Nov 7 2013

Springfield police officer faces disciplinary action after reporting weapon missing

Dr. Q

The Republican reports:

A Springfield police officer, who reported that his service firearm had gone missing from a Hartford apartment last month during his off-duty hours, was subject to a four-hour disciplinary hearing Wednesday at department headquarters.

Sgt. John M. Delaney identified the officer in question as Kevin Merchant and said a decision regarding potential discipline for him has yet to be made.

Delaney said a written report on the results of the hearing will be forwarded to Commissioner William J. Fitchet, who will then make a decision on potential discipline.

Delaney, aide to Commissioner William J. Fitchet, said the process could take 7 to 10 days. Until then, Merchant will remain on normal duty status with the department.


May 15 2013

Springfield police officer pleads guilty to improper storage of a firearm

Dr. Q

A Springfield police officer will likely have no criminal record after pleading guilty to improper storage of a firearm in connection with the suicide of her domestic partner (Source: The Republican).


Jan 9 2012

News Roundup for the New Year

Dr. Q

As I said toward the end of last year, I will now be posting weekly news roundups. Instead of trying to write detailed articles about every police misconduct and police accountability-related story I come across, I will post links on the Massachusetts Cop Block Facebook and Twitter pages and make a weekly post that includes brief summaries of all the stories I found during the past week. Currently, I plan to post a news roundup every Monday.

First, here are a few stories from late last year:

  • The Lowell Sun reports that Vesna Nuon, who was just elected to the Lowell City Council, accepted a $50,000 settlement from the city. Nuon was suing the city over a 2008 incident in which Lowell Police Officer Brian Kinney allegedly arrested him on a bogus “disorderly conduct” charge after he threatened to call Kinney’s supervisor and complain about his unprofessional behavior. As part of the settlement, Kinney must also apologize to Nuon.
  • WGGB-TV reports that Spingfield Police Officer Rafael Nazario has been charged with rape and indecent assault and battery after allegedly raping an 18-year-old woman.
  • The Sun Chronicle reports that cocaine and other drugs have gone missing from the Attleboro Police Department’s evidence room. Police Chief Kyle Heagney said he suspects that a cop is responsible and has launched an investigation. The Boston Herald reports that Heagney wishes he could drug test the officers in his department, but their union contract bars him from doing so.

And here the the first Massachusetts police misconduct and police accountability-related stories of the new year:

  • The Boston Herald reports that state trooper John Bergeron shot a woman while hunting. The state police have described the incident as an accident, but Environmental Police are still investigating.
  • WBZ-TV reports that Charlton police terrified a 5-year-old girl when they sent an officer to collect her overdue library books. Seems like a colossal overreaction, not to mention a waste of police resources. As one person who shared the story with me sarcastically commented, “All other crimes have been solved!”
  • The Boston Herald reports that the FBI has arrested state police officer John M. Analetto on extortion charges. Analetto has been accused of lending an FBI informant money in exchange for a piece of his business and threatening to murder the informant multiple times.
  • Boston.com reports that black box data disclosed by the state police shows Lt. Governor Tim Murray was driving 100 MPH and not wearing his seatbelt when he totaled his taxpayer-funded car during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Both Murray and the state police previously said accident was caused by black ice, but the release of the black box data have forced them to revise their story. They both now claim that Murray probably fell asleep at the wheel. Previously, the state police refused to release the black box data to the public even though they are required to by the Massachusetts Public Records Law, however, they finally released the data when Murray asked them to. Murray will be issued a $555 traffic citation.
  • The Cape Cod Times reports that a judge ruled that Sandwich police violated a teen football player’s rights when they interrogated him without offering to record the interrogation.
  • The Enterprise reports that former Brockton police lieutenant Charles Lincoln has been jailed for failing to make alimony payments to his ex-wife. Lincoln, now retired, became infamous when he called out sick more than 100 times in three years so he could work a second job as the head of a county jail and amass a huge pension. Lincoln has collected his $140,000 a year pension at taxpayer expense since 2004.
  • Lastly, a man uploaded a YouTube video a few days ago which apparently depicts Haverhill police searching his home. The man frantically tells the camera that the police have entered his home without cause and assaulted him. At the end of the video, the police notice they are on camera and threaten to arrest the man for recording him. While I can’t confirm the man’s version of events, I will say that police have no right to arrest people for openly recording them. This man may want to consult a lawyer.

Remember, if you have a story or question you’d like to share with Massachusetts Cop Block, drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, or send us a message using our contact page.


Aug 18 2011

No charges against Springfield woman who recorded police beating

Dr. Q

Last week, Springfield police officer Michael Sedergren filed an application for a criminal complaint accusing a woman, Tyrisha Greene, of illegal “wiretapping” because of a video-recording she made in November, 2009. The video in question shows a white police officer beating a black man named Melvin Jones with a flashlight during a traffic stop while a group of other white police officers (including Sedergren) watch and fail to intervene. The beating left Jones with broken bones in his face, broken teeth, and partially blind in one eye.

You can view Greene’s video here.

The officer who carried out the beating, Jeffrey M. Asher, was fired over the incident (but not until after he received his disability pension) and currently faces criminal charges. Three other officers, including Sedergren, were disciplined over the incident. Sedergren was punished with a 45 day suspension from his job.

Asher and Sedergren are both currently being sued by Melvin Jones. Jones specifically accuses Sedergren of kicking him in the groin and calling him a racial slur.

Jones is currently being held in jail without the right to bail and faces a number of criminal charges from separate incidents including shoplifting, domestic assault, and cocaine trafficking.

Sedergren argued that the Greene’s video of the beating violated the Massachusetts wiretapping statute, which criminalizes the creation of “secret” audio-recordings of conversations, because it was recorded without his knowledge or permission.

Yesterday, The Republican reported that Assistant Clerk Magistrate Joanne M. McCarthy rejected Sedergren’s application after a short closed-door hearing at the Chicopee District Court.

Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni said he would have been unlikely to pursue the charges anyway because the law only covers conversations for which a person has an expectation of privacy. “I’m leaving the door open if there is more evidence presented to me, but as I understand the facts now, this case falls far short of the wiretapping statute,” he said.

Mastroianni’s interpretation of the Massachusetts wiretapping statute appears to be different than the one offered by Massachusett’s Supreme Court. In the case Commonwealth v. Hyde (2001), the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that Michael Hyde, a musician, violated the state’s wiretapping law when he recorded a police traffic stop with a tape recorder hidden in his car. The Supreme Court ruled that even though Hyde’s recording was made in a public place, it was created in “secret” because Hyde concealed his tape recorder. The court noted that he could have avoided his conviction if he “had simply informed the police of his intention to tape record the encounter, or even held the tape recorder in plain sight.”

Regardless of how one interprets the wiretapping statute, McCarthy’s decision to reject the charge against Greene was a good one. There’s no evidence that Greene made her recording in “secret.” For instance, she did not deliberately conceal her recording device as Michael Hyde did. And even if she had hidden her camera, the “wiretapping” charges still would not be appropriate.

As I’ve written before, laws that criminalize the creation of audio-recordings in public are, at their core, attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. They are especially odious when they are used to prosecute people who record powerful government officials like police officers during the course of their duties. Recording the police is one of the best and only ways that the average person can hope to hold them accountable. Criminalizing the recording of police officers — whether it’s done secretly or in the open — will only lead to more incidents of police abusing people.

The Massachusetts Legislature should update the state’s wiretapping statute to allow individuals to create “secret” audio-recordings of others as long as there is no expectation of privacy. Until then, jurors should refuse to convict individuals who are charged with “wiretapping” for recording public officials like police officers even when the recording is made in “secret.”


Aug 11 2011

Springfield police officer accuses woman of “wiretapping” for recording beating

Dr. Q

Yesterday, The Republican reported that Springfield police officer Michael Sedergren has filed an application for a criminal complaint accusing a woman, Tyrisha Greene, of “wiretapping” because of a video-recording she made in November, 2009. The video in question shows a white police officer beating a black man with a flashlight while a group of three other white police officers (including Sedergren) watch and fail to intervene. You can view Greene’s video here.

The officer who carried out the beating, Jeffrey M. Asher, was fired over the incident (but not until after he received his disability pension) and currently faces criminal charges. Three other officers, including Sedergren, were disciplined over the incident. Sedergren was punished with a 45 day suspension from his job.

Sedergren argues that the Greene’s video violated the Massachusetts wiretapping statute because it was recorded without his permission.

Wiretapping and eavesdropping laws make it a crime to make an audio-recording of another person without that person’s consent. However, these laws only apply to conversations where a person has an expectation of privacy such as telephone conversations. In most states, people do not have an expectation of privacy when in public places, so abusive police and prosecutors simply pretend that wiretapping and eavesdropping laws apply to all conversations so they have a pretext to harass people who record police officers in public.

In Massachusetts, the state wiretapping law is a bit more complex than other states. Although it is legal to record audio and video in public in Massachusetts, the wiretapping statute prohibits the creation of “secret” audio recordings. In the case Commonwealth v. Hyde (2001), the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that Michael Hyde, a musician, violated the state’s wiretapping law when he recorded a police traffic stop with a tape recorder hidden in his car. “The problem here could have been avoided if, at the outset of the traffic stop, the defendant had simply informed the police of his intention to tape record the encounter, or even held the tape recorder in plain sight,” wrote the court majority in their decision. “Secret tape recording by private individuals has been unequivocally banned, and, unless and until the Legislature changes the statute, what was done here cannot be done lawfully.”

Despite the ruling in Hyde, police in Massachusetts have continued to abuse the wiretapping law to arrest people for recording them with devices in plain sight. In one of the most recent cases, my friends Adam Mueller and Pete Eyre were arrested and charged with wiretapping for trying to record themselves bail a friend out of the Franklin County Jail in Greenfield, Massachusetts. They were both acquitted by a jury earlier this year, but not until they had been forced to spend a night in a cold jail cell without blankets and attend numerous court hearings over the course of a year.

It’s not clear why Sedergren believes that Greene’s recording violated the Massachusetts wiretapping statute. After all, Greene did not try to hide her camera when she recorded the police beating. Sedergren’s criminal complaint is almost certainly just a vindictive attempt to retaliate against someone who gathered incriminating evidence against him.

Even if Greene had concealed her camera, I would still be on her side in this case. Laws that criminalize the creation of audio-recordings in public are, at their core, attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. They are especially odious when they are used to prosecute people who record powerful government officials like police officers during the course of their duties. Recording the police is one of the only ways that the average person can hope to hold them accountable. Criminalizing the recording of police officers — whether it’s done secretly or in the open — will only lead to more incidents of police abusing people.