Nov 6 2013

State trooper who leaked Tsarnaev photos retires after signing off on disciplinary charges

Dr. Q


Boston Magazine reports:

Three and a half months after releasing the dramatic behind-the-scenes photos he took during the manhunt for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sgt. Sean Murphy has retired from the Massachusetts State Police.

As part of a negotiated agreement, Murphy has also signed off on five disciplinary charges that were brought against him for the unauthorized release of the photos: violation of rules; unbecoming conduct; unsatisfactory performance; insubordination; and dissemination of information.

Under the agreement, Murphy waived his right to contest the charges before a trial board; was docked five of the vacation days he’d accrued; and received an honorable discharge. “I think it’s fair,” he told me this morning. “It could have been much worse.” His retirement, which comes after 25 years with the State Police, is effective Nov. 1.

When I asked him whether he’d been forced into the action, he replied: “My lawyer put it this way: ‘One can only form their own conclusions.’ I didn’t have to retire, but I realize and understand that I’ll never photograph again for the Mass State Police. I could work the midnight desk sergeant shift in Athol, but I have 25 years and I can retire.”

State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed that Murphy retired last week. “The process took its course, and Sgt. Murphy went through the disciplinary process,” Procopio said. “He chose to retire.” Procopio said that the marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed will always be a part of Massachusetts State Police history, and that “Sean’s release of the photographs will always be a footnote in it. I don’t think there’s much more I want to say about it.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Oct 28 2013

Why are the Massachusetts State Police camera shy?

Dr. Q

On October 11, a Massachusetts state trooper shot two unarmed men at a traffic stop in Medford. The state police have claimed that the trooper feared for his life and was forced to shoot when the driver, a 19-year-old man, attempted to hit the state trooper with his vehicle. The driver has been charged with numerous crimes including assault with a dangerous weapon. The passenger, who was also shot, has not been accused of doing anything wrong — nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So far, the only evidence presented to the public that either of the shooting victims did anything wrong is the word of the very state trooper who shot them. Personally I don’t think that’s good enough. When a police officer shoots someone, we deserve real evidence that the shooting was justified.

There’s a very simple measure that the Massachusetts State Police can take to assure the public that they are justified when they shoot: they can go on camera.

Many police departments use video cameras to bring more transparency to their actions. One type of camera that police departments use is the dashboard-camera (or dashcam). These cameras are mounted in a police cruiser. They can be used to examine why a police officer pulled someone over and what happened during the traffic stop.

A dashcam would have been perfect for recording the police shooting in Medford. A dashcam also could have been used to record another recent incident during which a state trooper shot a mentally ill man to death after the man allegedly tried to kill the trooper with a pen.

Dashcams are not a new technology. They have been in use for decades. After the infamous 1991 Rodney King beating — an incident that was only brought to the public’s attention because a bystander video-recorded it — the Christopher Commission, a blue ribbon commission appointed by the mayor, recommended that the Los Angeles Police Department begin using dashcams. The Christopher Commission wrote that dashcams offered “A promising possibility for reducing excessive force and assisting the LAPD and the City in defending civil litigation.” The use of dashcams would likely reduce excessive force claims “because the tapes demonstrate that the officer acted appropriately and because officers would be more careful to use force appropriately.” The Commission suggested that the cameras might even pay for themselves by reducing the number of lawsuits against the LAPD.

Since the Christopher Commission wrote its report over two decades ago, dashcam use by police has become much more common, although it is still not universal. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 61% of local police departments and 67% of sheriff’s departments used dashcams in 2007.

A more recent and very promising idea is having police attach wearable cameras to their clothing (I’ve sometimes heard them called “bodycams”). In Rialto, California, police recently began using wearable cameras. “In the first year after the cameras were introduced [in Rialto] in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period,” according to The New York Times. Bodycams would be useful for recording shootings that don’t occur at traffic stops such as the recent fatal shooting of Denis Reynoso by the Lynn Police Department.

Unfortunately, the Massachusetts State Police, the largest police department in the state, still haven’t gotten with the times. I recently submitted a public records request to the Massachusetts State Police asking for any dashcam videos of the Medford shooting and any policy documents related to dashcams. Here’s what I was told:

Please be advised that no video recording was created relative to your request. Further, the Department does not utilize dash-mounted video cameras in Department vehicles. Therefore, the Department does not have policies pertaining to the use of such equipment to provide to you.

If you think the idea of requiring police to be on camera constantly is ridiculous, consider what two Dallas, Texas police officers recently did when they thought they weren’t on camera. The officers shot a mentally ill man who was just standing still then lied on their police report, saying that the man lunged at them with a knife. Thankfully, their lies were exposed when the shooting was recorded by a nearby surveillance camera.

Police are human beings, not angels. They can commit crimes and lie just like everyone else. When police shoot someone, we shouldn’t have to take the word of the police on faith.

It’s about time the Massachusetts State Police and all the other police departments in the state start going on camera.

Oct 17 2013

Making a public records request at the Massachusetts State Police HQ

Dr. Q

On October 11, a Massachusetts state trooper shot two unarmed men at a traffic stop in Medford. The state police have claimed that the driver, a 19-year-old man, attempted to hit the state trooper with his vehicle. The driver has been charged with numerous crimes including assault with a dangerous weapon. No allegations of wrongdoing have been made against the passenger. So far, the only evidence presented to the public that either of the shooting victims did anything wrong is the word of the very state trooper who shot them.

There’s a fairly easy way to tell whether or not the trooper is telling the truth about the shooting incident. Many police departments install dashboard cameras (dashcams for short) in their patrol cruisers. These cameras create objective records of traffic stops made by police and are therefore the perfect way to determine whether or not police have acted appropriately. If the Massachusetts State Police use dashcams, the videos recorded by them would allow us to see for ourselves whether the state police acted appropriately during shooting incidents like the one in Medford or another recent incident where a state trooper killed a mentally ill man who allegedly attacked him with a pen.

I’m actually not sure if the Massachusetts State Police use dashcams. Many police departments don’t use them at all. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 61% of local police departments and 67% of sheriff’s departments used dashcams in 2007. Myong Joun, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in police misconduct, told me it’s his understanding that the state police only have dashcams installed in certain unmarked vehicles, not their standard marked vehicles.

Nevertheless, I decided to make a public records request to determine if a dashcam was installed in the vehicle of the state trooper who shot the two people in Medford and to obtain a video of the shooting if it exists. Under the Massachusetts public records statute, all records kept by local and state government agencies must be provided to members of the public upon request unless they fall under certain exemptions. Government agencies are required to respond to a request within 10 days either by agreeing to disclose the records or by denying the request and explaining which exemption the records fall under.

I decided to submit my request in person at the Massachusetts State Police Headquarters which is located in Framingham. On October 15, KT of MassOps accompanied me to the State Police HQ and we both recorded the visit with our cellphones so we would have an objective record of what happened. I would recommend bringing a camera along to anyone who decides to make public records request to a police department or any government agency at all in person. The video can serve as proof that the request was made and, if the video is posted online, what date it was made on.

When we arrived at the State Police HQ, I spoke to Steve Lane at the front desk and told him that I wanted to submit a public records request. He walked off, grabbed a form, passed it to me, and told me I needed to fill it out to make a request.

Under the public records law, a government agency cannot require a person to use a specific form to make a records request. A simple letter is considered a legitimate public records request and government agencies are obliged to accept and comply with such requests. In fact, records requests can even be made verbally with no written request at all. According to “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law,” a document published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth:

A written request is not required but is recommended. An oral request made in person (not by telephone) is permitted…

There is no specific form that must be used to request records, nor is there any language that must be included in such a request. A records custodian may provide a form, but cannot demand that the form be used.

I had already typed up my request and didn’t feel like wasting my time rewriting an almost page-long letter by hand for no reason, so I informed Lane that I had already written out my request and that he could not require me to use the form. He immediately became angry and accused me of “trying to cause a problem.” He then told me that he would get someone else to help me.

While I waited, I looked over the form that Lane had handed me. He had actually given me a form for requesting a crash report from the Registry of Motor Vehicles which means that the form wasn’t even relevant to the records I was trying to request. I pointed this out to Lane, but he insisted that I still had to fill it out.

Lane also expressed hostility toward the fact that KT and I were recording him.

Soon, I was greeted by Sergeant McGilvry. I told him that I was trying to make a records request. He told me that even though I was already present at the State Police HQ, I would need to mail my request in which is not true. When I insisted on submitting the request in person multiple times, McGilvry finally told me he would make a phone call to determine if he could accept my request. Before he walked off, he told me that I needed to “just grow up” because he was upset about the fact that I was recording him.

A couple minutes later, McGilvry came out a second time and accepted my letter without offering an apology for the incorrect information he had given me.

Although the public records statute has its flaws, it is one of the most important tools in our state for ensuring that police departments and other government agencies are transparent to the public. It’s incredibly disappointing, to say the least, that employees working at the main office for the largest police department in the state are so ignorant about the public records statute and treat people who make public records requests with such hostility even though they are required by law to accept and comply with them.

If I was treated like this by the employees of a private company, I’d probably choose to never do business with that company again. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with the government, taking your business elsewhere isn’t an option.

I’ll post an update as soon as I’ve gotten a response to my records request from the state police.

Here’s the full text of my public records request:

To whom it may concern,

This is a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M. G. L. Chapter 66, Section 10) for records from the Massachusetts State Police. As you may be aware, the Public Records Law requires you to provide me with a written response within 10 calendar days. If you cannot comply with my request, you are statutorily required to provide an explanation in writing.

I would like to know if the Massachusetts State Police use dashboard cameras (or dashcams) which are video cameras that can be mounted in cars. I would like copies of any policy documents related to dashcams.

A state trooper was involved in a shooting incident in Medford on October 11. According to news reports, the trooper shot two men during a traffic stop after the driver allegedly tried to hit him with his vehicle. If the trooper involved in the shooting had a dashcam installed in his cruiser, I would like a copy of the video and audio of the traffic stop and shooting incident as well as the events leading up to it. I would also like dashcam videos with audio from any other state police vehicles that were present at the scene of the shooting. I would also like copies of any police reports, notes, and other documentation of the shooting.

It is my understanding that the shooting incident in Medford is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation. As you may be aware, there is an exemption to the public records law for information related to ongoing investigations by law enforcement, however, be aware that this exemption only applies to a record if it can be shown that releasing the record to the public would prejudice the results of the investigation.

If you withold a record under any exemption at all, I expect you to specify which exemptions you are citing and to articulate why the exemption applies to the record in question. If you withold any records under the investigatory exemption, I would still like copies of the records after the investigation is complete. Please take steps to ensure that you do not destroy any records I have requested.

Please provide a list of all documents that my request applies to as soon as possible. I recognize that you may charge reasonable costs for copies, as well as for personnel time needed to comply with this request. If you expect costs to exceed $10.00, please provide a detailed fee estimate. I would appreciate it if you waived any fees associated with the fulfillment of this request as I believe the release of these documents is in the public interest.

I appreciate you taking time to read over and consider this public records request. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Note that when I typed up my request, I wrote that the shooting happened on October 15 which was the date I was submitting the request, not the date of the shooting. I realized my error while in the parking lot of the State Police HQ and crossed out the 15 with a pen and wrote in 11 which is the correct date.

Sep 30 2013

State trooper charged with OUI in crash that killed mother and daughter

Dr. Q

The Boston Globe reports:

A state trooper is being charged with drunken driving in a head-on collision in Plymouth that killed a Carver mother and daughter last Sunday, Plymouth police said Saturday.

The trooper, 25-year-old John J. Basler of Kingston, will face charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and carrying a firearm while under the influence of liquor, according to Plymouth police, and more charges could follow.

Susan Macchi, 64, of Carver, and her 23-year-old daughter, Juliet Macchi, were killed in the crash, which occurred just after midnight last Sunday on Federal Furnace Road.

Basler, who was sworn in as a state trooper in March 2012, was not on duty at the time of the crash, said State Police spokesman David Procopio in a statement.

State Police have temporarily relieved Basler of duty and have revoked his license to carry a firearm, Procopio said.

Chief Michael Botieri of Plymouth police said it was particularly disturbing to learn through the course of the accident investigation that the tragedy appeared to be caused by a law enforcement officer.

“It’s very difficult,” Botieri said, “but none of these kinds of investigations are easy.”

Susan Macchi, who was driving the car at the time of the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her daughter, Juliet, died later at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth.

Basler, who had been assigned to the State Police barracks in Milton, will be asked to appear at a duty status hearing early this week, where it will be determined whether he will be suspended while the criminal charges are prosecuted. Initially, police said they did not believe alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.

Because of Basler’s injuries, he will be summonsed to Plymouth District Court once he has had more time to recover. As police continue to investigate the crash, additional charges could be brought against him, Botieri said.

Read the rest of this article here.

Update (10/3/2013): Basler has been suspended from his job indefinitely without pay.

The Boston Herald reported yesterday that:

A rookie trooper charged with killing a Carver mother and daughter in a head-on crash in Plymouth last month was suspended without pay indefinitely today, state police said.

The announcement was made following a duty status hearing for Trooper John Basler, 25, of Kingston, at state police headquarters in Framingham,

“Additionally,” spokesman David Procopio said, “the department’s Internal Affairs Section will open an investigation into Basler’s conduct to determine if he violated departmental rules and policies.”

Basler is charged with operating under the influence the night of Sept. 22. He will be summonsed to Plymouth District Court. As of this morning, no arraignment date had been set.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles has suspended his license to drive.

Update (10/11/13): Yesterday, The Boston Globe reported that Basler has plead not guilty to the charges against him.

John J. Basler, who has been suspended without pay from the department he joined last year, pleaded not guilty in his Plymouth District Court arraignment to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and carrying a firearm under the influence of alcohol.

Basler, 25, walked into the courthouse with a cane and was accompanied by two attorneys and two men in suits.

The arraignment lasted less than two minutes, and there was no further information disclosed about the crash that killed Susan Macchi, 64, and her daughter, Juliet Macchi, 23.

Through his attorneys, Richard Rafferty and Michael Erlich, Basler waived the reading of criminal charges. The office of Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz did not ask for bail.

Judge Brian F. Gilligan ordered Basler released on personal recognizance with the requirement that he not drink alcohol or possess firearms.

Basler, who walked with a limp, was silent during the brief court appearance and did not speak to reporters as he left the courthouse and boarded a waiting SUV.

In a report released this week, Plymouth police said the crash happened shortly after midnight Sept. 22 when Basler was driving to his home in Kingston after attending a party in Wareham.

While witnesses at the party told police that Basler consumed one beer during the night, State Police said they later determined that Basler had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to the report.

Video from CBS Boston here:

Aug 1 2013

Holyoke resident alleges police brutality in federal lawsuit

Dr. Q

Police searching Erick DeJesus’s car (Source: The Republican)

On July 3 of this year, Holyoke resident Erick DeJesus filed a federal police brutality lawsuit over an incident that occurred on July 6, 2010. The complaint (.pdf format) names two Holyoke police officers and a state trooper as well as the City of Holyoke, the Town of West Springfield, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and other unspecified police officers as defendants.

According to the complaint, DeJesus had been shopping at the Almonte Market in Holyoke when he entered his black car and drove away. As DeJesus left, Detective William Delgado of the Holyoke Police Department began following him.

Delgado had apparently been looking for a black car in the area after he received a call from another police officer who told him that there might be a weapon in the vehicle.

Delgado followed DeJesus into the town of West Springfield where he was joined by other members of the Massachusetts State Police, Holyoke Police Department, and West Springfield Police Department including Holyoke Police Officer Leahy and State Trooper Valentini (the first names for Leahy and Valenti were not mentioned in the complaint).

The night of the incident, Holyoke Police Lt. Matthew F. Moriarty told The Republican that police began chasing DeJesus at 9:31 p.m. Moriarty also indicated that officers from a multi-jurisdictional Gang Task Force (not mentioned in the complaint) were involved in the chase.

The police allegedly dragged DeJesus out of his car, slammed him to the pavement, and struck him about his head, face, jaw, neck, back, ribs, and arms using unknown objects.

After the beating, DeJesus was left with bleeding lacerations, contusions, a concussion, blurred vision, a headache, and the inability to open his jaw. DeJesus was arrested and, despite his visible injuries, was not provided with medical treatment. No weapon was found on DeJesus or in his vehicle.

The Republican reported the night of DeJesus’s arrest that he was charged with possession of a Class A substance, possession with intent to distribute, operating to endanger, and other unspecified charges. According to the complaint, DeJesus’s trial attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained by the police on the grounds that DeJesus had been unlawfully stopped and searched. All the charges against DeJesus were later dismissed.

The lawsuit, which will be heard at the United States District Court in Springfield, seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

DeJesus’s attorney, Jeanne Liddy, said during a telephone interview that no court hearings have been scheduled for the lawsuit yet. She declined to comment on any facts about the case not mentioned in the complaint, saying they would be discussed at trial.

The Holyoke Police Chief and the Office of Media Relations for the Massachusetts State Police were both contacted by email several hours prior to the publication of this article. They have not yet responded.

An update will be posted as soon as new information becomes available.

Special thanks to Jonathan Adams of Open Media Boston for providing me with a copy of Erick DeJesus’s complaint.

Update (same day as the original post): Updated with comments from DeJesus’s attorney.

Jul 30 2013

State trooper under investigation commits suicide

Dr. Q

A state trooper who was the subject of a criminal investigation committed suicide. The Boston Herald reports:

A trooper who was “the subject of an investigation” in what state police are calling “an alleged criminal act” has taken his own life, officials report.

State police announced the unnamed trooper “took his life yesterday afternoon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Devens.”

Police added: “The trooper was the subject of an investigation, initiated Sunday, into an alleged criminal act that occurred early Sunday morning while he was on duty. Upon initiation of the investigation, his use-of-force equipment, including his service firearm, was confiscated and he was relieved of duty.”

State police go on to say the trooper “made statements to two people indicating he intended to harm himself. Those people contacted State Police, a search for the trooper was immediately initiated, and the trooper was found deceased in the Devens hotel room with self-inflicted wounds.”

The trooper was 40 years old and had been with the state police since June of 2005.

This is pretty sad. Suicide is tragic, even if the person who killed him or herself is guilty of a serious crime. However, I will still be adding the officer’s alleged criminal conduct to my police misconduct database.

Many people do not realize it, but suicide is a serious problem among police officers. A recent study found that police officers are more likely than the average person to commit suicide. Police are also about as likely to commit suicide as they are to die at work due to violence or accidents.

Update (7/31/2013): WBZ/CBS Boston has obtained more information about the state trooper. The trooper was Greg Jasinksas, a Marine and National Guardsman who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The crime he was being investigated for “involved sexual activity.”

Update (7/31/2013): The Boston Herald has confirmed that the crime Jasinskas was being investigate for was sexual assault.

The state trooper found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Devens hotel room was under investigation for a “criminal act” while on duty, state police said — and Brockton’s top cop confirmed that trooper had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman.

Trooper Gregory J. Jasinskas, 40, was under investigation for allegations of assaulting a Brockton woman behind a store on Route 24 in Avon early Sunday, Brockton Police Chief Emanuel Gomes told the Herald. He confirmed his department was drawn into the investigation Monday after state police asked his officers to go to the alleged victim’s Brockton home and “refer her to the state police.” Brockton police officers also assisted in the hunt for Jasinskas on Monday after authorities received reports he intended to harm himself, Gomes said.

Also, I mistakenly wrote that the last update, which mas made earlier today, was made on August 1. This error has been corrected.