Ousted Mass. police chiefs missing from state discipline database

Massachusetts police chiefs gathered in 2020 to speak out against the police reform bill that created the POST commission. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Massachusetts police chiefs gathered in 2020 to speak out against the police reform bill that created the POST commission. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts’ new officer disciplinary database lists more than 2,100 officers who were punished for wrongdoing. But missing from that list are several police chiefs who were investigated for their own misconduct.

Among them is Ashley Gonzalez, who spent about two months as police chief in Brookline last year before he was investigated and later fired for allegedly sexually harassing two women in the department. Gonzalez denied making some of the alleged comments but also told investigators his attempts to be “funny and relatable” went “terribly wrong.” The town has paid out more than $250,000 in total settlements to the women.

The case was widely reported, but anyone looking at the new state database wouldn’t know it. Gonzalez is not listed.

He isn’t the only chief left off the list, WBUR found. The former Westminster police chief was fired last fall after an investigation found he created a hostile work environment, including retaliating against a female sergeant for taking pregnancy and family leave. Southborough’s police chief was ousted last year after a monthslong suspension. Neither could be reached for comment at their publicly listed contacts.

“A fuller record would include police chiefs, no question,” said Howard Friedman, a civil rights attorney in Brookline who specializes in police accountability cases.

The database, released by the Peace Officer Standards and Training commission — known as POST — has already been criticized for its many omissions. It includes only sustained complaints, not those that went unproven. And it doesn’t include officers who left “in good standing,” meaning they weren’t required to retire or resign to avoid discipline, according to a spokesperson.

Sophia Hall, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the definition of “in good standing” is murky and differs from one department to the next. She pointed to a former Arlington police officer who is facing a civil rights lawsuit for a wrongful arrest, yet doesn’t appear in the new database. Also missing is a former MBTA officer who was charged with violating the civil rights of a 63-year-old man.

Hall said transparency and accountability are important when it comes to police chiefs, too.

“If it only matters for the rank and file but not those that are decision makers, not those that drive the customs and cultures of the department, then that's really concerning, because it feels like we're only getting the low-hanging fruit," she said.

A POST spokesperson did not know why Brookline’s Gonzalez was missing from the database. She said it could be that the issue hadn’t yet been forwarded from the department to POST, or that the matter was pending as of Jan. 31, when the dataset was last updated.

Over the past two years, at least a dozen police chiefs in the state have been ousted or placed on leave. One was former Lawrence police chief Roy Vasque, who was on leave since January and agreed to retire in July after an investigation found he'd failed to properly supervise the department’s drug unit and “used intimidation and fear” to lead.

Vasque, in a rebuttal attached to the investigative report, attacked the outside investigator hired by the city as biased and said the complaints stemmed from a “vendetta” against him by the former head of the superior officers’ union. The city paid him $784,486 as part of the settlement.

One former chief who does show up in the disciplinary database is Sean Gibbons, who led the Wayland police department. He reached a settlement agreement with the town last year after he was investigated for harassment and for having sexual encounters with people in the department. The allegation is listed in POST's database as “conduct unbecoming.”

In a published report, Gibbons said the sex was consensual. Reached this week, he said he believes if he'd fought the allegations, he would have been cleared, but he decided not to drag out the process. He said he can't speak specifically about the investigation because he signed a non-disparagement agreement.

Gibbons also is listed as “not certified” in a separate POST database, meaning he cannot work as a police officer anywhere in the state. Some former chiefs charged in criminal cases have had their certification suspended. But most of those ousted for workplace violations are not flagged by POST at all.

Of the 440 law enforcement agencies the state commission oversees, POST reported that 167 had no sustainable complaints against officers. Brookline is among those departments missing entirely. But Brookline Deputy Superintendent Paul Campbell told WBUR in an email Friday that Brookline did send data about officer misconduct to POST — including about Gonzalez. None of it was included in POST's release.

In a statement Friday, POST said it is "aware that there are necessary corrections to our database. We are working with law enforcement agencies to promptly resolve these issues and will have an updated database soon.”

The commission also said submissions from Cambridge and Everett were not imported to the database.

Brookline select board chair Bernard Greene said the experience with Gonzalez, who was hired after holding leadership jobs in Texas and Connecticut, taught the town some lessons about hiring a police chief, including giving more preference to internal candidates.

Making disciplinary data public is vital, he said, so other towns or states can fully vet job candidates.

“The next community should have that information about what happened here in Brookline,” he said.

This story has been updated to reflect new information from Brookline that the police department did not disclose earlier and a statement from POST about missing data.

This article was originally published on August 25, 2023.


Ally Jarmanning Senior Reporter
Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.



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