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Judge Sides With Springfield City Council, Orders Sarno To 'Identify And Appoint' Police Commission

Springfield, Massachusetts, Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood takes the oath from District Court Judge John Payne during her swearing-in ceremony, in October 2019.
Adam Frenier
/
NEPM
Springfield, Massachusetts, Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood takes the oath from District Court Judge John Payne during her swearing-in ceremony, in October 2019.

Updated at 6:40 p.m. 

A Massachusetts judge has largely sided with the Springfield City Council in its lawsuit against Mayor Domenic Sarno over control of the police department.

The council had sued Sarno for ignoring ordinances establishing a police commission to lead the department instead of a single commissioner.

Superior Court Judge Francis Flannery dismissed Sarno's argument that the ordinances infringed on his powers.

"Mayor Sarno must without further delay and in good faith endeavor to identify and appoint qualified individuals to serve on the Board of Police Commissioners," Flannery ordered.

The mayor had further argued that establishing a commission would displace Cheryl Clapprood, the current police commissioner, and infringe on his right to enter into a contract with the department's leader.

Flannery called this argument "unavailing," noting that Clapprood's contract was executed nine months after the council passed its most recent version of the ordinance, in 2018.

"[I]f there were a conflict between [Sarno's] authority ... and the City Council's authority to reorganize a department, the conflict was of the mayor's own making," Flannery wrote.

Tom Lesser, an attorney working pro bono for the City Council, called the decision "a great victory."

"The decision fully validates the council's authority to reorganize the city's police department — which it's been attempting to do since 2016, while the mayor has sat by and ignored the ordinances passed," Lesser said Friday afternoon.

In a statement, the mayor indicated this years-long fight would continue.

"We have long expected that this matter would be finally decided by the Appellate Courts of Massachusetts," he said in a statement. "This is the first step and we look forward to the next step in that process."

The judge did throw out one portion of the ordinance, requiring commissioners to be residents of Springfield for at least three years, and not be members of the council or work for the city.

"We're not concerned with that at this point in time," Lesser said, noting — as Flannery did— that the mayor is already required to certify that an appointee is "specially fitted by education, training or experience to perform the duties."

Adam Frenier contributed to this report.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He oversees a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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