ACLU takes intention at Hampden District Lawyer’s workplace response to DOJ report on Springfield police narcotics unit

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ACLU takes aim at Hampden District Attorney’s office response to DOJ report on Springfield police narcotics unit

SPRINGFIELD – The American Civil Liberties Union delivered a lengthy list of questions about what Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni’s office is doing about police misconduct in the region’s largest city.

The civil rights watchdog specifically focused on a U.S. Department of Justice report made public July 8, which portrayed Springfield narcotics detectives as a rogue unit whose members routinely defaulted to excessive force, filed false police reports and trumped up charges.

“What actions has your office taken in response to the DOJ report? Has your office determined, by inquiring with DOJ or otherwise, which specific officers were implicated are implicated by the DOJ report in committing or condoning misconduct? If so, who are they?” were among the questions posed in a five-page letter sent Aug. 6 to Gulluni’s office.

The DOJ report cited a litany of examples when narcotics detectives allegedly used excessive force, but did not include suspects’ names, nor the names of particular officers in its summary. Some of the instances were obvious as they had received intense media coverage, while others were more obscure.

One man alleged he was clothes-lined by a detective as he rode by an arrest on a motorbike; another reported he was kicked and beaten by several officers after a foot chase; and still another said he was pulled from his car after a brief car chase, then also kicked and beaten even though he was not being combative.

Police officials have said they are working to piece together the alleged event in comparison with the report’s allegations and have found flaws in some of the narratives.

However, an aide to Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said the department has been working in tandem with the Department of Justice to implement reforms before the report became public.

“The department was working with outside consultants and the DOJ long before the report was published, in anticipation of the recommended remedies that ended up in the report,” said Capt. Philip J. Tarpey III, citing a widespread roll-out of body-worn cameras and revamps of the department’s Internal Investigations Unit and a community police review board which answers to Mayor Domenic Sarno.

“We’ve been cooperating with the DOJ and will continue to cooperate,” Tarpey said, adding that the police department has a good relationship with the district attorney’s office.

However, the ACLU questions whether the relationship is too good, and whether the prosecutor’s office is too entrenched with the police department.

“For any officers implicated, has your office engaged in a review to identify the cases in which any of those officers participated or is participating as an investigator, witness, or other member of the prosecution team? If so, which are they?” the letter persists.

A spokesman for Gulluni said his office is reviewing the letter.

“We are giving the letter a careful review, and comment thoughtfully on it in a reasonably short period of time,” said James Leydon, communications director for Gulluni.

The ACLU’s letter also cites previous public records requests it posed to the district attorney’s office last year, focused on whether the agency maintained a running list of “Brady” or Giglio” officers — legal jargon for cops tainted by misconduct and considered unfit to testify in criminal cases.

“Your office revealed that you maintain no list of officers known or suspected to have committed an offense whose disclosure may be required under (Brady) … your office has no formal policies, procedures, or analyses concerning its attorneys’ obligations … and your office has no written systems in place to track whether Brady disclosures are made in the appropriate cases,” the letter reads.

The ACLU sent the letter as legislation over police reforms is still being debated on Beacon Hill.

Rahsaan Hall, racial justice director for ACLU Massachusetts, said only a handful of 11 district attorneys’ across the state maintain lists of officers whose credibility may be compromised by misconduct.

“Police misconduct isn’t just a police issue, prosecutors have a responsibility to address it,” Hall said.

Gulluni has brought criminal cases against Springfield police officers — particularly those accused of sexual misconduct.

Former Officer Daniel Cintron was accused of child rape, but a jury deadlocked last year. A jury-waived retrial is scheduled for September. Two other officers were acquitted in 2019 for raping an adult woman.

Still, Hall says he considers Gulluni’s performance on police accountability to be poor.

“If the largest police department in the county that generate a majority of cases that office prosecutes is engaged in misconduct, and you don’t have people dedicated to seek out that misconduct and prosecute it, there is going to be a lack of motivation to change the culture of that department,” Hall said.

The state attorney general’s office and U.S. attorney’s office both have cases pending against Springfield police officers focused on brutality and misconduct. But, Hall, a former Suffolk County prosecutor, said local district attorneys’ offices are best positioned to police the police.

“The DA’s office is in a better position to know about this misconduct because they are rooted in the community … I think because of that relationship, they are in the best position to influence the department,” he said.