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Springfield Mayor Sarno, 'Resistant To Changes,' Faces Lawsuit Over Police Commission

Mayor Domenic Sarno in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Republican / masslive.com/photos
Mayor Domenic Sarno in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts, has filed a lawsuit against Mayor Domenic Sarno as it tries to bring back the city's police commission. 

In 2016, and again in 2018, the council passed ordinances seeking to do so. In both instances, Sarno refused to appoint members to the committee, saying the move violated the city charter.

But Attorney Tom Lesser, representing the council, disagreed, saying that under the city charter it has the right to reorganize departments — including the authority over the police department.

Panelist Natalia Muñoz said she doesn't understand Sarno's apparent point of view.

"I'm not sure what's going on with Mayor Domenic Sarno, why he's being resistant to changes that would benefit the city of Springfield," Muñoz said. "Having a citizen overview commission would actually make the police department better. Everything that we've been learning about how we have to change the nature of policing, the system of policing — this would make Springfield a better city, with a better police department. Why is he resisting this? I don't understand."

The police department in Springfield has repeatedly been accused of police brutality and other scandals in recent years.

Panelist Kristin Palpini said the City Council might have to win the case against Sarno in order for reforms to happen.

"The city recently announced some reforms it was going to make in response to the Department of Justice findings about the problems in the department," she said. "They were going to be more transparent. They were going to be more available to the community. But I mean, these aren't the big changes we need. So I think that something big does have to happen."

Palpini said any change that occurs should be "smart change."

"A commission isn't just going to solve everything," she said. "We have to be very careful with how we construct it."

Springfield's previous police commission was dissolved in 2005 by a state-imposed financial control board, which put the department in the hands of a sole commissioner.

But high-profile incidents of police brutality, financial settlements over officers' behavior, indictments and a scathing report from the Department of Justice have led the City Council to push for a change.

As of early Friday afternoon, the offices of the mayor and city solicitor had responded to a request for comment, but in the past, Sarno has expressed confidence in his position.

This wasn't the only controversy involving Sarno this week. He also fired his director of constituent services, longtime aide Darryl Moss, for allegedly violating the city's social media policy. Some elected officials and community leaders say the move was unjust.

City Councilor Tracye Whitfield said Moss, who is Black, was targeted.

"If you're going to cover up for some people, and then defamate character for others, then that's not a fair way to treat any person — especially your employee that has been faithful and loyal to you for over 12 years," Whitfield said.

In the online post that’s believed to have led to Moss’ firing, he wrote “get the rifles” — in response to a story about President Trump defending a white Minnesota man who killed protesters. Moss’ supporters said he was referencing an HBO show featuring Black characters trying to stay alive in 1950s Jim Crow America.

Also this week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker continued to ease back restrictions in communities considered to be at "low risk" for the coronavirus. The move expands capacity at places like libraries and museums, and allows performance venues to open at 50%.

It happens as state's largest cities, including Springfield, are deemed at "high risk" for the virus, and won't be able to take part in the next stage of reopening. 


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Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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