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Nathan Bill's police abuse case far from over as sentencing, more trials, civil lawsuits remain

The headquarters of the Springfield, Massachusetts, police department.
The headquarters of the Springfield, Massachusetts, police department.

Two Springfield, Massachusetts, police officers are scheduled to be sentenced later this month for their roles in an off-duty brawl in April 2015 with four Black civilians outside a city bar.

Daniel Billingsley and Christian Cicero were convicted last week of misdemeanor assault but were cleared of more serious charges in the brawl outside Nathan Bill's bar.

Reporter Stephanie Barry of The Republican newspaper has been following the case.

Kari Njiiri, NEPM: What consequences could the officers be facing?

Stephanie Barry, The Republican: That field is a pretty wide field because they are misdemeanor convictions. So they could get as little as probationary terms or they could serve some jail time. And the judge has pretty wide discretion.

I got the sense from Judge Mason that he appears to think that they deserved some jail time because he expressed surprise that the commonwealth didn't move to revoke the defendants' bails. And [he] put them on house arrest when prosecutors hadn't even asked for those conditions, which is fairly unusual.

Could they also face dismissal from the police force?

That's going to be up to the new police commission and that's a very distinct possibility.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said last week's verdict "finally closes an ugly chapter in the history of our Police Department." But the case is not over. In all, 16 defendants — 14 officers and two civilians, the bar's owners — were charged either for their roles in the assault or an alleged cover-up within the department. Where do we currently stand with the case?

Of the original officers who were charged, nine have been cleared either through acquittals or pretrial maneuvers on behalf of defense attorneys. One of the bar owners was acquitted even before the jury got the case. He still faces one additional charge.

And the next trial that is scheduled is Officer Jose Diaz and that's in early May. After that, two additional police officers will stand trial together for the alleged cover-up. Joseph Sullivan. The other bar owner who was charged in the case still faces one charge, but his trial has not yet been scheduled.

What about the four victims?

So the status of the four victims, three of them testified at this trial. One of them sadly died from COVID-19 last year. They received a sizable settlement from the city in 2019. And the lead victim, for lack of a better phrase, still has two outstanding civil lawsuits — one against the ambulance company, and the second is against the bar and the bar's owners.

The U.S. Attorney's office and the Hampden District Attorney declined to press charges, and then Attorney General Maura Healey's office picked it up. Given there's been just two convictions on misdemeanor charges so far, is there any second guessing of the attorney general's office to pursue this case?

Well, I think that would be a question for the attorney general's office, but it's been a very fraught case. The narrative has shifted pretty significantly since the allegations first became public — and that was even before they were charged criminally.

I can't imagine that they're incredibly thrilled with the outcome thus far. But I have heard from a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office that they still plan to pursue the remaining charges against the remaining defendants.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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