, she was strip searched and video-recorded by male jail staff. Marlborough, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, felt “violated and dehumanized by this experience,” according to the suit.

Edward J. McDonough Jr., the lawyer representing the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that the department allows male employees to video-record strip searches of women, but claimed that it is only done during emergencies. Video-recording is “the best documentation as to the conduct of the inmate and the conduct of the officers. You have to strike a fair balance between the need for safety and security and the need to protect inmate privacy and dignity,” he told The Boston Globe. “When there is an emergency or exigent circumstance, you can’t always guarantee you’ll have a 100 percent female staff… You may have to have a male officer hold the camera.”

McDonough is correct about video cameras being a useful way to prevent abuse, but his claim that there are any circumstances whatsoever under which it would be necessary for a man to operate the camera is ludicrous. The sheriff’s department could easily buy a few tripods for their hand-held cameras. A quick search on brought up a massive number of tripods many of which are priced under $10. The department could also install wall-mounted surveillance cameras in rooms where strip searches are conducted.

There’s no excuse for the sheriff’s department allowing men to video-record these strip searches. Hopefully this lawsuit will force the department to change its policies.

If anyone you know was strip searched under this policy at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center, let them know about this lawsuit. Since it’s a class action lawsuit, they may be able to collect damages from the sheriff’s department if the lawsuit is successful.