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New Lawsuit Asks SJC To Investigate Springfield Police And Hampden DA

Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood addresses city councilors during a meeting in Springfield, Mass. in 2019. (Matt O'Brien/AP)
Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood addresses city councilors during a meeting in Springfield, Mass. in 2019. (Matt O'Brien/AP)

A new lawsuit asks Massachusetts' highest court to investigate the criminal justice system in Springfield.

The suit, filed by several parties including the American Civil Liberties Union and Committee for Public Counsel Services, asks the state Supreme Judicial Court to review allegations of excessive force and misconduct within the Springfield Police Department (SPD) and allegations that the Hampden County District Attorney's Office (HCDAO) is not properly disclosing when officers engage in misconduct.

The suit points to a scathing Justice Department report issued last year which found that several Springfield Narcotics Bureau officers used excessive force. The report found that between 2013 and 2019, officers, especially Narcotics Bureau officers, used excessive force and some officers would "repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily." The report also said officers covered up the misconduct and the police department had "accountability systems that do not provide meaningful reviews of uses of force."

Springfield was the only police department investigated by the Department of Justice during the Trump administration.

"Despite lawsuits, indictments, news articles, judicial findings, and the DOJ
Report, the Commonwealth has not investigated the full scope and gravity of misconduct within the SPD," the lawsuit reads. "Nor has the HCDAO established sufficient policies within its own agency to ensure that misconduct is discovered and disclosed to defendants."

In naming Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, the suit points to an violent incident outside a bar in 2015 involving several Springfield police officers. After Gulluni did not find probable cause to prosecute the officers, the Attorney General Maura Healey indicted 14 current and former Springfield officers. Charges against some of the officers are pending.

The suit says Gulluni continued to prosecute cases relying on testimony of some of the officers involved and did not properly disclose to defense counsel that the officers were accused of misconduct.

"For at least the better part of a decade, the HCDAO has neglected to learn of and
disclose evidence of SPD misconduct," the lawsuit reads. "To date, even in cases seemingly flagged by the DOJ Report, Petitioners are aware of no disclosures that have been made to individual defendants about whether the DOJ’s finding are true, or whether they impact defendants’ cases."

The Hampden County DA disputes the allegations.

"The Hampden District Attorney’s Office is committed to fairness and justice for all," a spokesman for the DA wrote in an emailed statement. "The ACLU’s filing is a misdirected political effort supported by biased opinions and falsehoods. It is baseless and inaccurate and we will litigate it as such.”

Springfield police say they have not yet reviewed the lawsuit and the department is working on reforms.

"Since being named as police commissioner two years ago, it has been my mission to modernize the Springfield Police Department and prioritize training and public service," Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood wrote in an email. "We have seen positive early results including our mental health professional co-responder program, our approach to illegal firearms and a prioritization of internal affairs and holding all of our officers and employees accountable to the people of Springfield at all times, and we will continue those efforts."

Related:

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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