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One Springfield officer faces second criminal trial, while another remains in certification limbo

A 2015 file photo of the exterior of Nathan Bill's Bar & Restaurant, in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Charles Krupa
A 2015 file photo of the exterior of Nathan Bill's Bar & Restaurant, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The trial has begun in the case of a suspended Springfield police officer in connection with a fight outside a city bar in 2015 involving off-duty cops and four Black civilians.

Jose Diaz was acquitted of assault charges early last year, but had agreed to plead guilty to a charge of misleading investigators. He changed his mind at the last minute and withdrew his plea deal. His case is now before a judge.

Stephanie Barry, a reporter with the Springfield Republican newspaper, is covering the trial.

Kari Njiiri, NEPM: Stephanie, what prompted Diaz to forego the plea deal?

Stephanie Barry, The Republican: He was set up to get what's called a CWOF, which is an acronym for "continued without a finding," which essentially amounts to your case getting dismissed after a certain period of time. You'll be on probation, and if you don't run afoul of the terms of your probation or commit another crime, the case is basically wiped from your record.

Diaz had concerns about how that might affect his pension, whether he may be stripped of that after he pled guilty. There was a lot of confusion surrounding that.

What penalties could he face if he's found guilty by the judge?

The maximum sentence for felony misleading is 10 years, but that's kind of pie-in-the-sky. Given the fact that Officer Diaz has no prior record, the most he may face under sentencing guidelines is three years, and a range probably between 1-3 years. But it's also a distinct possibility he may just get probation.

Meanwhile, the case of another suspended city cop remains in limbo. It's been more than a year since Detective Gregg Bigda was acquitted of brutality allegations involving the interrogation of a group of Latino teenagers who stole an undercover police car back in 2016. Bigda continues to be off the job, but still paid. What's going on there?

This has been a protracted standoff between Bigda and the city. I believe the city was optimistic that Officer Bigda was going to get convicted at trial, which would have spared them the debate over what to do with him in terms of a personnel standpoint. And there was a period of a few months before the Board of Police Commissioners was installed, which stripped Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood out of a lot of her former disciplinary powers.

And after that, I think the city was hopeful that the state POST Commission — that arose from some legislative reforms — would take care of him and decertify him. But the [Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training]
POST Commission came out with their first list of officers they disciplined. And Gregg Bigda falls in this weird limbo that he wasn't certified, but nor was he decertified. And nor was he on a list of 15 officers across the state who were suspended, because he's already suspended. So it's created this very unusual conundrum for the city.

What's the city's position?

I spoke to the city solicitor the other day, and they're angry at the POST Commission for not being more decisive in its recent actions. And they still want to wait to see, 'Well, what's the commission going to do?' And when I reached out to the POST Commission for comment, they essentially had no comment.

Either the city is going to have to pivot and somehow put Officer Bigda before the Board of Police Commissioners, which is still a distinct possibility, or wait to see if the POST Commission is going to take further action as far as Officer Bigda is concerned.

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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