Nov 10 2013

Lowell police conducting internal investigation after woman dies in police custody

Dr. Q

WCVB reports:

Team 5 Investigates is exposing a local police department that failed to get a young woman who died in its custody medical care.

The troubling events leading up to her death were caught on surveillance cameras. Team 5 Investigates’ Kathy Curran obtained the exclusive video showing what went wrong.

Thirty-one year old Alyssa Brame’s last hours of life were spent at the Lowell police department after she was picked up for soliciting sex last January.

Team 5 Investigates exclusively obtained surveillance video of the night in question that shows the young mother highly intoxicated and unable to stand and walk on her own.

At first, police put her on the floor next to a stairwell where at one point as many as six people stood around assessing her condition. Then Brame was carried to the booking room where she was placed on the floor and quickly searched.

Brame was breathing, but not moving, so she was placed in a cell, unconscious, and left alone for more than an hour, in violation of department policies which state “at no time will an unconscious prisoner be placed into a cell,” and another policy that requires prisoners to be visually checked every 30 minutes.

Her mother, Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, is outraged. “You know, the motto for the police department is ‘protect and serve’ and in no way did they protect or serve her,” said Swiridowsky-Muckle. “It’s negligence. They were negligent that night because they did nothing,” she said.

The video shows when two civilian workers finally checked on Brame, her arm and face were blue and she had no pulse.

Team 5 Investigates has learned neither one of them had current training in CPR. One left to alert a commanding officer, then several officers went back to the cell to try and resuscitate Brame. However, it took fourteen minutes before anyone called for medical help.

“It’s remarkable that there were so many officers who saw the state Alyssa was in and none of them said, ‘let’s call 911,'” said Howard Friedman, an attorney for the family.

Records show when EMTS finally arrived, they were told the patient was dead and had been gone for a long time.

“She died like a caged animal,” said Swiridowsky-Muckle.

Captain Kelly Richardson, a spokesman for the Lowell police department declined Team 5 Investigates request for an interview because he said the department is conducting an internal investigation.

Read the rest of this article and see the video here.

Update (11/14/2013): The Lowell Sun obtained a copy the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office’s report on Brame’s death. The district attorney found several policy violations, but concluded that no criminal charges against the police officers were warranted.

Nov 3 2013

Lowell pays $642,000 to former cop for retaliation by police department

Dr. Q

The Lowell Sun reports:

The city recently paid $642,000 to a former Lowell police officer, ending a long-running legal battle the former officer claims began in the late 1990s, when he tussled with a fellow officer who he claimed was “politically connected.”

The payment was made to Robert Alvarez, 55, of Methuen.

Alvarez initially sued the city in January 2006, claiming years of discrimination due to his race. After a 15-day trial and two days of deliberations, a Middlesex Superior Court jury rendered its decision on Deb. 1, 2006. It awarded Alvarez, a 19-year veteran, $15,000 for emotional distress, $60,000 for lost income and $90,000 in punitive damages for retaliation dating back to 1999.

In its verdict, the jury found that the LPD did not discriminate against Alvarez, but did retaliate against him when he filed discrimination claims with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. The Sun reported at the time that the jury agreed in its verdict that the city’s conduct showed “reckless indifference to others.”

The city, however, appealed the decision, and in December 2011, the Appeals Court stated that the jury “reasonably could have concluded that the department equated Alvarez’s filing of an MCAD complaint with a bad attitude, and then denied Alvarez opportunities and assignments on that basis going forward.”

The Sun was unaware of that ruling until it received a letter earlier this month from one of Alvarez’s lawyers, Matthew Fogelman of Newton.

Read the rest of this article here.

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.

Jul 9 2013

Lowell officer arrested and charged with OUI

Dr. Q

A Lowell police officer was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The officer has been placed on paid leave (Source: The Lowell Sun).

Eric Wayne, 39, who is a Lowell resident, was arrested by Lowell police on July 4 near the intersection of Lawrence and Rogers Street.

The details of his arrest are unclear, but this much is known: There was no accident or personal injury. Wayne was alone in the vehicle.

According to court documents, police Lt. Daniel Larocque, the shift supervisor that day, said that at around noon on July 4, he became involved in an “administrative matter” concerning Wayne. Larocque wrote that after speaking to another officer about the situation, he parked his cruiser at the end of Hanks Street by Rogers Street waiting for Wayne’s white 2013 Land Rover to pass by.

While parked at that location, Larocque wrote in his report that he spotted Wayne’s vehicle turn right on Rogers Street from the other side of Hanks Street. Wayne stopped at a red light, and Larocque pulled up behind him, got out and approached Wayne, telling him to pull into the parking lot of a local liquor store.

Due to the “sensitive nature” of the incident, Larocque asked Wayne to stand near his police cruiser so he could speak to him. During the interaction, Larocque wrote that he could smell alcohol on Wayne’s breath, and noticed his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Wayne appeared unsteady on his feet, Larocque said.

“As I continued to speak with him, his talk became irrational at times,” Larocque wrote, describing Wayne’s behavior.

Wayne would be talking about the “administrative matter” he and Larocque were discussing, Larocque wrote, and then Wayne would say he was leaving the department and he was tired of the department watching him.

Larocque had requested that a department Employee Assistance Program officer respond to the scene to speak to Wayne, according to court documents.

Larocque asked Wayne to perform a field sobriety test. Initially, Wayne refused, then he agreed. He failed the tests, Larocque wrote.

Larocque arrested him.

Back at the station, Wayne refused a Breathalyzer test. Under state law, refusing the Breathalyzer test means an automatic 180-day loss of license.

Jun 5 2013

Lowell police officer falls asleep at the wheel, causes extensive damage to school

Dr. Q

A Lowell police officer caused extensive damage to a specialized classroom for students with autism after he fell asleep while driving and crashed into a school. The officer was been placed on desk duty pending a medical review (Source: The Lowell Sun).

More details here:

The impact of the crash broke a water pipe feeding the school’s HVAC system, resulting in substantial water damage to the classroom, said Jay Lang, an assistant superintendent in the School Department.

“The classroom was deluged with water,” Lang said, noting that among items destroyed were computers that assist students in communicating. “Of all the classrooms in the school, this is the one we can least afford to lose.”

The accident happened at about 3:30 a.m. on May 28. Police Capt. Kelly Richardson said an email that for the safety of the public and the officer, the officer has been placed on desk duty pending a medical review. The police department declined to identify the officer. The Sun, however, learned from numerous sources the officer is Daniel Hyde, a department veteran who makes nearly $70,000 a year.

Hyde was not injured and the cruiser’s airbag did not deploy. No one was in the school at the time of the accident.

Besides what Lang described as “significant structural to the school,” the cruiser — one of the department’s brand new Chevrolets — also sustained “significant” damage, according to a police report. One source said it was
damaged beyond repair.

Lang said it will be a couple weeks before he’s able to determine repair and replacement costs. “We’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars,” Land said. “Not just a couple hundred bucks.”