Oct 12 2013

Jury sides with Framingham police sergeant in federal lawsuit

Dr. Q

The MetroWest Daily News reports:

After more than three and a half years, Framingham Police Sgt. Scott Brown said his name is finally cleared.

On Sept. 16, a federal jury dismissed claims by a former Framingham couple that Brown pointed a gun at them in April 2010.

“It’s relief,” said Brown. “It’s been hanging over me. At this point, they were just going for money.

Jorge Correia and his wife, Cathleen Runnals, filed the suit against Brown and the town, as well as several other police officers, after Brown was found not guilty in a criminal trial in May 2011 that charged him with assault and battery. A federal judge removed everyone but Brown and the town from the suit prior to the six-day trial that ended on Sept. 16.

The pair were seeking $1 million in damages from the town.

Correia and Runnals told police that Brown and his partner, then Detective Leonard Pini, pulled into the EZ Storage facility on 501 Cochituate Road, Framingham, on April 29, 2010 and Runnals confronted Brown about urinating outdoors on the property.

When Correia rushed over to see what the commotion was. Correia claimed that Brown threatened him with his handgun. Brown said he only pointed at Correia and told him to move.

After an investigation, the Middlesex district attorney’s office charged Brown with assault with a dangerous weapon and threatening to commit a crime. Middlesex Superior Court Judge Paul Chernoff found Brown not guilty after a seven-day bench trial.

In the civil trial, Runnals and Correia alleged assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision. The jury deliberated for 40 minutes before finding the town and Brown not responsible.

Neither Correia nor Runnals could be reached for comment.

Brown said he’s glad to move on.

“It still bothers me that I had to go through all of that,” said Brown. “You can’t have all that in you’re head. You have to keep going forward.”


Sep 20 2013

Two more sue over Lowell police informant corruption

Dr. Q

Earlier this month, the city of Lowell and Lowell police detective Thomas Lafferty were sued by a man who says he was framed by the police after an informant planted drugs on him. Now, two more victims have stepped forward and filed lawsuits.

The Lowell Sun reports:

Two more people who were arrested on drug and firearms charges — only to have them dismissed as part of the 17 cases dropped in the wake of the Lowell police-informant probe — filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court against the city of Lowell and a veteran Lowell police officer.

In the latest round of lawsuits against the city and Lowell Police Officer Thomas Lafferty, attorney Howard Friedman, representing Nel Sothy and Tutis Kuria, filed claim the confidential informants Lafferty used planted evidence that led to them being falsely arrested.

In Kuria’s case, he claims a firearm was planted in his car, while Sothy and a third plaintiff, Jonathan Santiago, who filed a lawsuit two weeks ago, allege that drugs were planted by the informants in the gas-cap covers of their cars. After the evidence was planted, the informants tipped off police.

Friedman, who represents all three men, wrote that Lafferty’s conduct was the result of the city’s “systematic failure to supervise confidential informants within its police department.”

The attorney adds that for more than 20 years, Lowell police ignored their own written policies on the use of informants because the Special Investigation Section believed “the ends justified the means.”

[I]n the Sothy lawsuit, Friedman alleges that the 32-year-old former Ayer man, who now lives in Virginia, was framed by the informant during a family night out on Aug. 1, 2012, at the Azores Club in Lowell. The informant allegedly planted 29 grams of a chunky white substance that included cocaine inside the gas cap of Sothy’s car. Lafferty and other members of SIS were waiting for Sothy as he left the club.

Sothy was charged with trafficking in cocaine over 28 grams, which if convicted carries a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison.

Sothy was indicted by a grand jury and the case was transferred to Superior Court on Oct. 11, 2012. It wasn’t until March 22 that the case was dropped by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office due to the probe.

As a result of the criminal charges, Sothy, a pharmacy technician, who had worked eight years at CVS, was told to take an unpaid leave. While he has worked since his arrest, it is not at the same level of pay, his lawyer wrote.

In Kuria’s case, Lafferty wrote in court documents that in the week before Kuria ‘s Oct. 11, 2011, arrest he spoke to a “past reliable informant” regarding a man named Titus who was in possession of a firearm he was trying to sell.

At 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2011, Lafferty located Kuria’s blue Dodge Stratta outside the bar. Lafferty spotted Kuria leaving the bar with a plastic bag in his right hand, get into his car and drive away. The car was stopped for an expired registration.

In the lawsuit, Friedman alleges the informant planted a .32-caliber gun under the passenger seat then told Lafferty where it was hidden. Kuria was driving to his job as a licensed practical nurse when he was pulled over, ordered to the ground at gunpoint and the gun found under the passenger seat.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office dropped the case nearly 18 months later.

“The arrest destroyed Mr. Kuria’s life, leaving him homeless and unemployed,” according to the lawsuit.


Sep 3 2013

Lowell police sued for framing people using informants who planted drugs

Dr. Q

The Boston Globe reports:

A Lowell man is expected to file a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Lowell and a Lowell police officer who relied on two informants suspected of planting drugs on dozens of innocent victims, a scandal that already has led prosecutors to drop charges in 17 pending drug and firearm cases and to overturn two convictions.

Jonathan Santiago, a 25-year-old with no prior drug convictions whose case was among those dismissed, said an informant planted cocaine in the gas cap compartment of his car in February 2012, then alerted police, who arrested him. He said police then filed a false report that concealed the informant’s role.

“I just couldn’t believe it — that law enforcement would actually do something like this,” Santiago said in a Globe interview, adding that his arrest, jailing, and ensuing legal ordeal changed his life. “I pretty much stay home now. I don’t go out anymore. I feel like I can’t trust anyone.”

Santiago’s lawsuit says that scores of others may have suffered a similar fate, noting that one of the informants has been working with Lowell police for the last decade — the arresting officer in Santiago’s case alone has testified to using the informant in more than 50 cases. The lawsuit also says that “Lowell police officers allowed [the informant] to commit crimes because he assisted them as an informant.”

Neither the police officer, veteran Detective Thomas Lafferty, nor a spokesman for the Lowell police would address the specific allegations in the federal lawsuit, referring questions to the city’s legal department. Lowell’s chief legal official, City Solicitor Christine O’Connor, was unavailable for comment.

Defense lawyers said the allegations in the lawsuit echo disclosures in the case of Annie Dookhan, the state chemist whose allegedly faked drug analyses were used to obtain convictions that have now been overturned, and the trial of notorious gangster James “Whitey’ Bulger, who Bulger asserts was allowed by his FBI handlers to commit crimes in exchange for providing information on other criminals.

The Santiago lawsuit alleges “the widespread misuse of confidential informants in the Lowell Police Department” and a “policy or custom of tolerating violations of people’s constitutional rights in order to obtain convictions.”

Middlesex prosecutors dropped charges or vacated convictions against Santiago and 18 other defendants earlier this year after one of the informants advertised his services to the Massachusetts State Police and “boasted about his skill and experience in planting evidence,” citing specific examples of his work with the other informant on behalf of Lowell police, according to the lawsuit.

The ordeal began after he left a friend’s apartment and encountered one of the informants, an acquaintance, who asked him to join him at a local bar for a drink, but insisted that he take his own car.

Lafferty and two other officers were waiting for Santiago and pulled him over, later asserting in a police report that Santiago had been swerving in the vehicle and circling the neighborhood “like a drug dealer.” Santiago said those assertions were false.

“To make it appear that they independently found the drugs,” the lawsuit says, “Lafferty called in a police dog to search Mr. Santiago’s car,” and the dog led officers to the gas cap compartment of Santiago’s car.

After opening the compartment, the lawsuit says, Lafferty and the other officers found nearly 27 grams of cocaine and booked Santiago on charges of cocaine trafficking and cocaine trafficking in a school zone, because Lafferty and the other officers “chose to stop Mr. Santiago’s car as he was driving near a school.”

Santiago was facing a mandatory five-year prison term when the charges against him were suddenly dropped.

When Santiago’s public defender, Julie Olsen, asked why, prosecutors told her there was a problem with the informant, which she said was the first time she realized an informant was involved in the case.

Looking back, Santiago said he was particularly traumatized at the thought of what his two young girls would think. “I wouldn’t want them to see me in prison. I wouldn’t want them to see me in that state,” he said.


Aug 6 2013

Cop Block founder sues Greenfield police over 2010 arrest

Dr. Q

Ademo Freeman (legal name Adam Mueller), the founder of Cop Block, has filed a lawsuit against the Greenfield Police Department over his 2010 arrest for recording at a jail in Greenfield.

In a complaint (.pdf format) filed with the United States District Court of Massachusetts on July 1, Ademo’s attorneys Elaine Sharp and Cornelius Sullivan detail the facts of the case, most of which have been public knowledge for some time now.

On July 1, 2010, Ademo and Pete Eyre drove from New Hampshire to the Franklin County House of Corrections in Greenfield where they attempted to bail a friend out of jail. Ademo and Pete, who have worked together on documentary projects such the Motorhome Diaries and Liberty on Tour, brought their videos cameras with them to document the encounter at the jail.

Ademo and Pete were initially told by employees in the jail lobby that they could not record. They refused to shut their cameras off and were eventually able to speak to a supervisor who gave them permission to continue recording.

They did not have their driver’s licenses or sufficient money to post bail, so they left the jail to get money out of an ATM and retrieve their licenses from their RV which was parked a few miles away.

When they returned to the jail, they were again told that they could not record. A police officer, Sergeant Todd M. Dodge, entered the jail and told them that they would have to shut their cameras off or leave. They asked to speak to Dodge outside the jail.

Outside the jail, Ademo and Pete were eventually arrested by Dodge and two jail employees. They were both charged with wiretapping, trespassing, and resisting arrest. Pete also faced additional charges.

After they were arrested, the police illegally searched their RV. The police demanded that Ademo and Pete turn over the keys to the RV and threatened to break a window in order to gain entry if the keys were not provided to them. After the RV was searched, it was towed to an impound lot.

Ademo and Pete had their pants taken away from them and were forced to sleep in freezing cells without blankets or toilet paper. They were not given the opportunity to make phone calls or bail themselves out of jail. They were released from jail and arraigned the following day.

They were eventually given a joint trial at which they defended themselves pro se. They were acquitted by a jury.

The lawsuit also mentions an incident during which Ademo was issued a jaywalking citation by Greenfield police while passing out flyers to raise awareness about his situation. According to the lawsuit, the citation was issued in retaliation for Ademo exercising his first amendment rights.

The lawsuit names Todd M. Dodge and other unspecified Greenfield police officers as defendants. The lawsuit also names the town of Greenfield as a defendant for failing to properly train its police force and hold them accountable for misconduct.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

According to Open Media Boston, the defendants had not yet filed an answer to the complaint as of August 2, which means that no hearings have been scheduled yet.

Pete made the decision to not be involved with the lawsuit. “My rationale is that I don’t want to grant legitimacy to institutions founded on coercion,” he told me.

This was not the first or the last time the Greenfield police used a spurious “wiretapping” charge to punish people for recording their actions. In 2007, Greenfield police charged Emily Peyton with wiretapping after she recorded the arrest of an antiwar protester. The charges were later dropped. In 2011, Ademo and Pete’s friend Beau Davis was charged with wiretapping a Greenfield police officer for reasons that were unknown to him, but the charges were later dropped by the prosecutor.


Jul 27 2013

Prisoner sues Boston police for documents that may help prove his innocence

Dr. Q

Just a few days ago, I wrote about the difficulties people face trying to access police records under the state Public Records Law. Yesterday, Open Media Boston published a story about a man who has apparently been forced to sue the Boston police to access records which he believes will help establish that he is innocent of a 1981 murder that he was convicted of.

Mark Jones is still claiming his innocence for his part in the Roxbury shooting death of Brian Cropper in 1981 when he was aged just 19 years old.

Jones has filed a lawsuit seeking the release of information that he believes could exonerate him and also is claiming that he received poor legal representation in his case.

Incarcerated at Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley, the complaint dated July 12, 2013 was filed at the US District Court in Boston.

It alleges that, “More than 30 years later, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office continues to withhold substantial exculpatory evidence from Jones to conceal the fact that [they] convicted an innocent poor black youth, who was economically and socially disadvantaged, with subpar legal representation.”

It is claimed that Mark Jones was walking with his friend, Frank Webb, towards the Dudley Square area of Roxbury, when the young men got into a fight with the victim, Brian Cropper, over some neck chains belonging to Jones.

The complaint alleges that immediately following the fight, Cropper chased after Jones and Webb with a machete when he was shot to death by Webb.

They both fled the scene, but turned themselves in several days later after which Jones was charged as an adult for murder, and Webb, then 16, was charged as a juvenile also for murder.

Since July, 2011 Jones has been seeking records held by the Boston Police Department (BPD) relating to his case.

Following multiple requests, unanswered appeals to the Secretary of State, and a failed motion filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the complaint claims that the BPD has only released some of the documents Jones is seeking.

Included in those redacted documents are details it is claimed that the police interviewed key eyewitnesses that said Cropper chased after Jones and Webb with a machete, and that Webb was identified as the shooter.

None of the investigative information in these documents was ever released to Jones the complaint claims.

Make sure you read the entire story. It’s part of Open Media Boston’s new Open Court Project which OMB describes as “our effort to help fill the large and growing vacuum in news coverage of significant court proceedings in the Boston area.”


Jun 19 2013

New Bedford officers get four day suspensions for role in man’s death

Dr. Q

The Standard-Times reports that five police officers have received four day suspensions for failing to get medical attention in a timely manner for a man who was dying of a drug overdose.

Five police officers on duty when a man died in their custody each received a four-day suspension without pay, despite disciplinary recommendations that ranged from six months’ suspension without pay to termination.

The settlement reached between the city, the officers and the police union in August 2012 concerns the early morning hours of July 22, 2010, when Erik Aguilar, 42, overdosed while handcuffed and officers did not attempt to provide medical care until nine minutes after he stopped moving, according to investigations of the incident.

A March 2011 police review found that the officers had neglected their duties and failed to perform according to department rules and regulations. The review called the incident “an embarrassing disgrace to the New Bedford Police Department and a case of absolute negligence on the part of the … police officers on scene.”

Commenting on the suspensions, Police Chief David Provencher said Friday, “Am I completely satisfied? No, but I also understand that it was important to get the disciplinary action sustained and I think to that end, it’s an outcome that’s effective.”

The settlement, which also requires the officers to undergo three days of unspecified training, was based on the city’s calculation that a state arbitrator would have given the officers an even lighter punishment, Mayor Jon Mitchell said.

“The arbitrators are notoriously lenient and that’s a problem in my view, but that’s the system we operate in and I have to play by those rules,” Mitchell said.

While the officers all got off with slaps on the wrist, the taxpayers of New Beford will probably have to fork over some money to pay for what these officers did since they are currently being sued by Aguilar’s family.