Indictment Says Springfield, Mass., Cops Used Excessive Force In Arresting Teens
Updated at 4:25 p.m.
A federal indictment alleges two Springfield, Massachusetts, police officers used excessive force during the arrests of two Latino teenagers in 2016. The officers have pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutors said Gregg Bigda and Steven Vigneault were arrested on Wednesday. They appeared in U.S. District Court in Springfield the same day, where neither of them spoke much during their respective hearings.
Attorney Dan Kelly, who represented Vigneault, spoke to reporters after the arraignment.
"He was very resolute, very upbeat and he said to me -- and I can't say it better -- 'I did nothing wrong.' So that's his position, and he looks forward to his day in court," Kelly said.
According to the indictment, Bigda used unreasonable force, spat on one teen and said: "Welcome to the white man's world."
Bigda is also accused of threatening the youths during a subsequent interrogation and falsifying a police report.
Vigneault is charged with using unreasonable force against the second teen.
Prosecutors say both boys sustained injuries in the incident, which occurred in Palmer following a pursuit that began in Springfield.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a statement on Wednesday morning on the indictments, calling the matter "very troubling" and underlining "zero tolerance for this type of behavior":
This is very troubling, as our police officers are sworn to enforce our laws, not break them. Any officer that breaches the public trust should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There is zero tolerance for this type of behavior. This reflects unfairly on the vast majority of our brave and dedicated police officers, who put their lives on the line protecting our citizens day in and day out.
And on Twitter, Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri issued a statement saying Bigda will be suspended without pay:
Vigneault retired in 2016.
Bigda until Wednesday remained an officer after serving a 60-day suspension.
Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos said he had called for Bigda to be fired after details of the 2016 incident became public.
“It's disappointing that they were able to keep their jobs,” Ramos told NEPR. “I think that it's very clear that a person like Bigda does not belong on a police department. It's very clear from his actions, very clear by his choice of words, that he doesn't belong on the streets, carrying a gun and a badge.”
City Councilor Justin Hurst called the indictment “inevitable.”
“The fact that our district attorney couldn't do it, and his department couldn't do it, the fact that the police commissioner couldn't do it, the fact that the mayor couldn't do it is concerning and disappointing,” Hurst told NEPR. “It definitely deserves more scrutiny. The question is by whom. I think, if left up to the mayor's office, the result will be the same result that we've had. And so I'm not 100 percent sure, outside of the federal government coming into play, or the state coming into play, you know, what else there is to do.”
Hurst said he thinks the majority of the city’s police officers “are doing the right thing, but there are some bad apples.”
Messages left with attorneys for the men were not immediately returned.
Springfield Police Officer Gregg Bidga released without bail after his arraignment on federal civil rights violations, ordered to surrender passport, firearms, license to carry. Faces up to 15 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.— stephbarry1287 (@stephbarry1287) October 31, 2018
A status hearing is scheduled for January. Both Bigda and Vigneault could face more than a decade in prison, according to prosecutors. They were both released without having to post bail.
Adam Frenier and Heather Brandon contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.