Oct 12 2013

Report details disturbing misconduct allegations against West Springfield police captain

Dr. Q

The Republican published a disturbing story about a West Springfield police captain who has been on a paid vacation at taxpayer expense for almost two years while under investigation for a misconduct allegations, some incredibly shocking.

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.

Update (10/31/2013): O’Brien has finally been fired, however, he has a chance to appeal the firing. He was only fired because he wouldn’t accept a deal with the the city that would have allowed him to retire. He plans to appeal the firing.

ABC40 reports:

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.

Aug 16 2013

Medford police officer indicted for trying to cover up evidence in shooting case

Dr. Q

A Medford police officer has been indicted on two counts of witness intimidation after allegedly working to cover up evidence in a shooting investigation. WickedLocal.com reports:

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced today that two men have been indicted on murder charges in connection with a Stoneham double shooting that killed one man and injured another, and that a local police officer has been indicted on charges in connection with lying to investigators during the homicide investigation.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, Jessie Williams, 24, of Medford, and Eugene Tate, 19, of Malden, were indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury on charges of murder, armed assault with intent to murder, armed assault in a dwelling, assault with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery, and illegal possession of a firearm.

An arraignment in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn has not yet been scheduled.

Williams and Tate were arrested last month and subsequently charged with murder, armed assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery and illegal possession of a firearm. Each pleaded not guilty at their arraignment in Woburn District Court a week after the murder took place, and Judge Timothy Gailey ordered both suspects held without bail.

Williams and Tate are accused of shooting two men at a home garage off Micah’s Pond Way in Stoneham, just after midnight on July 3.

Police were dispatched at 12:19 a.m. to investigate gunshots and found Joseph Puopolo, 27, suffering from bullet wounds to the chest and wrist. He was pronounced dead shortly after at the Leahy Clinic.

The second victim, described only as a 28-year-old man, suffered a broken rib when he was shot in the abdomen.

“We allege that these two defendants murdered Joseph Puopolo and wounded a second victim during an attempted robbery,” Ryan said in a post-arraignment statement last month. “This was a senseless crime and our thoughts and prayers remain with the victim’s family during this difficult time.”

Stoneham Police and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the District Attorney’s Office launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the July 3 incident. The investigation revealed that the 28-year-old victim arranged to sell drugs to the two defendants through known associates. Puopolo was a friend of the 28-year-old victim and happened to be present in his home on that evening.

According to police, Puopolo was not associated with any alleged drug transaction. It is alleged that Williams and Tate entered the home shortly after midnight to complete a drug deal. When they entered the home, the two defendants allegedly drew handguns, demanded drugs and money, and then shot Puopolo and the 28-year-old victim.

The local officer who was also indicted on Aug. 15 was Miguel Lopez, 53, of Stoneham, who is said to be a member of the Medford Police Department. He was indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury on two counts of witness intimidation.

“These are very serious allegations that a law enforcement official acted to conceal evidence and hinder a police investigation into a double shooting that left one man dead,” Ryan said. “This alleged conduct compromises the integrity of our criminal justice system and we will fully prosecute any one who attempts to interfere with an investigation.”

When reached for comment, the Medford Police Department referred all calls to the District Attorney’s Office.

As part of the investigation following the July 3 shooting, State Police interviewed Lopez, who lives at 6 Micah’s Pond Way in Stoneham along with the 28-year-old victim. It is alleged that during the course of the interview Lopez lied to police and that in an attempt to cover up a reported drug deal that allegedly led to the double shooting, Lopez removed evidence from the home.

An arraignment date in Middlesex Superior Court for Lopez has also not yet been scheduled.

Sep 8 2011

Former Revere officer pleads guilty to lying to the FBI

Dr. Q

FBI surveillance photo of Todd Randall

According to The Boston Globe, former Revere Police Officer Todd Randall pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of lying to the FBI. The charge against the officer stemmed from a January, 2010 sting operation in which he was accused of accepting a $200 bribe then lying about it to the FBI when questioned.

Here’s how the Department of Justice described the sting in a press release from earlier this year:

TODD RANDALL, 40, of Revere, was charged in a criminal complaint with providing materially false statements and representations to the FBI regarding an ongoing public corruption investigation.

The complaint alleges that on January 22, 2010, RANDALL, a City of Revere police officer, met with an FBI cooperating witness (CW) and accepted $200 in exchange for RANDALL’s assistance with a criminal case pending in Chelsea District Court. On January 22, FBI agents observed RANDALL, who was on duty, in a police uniform, and operating a marked Revere police cruiser, as he traveled to the home of the CW in Everett. RANDALL was observed and photographed as he exited the police cruiser and entered the home of the CW.

While inside the home of the CW, RANDALL accepted $200 in FBI funds from the CW and then explained the efforts he would make to compromise a pending criminal case in Chelsea District Court for a friend of the CW. The interaction between the CW and RANDALL, including the exchange of $200, was memorialized on film through the use of a concealed audio and video recording device previously installed by the FBI in the home of the CW.

On March 14, 2011, RANDALL was interviewed by the FBI who disclosed that they were investigating information that RANDALL had assisted the CW’s friend with a court case. RANDALL denied knowing the CW or the CW’s friend. Agents then explained to RANDALL that the FBI had received information that RANDALL had been to the CW’s house while operating a police cruiser. RANDALL denied being present at the home of the CW. RANDALL was then asked if he had ever accepted money for a court case from the CW on behalf of a third individual. RANDALL denied accepting any money from the CW. Agents then explained to RANDALL that withholding information or lying to the interviewing agents was a violation of federal law and that he could be prosecuted. RANDALL once again denied ever being present at the CW’s house. Agents then specifically asked RANDALL whether he accepted $200 from the CW for his assistance with a court case. RANDALL again denied accepting money from the CW. Once again, agents explained to RANDALL that lying to the interviewing agents was a federal crime for which he could be prosecuted.

RANDALL replied that he understood and stated, “I have no reason to lie to ya fellas.”

Agents again asked RANDALL if he had ever been present at the Everett home of the CW. RANDALL denied that he had been present at the home of the CW. Agents then asked RANDALL, hypothetically, if the FBI possessed a photo of a uniformed Revere police officer at the Everett home of the CW, could RANDALL be the officer in the photo. RANDALL denied being at the home of the CW and then stated in disbelief that “if there is a photo of me I’d like to see it.”

“Revere Police Officer Charged with Lying to the FBI,” Department of Justice, April 12, 2011

Randall has not been sentenced yet, but the DOJ’s press release indicates that he “faces up to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.”

Sep 2 2011

Worcester pays out $80,000 in lawsuit against officer with history of violence

Dr. Q

According to the Telegram & Gazette, the City of Worcester recently settled a federal police brutality lawsuit, paying out $80,000 to Katie Warren who was reportedly beaten and falsely arrested by two Worcester police officers in 2006.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2009, Warren went to a convenience store on September 4, 2006 to use an ATM. While she was outside the store talking with a friend, Worcester police officers Mark A. Rojas and Kellen E. Smith drove up to a gas pump, exited their vehicle, and approached her.

“Well, why don’t you smile?” one of the officers allegedly asked Warren after eying her.

The encounter quickly turned into an argument. One of the officers told Warren’s friend “You should tell your little girlfriend to shut her mouth.”

Warren began walking away from the officers, saying “You don’t scare me” when Officer Smith grabbed her and twisted her arms behind her back. While she was subdued by Smith, Officer Rojas grabbed her hair and slammed her head into one of the convenience store’s windows. The officers then threw Warren to the ground and arrested her while subjecting her to verbal abuse.

Warren was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and two counts of threatening to commit a crime, but all the charges were dismissed in May, 2007.

In addition to placing blame on the two police officers, Warren’s lawsuit singles out current Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme, claiming that that Officer Rojas’s “violent tendencies were repeatedly tolerated by supervisors, and even when supervisors such as Chief Gemme believed Rojas had acted inappropriately, he was not disciplined.”

Former Worcester Police Officer Mark A. Rojas

Officer Mark Rojas has a colorful history, to say the least. As Warren’s lawsuit pointed out, Rojas, who joined the Worcester Police Department in 1996, was the subject of at least 15 misconduct investigations by the department before he left last year. A number of Rojas’s disturbing activities made headlines.

In 2008, Rojas shot and killed a pet dog with a semi-automatic pistol while responding to a domestic disturbance. Rojas, who arrived to help remove a drunk uncle from a family’s home, insisted that the dog caused him to fear for his life and the owners refused to control it. But the family members said that Rojas shot the animal without warning.

After publishing an article about Rojas killing the dog, the Telegram & Gazette began to receive letters from people who said they had been abused by Rojas, so the paper decided to make a public records request to have Rojas’s internal affairs file released.

The paper made its request in April, 2008. The police department charged the paper $1,500 which it quickly accepted, but it did not release the more than 1,500 pages of documents until December. When the documents were released, they were heavily redacted to the point that “776 pages contained little or no information,” according to the Telegram & Gazette. In one case, the police had literally blacked out an entire page.

In one complaint included in the file, Rojas was accused of punching and beating a handcuffed man with a flashlight in the back of a police wagon. In that incident, Rojas claimed that the man received his injuries after he tripped and fell. Meanwhile, a fellow officer wrote that the man’s injuries were sustained when he “began to bang his head and face against the interior walls of the wagon.”

Other files included complaints about an alleged beating, an illegal search of a car with attempt to “plant something” on the driver, an unlawful traffic stop that lead to a driver being frisked, and the false arrest of an activist who was passing out flyers.

To get access to the remaining 700+ pages of Rojas’s internal affairs file, the Telegram & Gazette was forced to sue the police department. Though these documents are public records, Worcester bureaucrats spent taxpayer money to defend the city against the lawsuit and keep them secret. A judge ultimately ruled that their reasons for withholding the information to be “clearly without merit.” It took more than two years from the initial public records request before the Telegram & Gazette was finally able to get copies of the remaining pages.

Those pages contained some of the most disturbing information about Officer Rojas.

One investigation looked into allegations made by one of Rojas’s ex-girlfriends who accused Rojas of threatening to kill her and her new boyfriend. The woman wrote in her complaint that Rojas told her, “I will make sure that you wish you were dead when I finish with you, and there is nothing you can do to protect yourself. Remember I’m a cop. There is nowhere you can hide. I will make your every day a living hell.”

During the investigation, Rojas was put on desk duty and forced to turn his firearms in to the police department.

Included in the file for the investigation was a stack of handwritten poems Rojas had sent to the ex-girlfriend. One of the poems opened with the following verse:

I’ll kill you…

I’ve done so in my dreams.

I’ve killed you…

I watched you die…

And heard your screams.

In a memo to the police chief, a senior internal affairs investigator wrote that he and a second investigator agreed “that the complaint is credible, and that Rojas represents a genuine threat to the safety” of his ex-girlfriend. However, the department ultimately ruled the complaint as “not sustained,” a term meaning there wasn’t enough evidence to determine whether the complaint was true or false. They did, however, sustain an allegation that Rojas unlawfully accessed a criminal database to get personal information about one of the people he was harassing.

Rojas’s weapons were returned to him and he was allowed back on duty.

Another investigation found that Rojas failed to turn a report over to internal affairs on time and lied to investigators during a police brutality investigation. In the brutality case, off-duty officer Matthew Coakley reportedly hit a handcuffed individual in the side of the head while Rojas, who was working a security detail at a nightclub, stood by. Rojas denied seeing Coakley hit the man or speaking to nightclub staff members after the altercation, but staffers told investigators that they had spoken to Rojas.

Another complaint alleged that Rojas angrily confronted a former girlfriend’s husband whom he was in a child custody dispute with. Rojas entered the husband’s car without his permission and choked him when he tried to call 911 for help. As with the other complaint, Rojas was found to have unlawfully accessed a criminal database to get information about the people he was harassing. In this case, the department sustained allegations of assault and battery, conduct unbecoming a police officer, untruthfulness, and illegally conducting a criminal records check.

In fact, Rojas was convicted of assault and battery over this incident by a judge, but the judge only sentenced him to probation and anger management classes. Rojas’s attorney later convinced the judge to throw out the conviction and give Rojas a new trial. The trial was continued without finding.

After the assault and battery incident, the police department stripped Rojas of his license to carry firearms and finally moved to fire him, but before he could be fired, Rojas was allowed to retire on a disability claim during a secret hearing with the Worcester Retirement Board. To this day, he continues to bleed taxpayers for more than $50,00 a year.

Rojas’s sordid history makes Worcester’s recent settlement with Katie Warren beyond infuriating. Rojas should not have been a cop when he and Officer Smith arrested Warren, period. No one who sends death threats to ex-girlfriends or lies during police brutality investigations has any business being a cop and certainly doesn’t deserve to be making tens of thousands of dollars on a disability claim at taxpayer expense either. The fact that Rojas was allowed to work for the Worcester Police Department for as long as he did shows that the department has a serious problem holding its officers accountable. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that Worcester has paid out more than a million dollars in police brutality lawsuits since 1999.

Worcester also appears to have serious transparency problems. Not only did the City attempt to hide misconduct-related records, but it frequently attaches gag orders to its legal settlements to prevent police brutality victims from speaking with the media. This is a commonly used tactic in brutality lawsuits because it allows city governments to deny wrongdoing while simultaneously preventing the other side of the story from being widely publicized. The recent settlement with Katie Warren included a gag order, but it is not the first time the City has resorted to the secrecy tactic.

In fact, last year, the City actually demanded that police brutality victim Trung Huynh return his $47,500 in settlement money to the City, claiming that his attorney violated the settlement’s gag order when he gave an interview to the Telegraph & Gazette.

That incident led Telegram & Gazette columnist Clive McFarlane to write:

… while confidentiality agreements might be standard in civil cases, it seems fair to ask just how the city, a public entity, justly serves its constituents with such agreements, particularly in police brutality cases?

If the city keeps refusing to acknowledge wrongdoing in these settled cases and keeps insisting on muzzling successful plaintiffs and their lawyers, how does it begin to address the potential of misconduct among the police ranks?

–Clive McFarlane, “Gag orders aren’t the way to earn respect,” Telegram & Gazette, March 10, 2010

Given that Officer Rojas was allowed to work as a police officer even after he sent disturbing death threats to a former girlfriend, I’m not sure I would conclude that the City actually has any interest in addressing the problem of police misconduct. It’s quite clear that Worcester’s city government is in desperate need of some serious reforms.