Chicopee police say officer who choked handcuffed woman acted "admirably"

In the internal affairs report regarding the choking of Maylene Maldonado on February 17, 2013, the Chicopee Police Department found that their officers acted “admirably.” But now one of the officers in question is facing assault and battery charges after a judge found probable cause to issue a criminal complaint. Maldonado has also filed a civil rights lawsuit.

The disparate conclusions reached by the judge and the department highlight how inappropriate it is to have matters of police violence and misconduct handled by the department in which they work.

Maldonado was arrested for assaulting an officer and was drinking and on PCP at the time of her arrest. According to police reports, officers scuffled with Maldonado when she was arrested and again in the elevator on the way to booking. These scuffles resulted in an added resisting arrest charge for Maldonado.

When Maldonado made it to the booking area accompanied by two officers, her face had been injured from the previous scuffles. She told police she wanted her lip piercing removed because her mouth was in pain and bleeding. She was not quiet about her distress.

The officers told Moldanado they would take the handcuffs off and that she could remove the piercing herself, but the distressed woman continued to ask them to do it for her.

Maldonado’s loud demands for help seemingly angered Sergeant Daniel Major, who responded by choking the handcuffed 24-year-old and telling her to “Shut up.” The officers pulled Maldonado to the ground.

Maldonado continued to plead, “All I’m saying is my lip hurts.”

Major replied, “I don’t give a shit. Shut your fucking mouth.”

In total, five Chicopee police employees – Officers Travis Odiorne, Andre Remillard, Ryan Moran, John Birks, and Sergeant Jeff Godiere – either watched Major attack Maldonado or assisted.

The Chicopee police have turned the booking video along with their reports related to the incident over to The Bay State Examiner. The reports show that in the aftermath of the assault on Maldonado, the Chicopee police circled the wagons to protect Major.

To reach the outrageous conclusion that the use of force was “admirable,” Captain Mark Gilbert, the investigating officer, claimed that Major had grabbed Maldonado’s jacket instead of choking her. Thomas Charette, the acting police chief at the time, signed off on Gilbert's report.

Major no longer works for the Chicopee police and Charette has since retired after he lost his position as chief over an unrelated matter, but Gilbert remains the night shift captain. Officers Odiorne, Remillard, Moran, Birks, and Sergeant Godiere all still work for the Chicopee Police Department.

In the documents released to The Bay State Examiner, Gilbert claims to have watched the video “at least fifteen times” and Charette claims to have watched the video as well before signing off on the report. More damningly still, the written reports about the incident collected by Gilbert all either omit the choking entirely or say that Major grabbed Maldonado by the neck. This includes Major's written statement that he “quickly reached up and grabbed her neck.”

At no point in any of the written statements does anyone claim that Major grabbed Maldonado’s jacket, but Captain Gilbert's report found, “At that point Sgt. Major grabbed Ms. Maldonado by the front and back of her jacket collar and brought her to a prone position” (emphasis added). The report never mentions Major swearing or grabbing Maldonado's neck.

Gilbert wrote that it was necessary for Major to restrain Moldanado because the officers said she had been “spraying blood and saliva” at them, but this claim was not supported by the video. The original arrest report written by Birks does not mention anything about Moldanado spitting blood, it merely states she was “very uncooperative and had to be placed in a prone position.”

Internal affairs is a flawed system to begin with because it means people are investigating their coworkers, but, in this case, police records indicate that Gilbert was Major's direct supervisor and was in charge of the entire department on that shift. If Gilbert found wrongdoing in Major's actions, it could reflect on him directly, so he had a vested interest in clearing Major.

The incident also included five other officers, so if Gilbert had found Major had used force inappropriately, he would have also had to find that five other officers under his supervision failed to act or even report what had happened.

Gilbert wasn't even the Chicopee Police Department's internal affairs officer at the time, but Charette explained that he chose Gilbert because he felt that William Jebb, the actual internal affairs officer, was biased against Major. If true, it would be a good idea to find an unbiased officer to do the investigation, but Gilbert wasn't unbiased, suggesting the motivation may have been to seek a predetermined outcome.

The records show that Charette ordered that all copies of the video be turned over to him, and was furious when he found out that copies had been released to outside agencies. Charette was so angry about this that he launched an investigation into Jebb for turning the video over to the mayor's office. The written records show that Charette was much more upset by Jebb allowing the video to be seen by the mayor's office than he was about the choking incident.

There was nothing “admirable” about anything the Chicopee police did either in the booking room or after and their finding that the attack was justified belies the integrity of their entire department.