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Northwestern DA releases names of police officers accused of misconduct

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

For the first time, the top law enforcement official in Hampshire and Franklin counties is releasing the names of police accused of misconduct or credibility issues. But for the moment, he isn’t revealing all of them.

In response to a public records request from NEPM, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan has released some of his office’s records of officers whose credibility has been challenged. They're known as "Brady" disclosures after a landmark Supreme Court ruling, and district attorneys keep them because prosecutors are required by law to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to defendants. Previously, Sullivan's office had refused to publicly release the names, instead blacking them out when responding to public records requests.

But late last month, the state's top court issued a ruling reaffirming that documents related to police misconduct investigations are subject to disclosure under the public records law. That undermined arguments the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office and other agencies had made to withhold such records. Following the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision, Sullivan has now turned over to NEPM 28 of its Brady disclosures, which are kept in blank form letters that the office can send to defense attorneys when needed. The documents largely relate to findings of untruthfulness against officers.

But for the moment, Sullivan is still keeping private the names of officers accused of criminal offenses – everything from trespassing to assault and battery and domestic violence. In response to NEPM’s records request, Sullivan’s office said that it needed more time to determine how the court’s ruling would impact its obligation to release those documents.

The case before the Supreme Judicial Court related to the Bristol District Attorney's Office’s refusal to turn over records about a Fall River man who police shot and killed in 2021. The Bristol DA had argued that only the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission – created in the wake of 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to oversee and license police officers statewide – should be required to turn over police misconduct records.

If that argument had stood, it would have limited the impact of the 2020 police-reform bill state lawmakers passed, which both created the POST Commission and clarified that police misconduct records are not exempt from disclosure under the state’s public records law. Sullivan’s office had submitted an amicus brief in the case, supporting the Bristol DA’s position. However, the court’s judges rejected those arguments.

An independent journalist, Andrew Quemere, is currently suing Sullivan over his refusal to release police officers’ names.

Quemere praised the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision, though he said he wished it had gone further to increase transparency in the state.

“The fact that the DA’s office would make such an absurd argument just shows their obstructionism, their unwillingness to release information,” he said. “Their motivation here is simply to prevent the public from finding out about allegations of police misconduct.”

A spokesperson for Sullivan said in a statement that the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office does not comment on ongoing litigation. “As for the SJC decision, the office appreciates all clarifications from the court regarding public records requests,” the statement said.

John Drake is the supervising attorney for the Hampshire County Bar Advocates – private lawyers who represent criminal defendants who are unable to afford an attorney. He said that recent Supreme Judicial Court decisions have opened up the state’s courts to greater transparency, such as dismissing convictions related to misconduct at state drug labs and allowing people to seek new trials in OUI cases after misconduct in the Office of Alcohol Testing.

Drake applauded the court’s latest ruling and the resulting release of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office Brady disclosures.

“Over the course of the last 10 years or so, the so-call system has been forced one way or another to be far more open,” Drake said. “Which is a benefit to defense attorneys, to our clients and to the general public.”

Misconduct allegations

The Brady disclosures in the files that the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office turned over to NEPM relate to misconduct allegations that stemmed from internal investigations police departments conducted into their own officers.

One such case, for example, relates to Northampton officer Heather Longley, who when training another officer during a drunk-driving arrest in January 2023 was heard on dash-cam audio saying “we're going to cheat.” When the case went to trial, the judge noted that the evidence in the video didn’t match the narrative the officers had written in their police report, and that when a defense attorney asked Longley during cross-examination if cheating is bad because it’s dishonest, she answered that “it depends on the context.”

“As a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of police duties and training another officer, espousing cheating in any regard is anathema to the fair and impartial administration of the law and contributes, particularly in the current socioculturalpolitical climate, to the widely held public perception, particularly among marginalized populations, of rogue law enforcement,” Northampton District Court Judge Mary Beth Ogulewicz wrote in a scathing decision to suppress evidence from the traffic stop.

Northampton hired an outside investigator to look into the arrest after Ogulewicz issued her decision. Late last year, the investigatorconcluded that Longley had committed misconduct that “contradicts the very fiber of the expectations for a police officer” and that the department should fire her. However, then Police Chief Jody Kasper decided otherwise. She declined to discipline Longley, saying that the evidence pointed to Longley’s innocence of any wrongdoing.

A Brady disclosure related to that case now appears in the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office’s files. Reached by email Wednesday, Longley said that her ability to testify in court has not been impacted and said that the department cleared her of any misconduct.

Another person on the list is current Greenfield Police Chief Todd Dodge. A disclosure letter says that his personnel file “contains sustained findings of neglect of duty and dissemination of official information arising out of a 2015 incident concerning a confidential informant.”

According to records the city has released on its website, the incident revolved around Dodge was “reckless and negligent” in releasing the name of somebody who had called in a tip about an alleged crime — a decision that an internal investigation concluded "could put that caller at personal risk."

In an email Wednesday, Dodge said the timing of those findings — which were appealed and overturned during arbitration — was “extremely suspect.”

He said that they came shortly after he had successfully represented now retired officer Patrick Buchanan, a Black officer in the department, in a disciplinary case that an arbiter also overturned. He eventually joined Buchanan in a lawsuit against the city. In 2022, a jury found that the Greenfield Police Department and its leadership had discriminated against Buchanan. The city is currently appealing the $1 million verdict in the case.

Dodge said the department’s actions were retribution for his defense of Buchanan.

"In certain circumstances it’s unfortunate that these types of things remain attached to an Officer’s professional record,” Dodge wrote. “However I’m a firm believer in transparency therefore I’m ok with it and I’m happy to talk about it.”

Release of additional officer names

It’s still unclear whether the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office intends to release the names of police who faced criminal charges. The DA’s office told NEPM it did not intend to provide those records this week. Previously, Sullivan’s office has responded to public records requests for those Brady disclosures by redacting the names of those officers.

In a joint motion in Quemere’s lawsuit against Sullivan, lawyers said that the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision “did not resolve all the issues between the Plaintiff and Northwestern.”

Quemere said the biggest issue, however, is the state’s current public-records law, which is often cited as one of the country’s most opaque. He said that there is currently no way for the state’s supervisor of records to sanction agencies that defy her public-records determinations, like Sullivan’s office did in his case. The only way to get transparency in those instances, he said, is to file a lawsuit — something that is prohibitive for most people. Meanwhile, the DA’s office is spending taxpayer money to defend such cases and keep records private.

“The public is being forced to pay for law enforcement to obstruct transparency about law enforcement and it’s really unfortunate,” Quemere said. “I think that we need a new system.”

Dusty Christensen is an investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He currently teaches news writing and reporting at UMass Amherst.
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