The Bay State Examiner as well as Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) have made records requests to the Fall River police in order to shed light on Thompson's case. None of the requests by either group have been addressed despite the fact that state law mandates a response within 10 days.
Thompson told Officer James Costa, who was working at the front desk in the police station, that he was serving the chief with the court order. Costa’s reaction was to attempt to hinder Thompson from executing the court order.
Costa first attempted to claim that the court order wasn’t a court order, then claimed that Thompson should have served the order before it existed to get his phone back, before finally admitting that he had no idea about Thompson's case. Finally Costa offered to fetch someone who might actually know what he was talking about.
While we waited, Thomspon spotted Thomas Barboza, the police officer who arrested him in January, and I followed him outside and attempted to speak with him. He refused to speak with me and drove off (click here for video).
Later, Detective Konarski brought out Thompson's phone in an evidence envelope. This came as a surprise to Thompson, who said the Fall River police had repeatedly claimed that the phone was not in their possession and that they would inform him when it was back so that he could pick it up. Thompson asked Konarski why they failed to notify him about the phone and received no answer.
The detective then pulled out a spring-loaded knife to open the evidence folder. In Massachusetts, carrying spring-loaded knives is illegal. Thompson pointed this out to Konarski, who did not respond but immediately left the interview room and returned with a pair of scissors.
Konarski had Thompson sign a chain of custody document to receive the phone. Thompson signed and then asked for a copy because he is trying to determine who had access to his phone when it was wiped. Konarski said that he would check if Thompson could see the document.
Konarski returned and informed Thompson that he would not receive the document nor could he look at it because the only person who could okay this activity is Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine.
Fall River police don't take records requests
Thompson requested the chief be asked and I made a verbal records request on the spot as well for the document. Konarski informed me that the Fall River police do not accept verbal records requests.
According to the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, "A written request is not required but is recommended. An oral request made in person (not by telephone) is permitted" (see pg. 2).
Detective Konarski made no attempt to take notes or obtain my contact information so any confusion on the Fall River police’s side about what was requested or by whom is of their own doing. Without leaving the room or contacting anyone Konarski then told me my records request had been “passed on.” It has been over ten days and I have, needless to say, not had any response on this request.
As we waited in the interview room for Chief Racine, Thompson called the chief’s line. Thompson notified the woman who answered that he was recording the conversation to make sure it wouldn’t be actual felony wiretapping. Thompson informed her that we were in the interview room waiting for the chief. The woman explained that the chief was in a meeting, but that she would let him know.
At no time was Thompson informed that the police line was also being recorded by the Fall River police. We’ll see if the District Attorney, who spent months charging Thompson with a bogus wiretap charge, will pursue this case of what may be an actual wiretap.
After this exchange, Lieutenant Ronald Furtado, the head of Fall River’s “Professional Standards” division which I later learned encompasses Internal Affairs, then came to clarify that the Fall River police would not give us any further information and would not address either The Bay State Examiner or PINAC's overdue written requests.
Furtado explained that the Fall River police do not abide by the law about verbal requests and falsely claimed the chief was not in the building when we asked to see him (the chief's car was parked outside). Furtado told us that to make a records request we had to do it in writing in person or send it through the mail with a return receipt. Furtado then walked off mid-conversation to avoid telling me who to talk to about the written records requests from more than a month ago.
I returned to the police window and requested to speak with whoever handles records requests. A short while later Staff Sergeant William Francis came out. The sergeant looked for any of the requests from The Bay State Examiner and PINAC and claimed Fall River police had none.
The sergeant explained that there is a process for making records requests: they only take the requests in writing and they have to be mailed to a specific division which would have the records. I asked for a list of the divisions and who I should address future requests to and was told I was not allowed to have that information.
I asked who was actually in charge of handling records requests and was told no one is but that whoever the staff sergeant on duty happens to be handles them. Given the ridiculous multitude of failures on display, I chose to make a new, verbal request for the various documents that the Examiner and PINAC had already requested in writing.
Sergeant Francis told me I needed to write out and mail the request to a different division because his division (which is in charge of giving out the records) didn’t have those records and wouldn’t pass the request forward.
I explained that I needed to have the recording of me making the request to him as evidence that the Fall River police had received the request. Sergeant Francis allowed me to get partway through the request then pointed out that since it wasn’t in writing he would not be responding and didn’t know what I was requesting. I told him to take notes. He refused.
At this point no member of the Fall River police had even taken down my name let alone my contact information. Francis then declared that the conversation was over and began to walk away.
I asked him for his name and badge number. He gave me his name and claimed he didn’t have a badge number so I asked to see his police ID card. He refused and left. Under Massachusetts law, a police officer must display his police ID card upon lawful request.
Fall River police don't take complaints
I walked back to the front desk and asked Officer Costa for a blank complaint form. The Fall River Police Department's citizen complaint procedure is on their website:
It is of utmost importance to the administration of the Fall River Police Department to provide citizens of Fall River with a quality of police services citizens that ensures the utmost integrity of all employees.
To ensure that this level of service is continually provided to citizens, it is recognized that there must be a method for the administration to be made aware of citizen’s complaints regarding actions or inactions of sworn or civilian employees of this department, that fail to meet the standards required.
It is the policy of the Fall River Police Department to accept and investigate all complaints of misconduct or wrongdoing against the Department or Department employees, regardless of the source of such complaint, by conducting a regulated, thorough and impartial examination of all available factual information.
Procedure: A standard complaint form shall be used to record all complaints of misconduct, mistreatment or unethical practices against Department personnel, whether registered by a citizen, initiated from within the Department or forwarded by another governmental agency. The Complaint Control Form (PD 252) shall be located at the Fall River Police Department.
Any person requesting to make a complaint against an employee of the Department shall, upon request, be given a copy of the Complaint Control Form (PD 252)
Despite this clear policy, Costa refused to give me a complaint form. He claimed the point of a complaint form was to allow people to speak to a sergeant and said he’d send someone out to speak with me.
That “someone” turned out to be Sergeant Francis – the officer I was trying to make a complaint about – and a captain, whose name I can’t make out in my video, neither of whom are with Internal Affairs.
The captain further attempted to block me from making a complaint by telling me that I would be contacted by "Professional Standards" with more information (they still didn’t have my name or contact information), and by telling me “there is no complaint.” The captain did finally take my contact information when I pointed out that no one else had yet.
I continued to demand that I be allowed to make my complaint and the captain relented and said he would check if IA was free to speak with me. The captain never returned and I was left waiting for the next hour with no idea if anyone would be coming out to speak with me.
Thompson tried calling the IA line, but no one answered. Lieutenant Furtado came back out after I spoke with a police employee and asked them to call IA, but Furtado would not speak because I had my camera rolling and would not say if he was with IA.
I turned off my cameras to speak with Furtado because I wanted to make my complaint, but he declared that the conversation was over and began walking away. I followed him and pointed out that the cameras were off. Furtado said that since Thompson – who was across the lobby from us and not involved in the interaction – had a camera which was not on or pointed at us, the conversation was still over.
Furtado then left without taking the complaint. He did not offer to take me to a private room where he could speak with me without Thompson's presence nor did he give me a complaint form to fill out. I left the Fall River Police Station after confirming that Furtado was the head of Internal Affairs.
My only trip to the Fall River Police Station uncovered that the Fall River police freely break laws while refusing to provide any services whatsoever. In the course of about three hours, members of the Fall River police seem to have wiretapped George Thompson, were caught with an illegal knife, broke the police ID card law, and refused to follow the public records law. Sergeant Francis who handles records requests made it clear that it is nearly impossible to get the Fall River police to release public records. Finally, Lieutenant Furtado, who is in charge of “Professional Standards” and Internal Affairs, refused to take my complaint about the misbehavior and refused to be of any assistance in making records requests.
Will there be any sort of oversight or investigation conducted by the Fall River city government? When we spoke with the mayor earlier this year, he stressed that Police Chief Daniel Racine has his full confidence and that the he would only take actions on matters concerning the Fall River police if Racine told him to, so that doesn't seem very likely.