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'We're going to cheat': Northampton police officer caught on dashcam

Police vehicles in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Northampton Police Department
Police vehicles in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In Northampton, Massachusetts, a police officer is being investigated over comments she made about cheating during a traffic stop earlier this year.

The incident happened in January after a driver was initially pulled over for a busted tail light. The driver was subsequently arrested for drunk driving after allegedly failing a series of sobriety tests. However, the case fell apart after a judge heard dashcam audio of the incident, in which Officer Heather Longley told a trainee, "If it's an OUI, we're going to cheat."

Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative journalist whose story about the case has been published in The Shoestring.

Kari Njiiri, NEPM: How did this incident come to light?

Dusty Christensen, reporter: This incident came to light mostly because we received an anonymous tip about it and decided to follow up. Initially, we tried putting public records requests to the Northampton Police Department for any investigations they did into this police officer's conduct. That bore no fruit.

But court documents are public documents, and we were able to locate the case. And the judge in the case issued a fairly strongly worded decision allowing the defendant to suppress any evidence from that traffic stop because of that cheating comment you mentioned earlier, but also because the judge said the evidence that she saw in the video seemed to also contradict some of the other two officers' claims. There was a training officer and a rookie officer. It was initially the rookie officer who went up to the vehicle after the stop and when he returned to the vehicle, court documents say he told his training officer that the driver, "didn't have any smell."

The judge ruled in suppressing all evidence from that traffic stop. She also had some harsh words for the officer.

She did have some very harsh words for the officer, particularly as it related to the cheating comment and to ... [Officer] Heather Longley's ... comments during cross-examination, that cheating is "OK depending on the context."

The judge said that Officer Longley's "adoption of cheating, and honesty as a malleable factor in the course of police work, casts doubt on her credibility in the determination of facts by this court."

What's been the response from Northampton police?

Police Chief Jody Kasper said that when she became aware of the matter, the department initiated an internal investigation. She said they're still waiting for the completed report with the investigator's findings, and while they await the outcome of that investigation, the department won't be making any further comments.

What about any comment from Officer Longley?

Officer Longley did not respond to our requests for comments on this story.

What about the defendant who was not identified in your article?

We did not identify the defendant because ultimately the case was dropped against him after these comments came out. We were able to speak with his attorney, Jesse Adams, a defense attorney in Northampton and a former city councilor there. He said that the arrest had a really negative impact on his client's life and resulted in hardship, lost opportunities as it dragged on for more than six months.

Has this incident affected other cases in which Officer Longley was involved?

The Northwestern District Attorney's Office says it is still looking into any possible impact that this judge's decision may have on other cases in which Heather Longley testifies. So we're not sure whether there's any impact currently on other cases, but it is likely that Heather Longley has made a significant number of arrests on charges of operating under the influence.

She was given an award by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in Massachusetts for "going above and beyond to take impaired drivers off the road." And she is also one of the Northampton Police Department's drug recognition experts who, after taking just a two-week training course, works to identify drivers who are under the influence of drugs while driving.

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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