Yesterday the hearing began for Lowell Police Lieutenant Thomas Siopes, who faces termination for his role in the death of 31-year-old Alyssa Brame. On January 12, 2013, Brame was arrested by Lowell police for allegedly soliciting sex, fell unconscious, and ultimately died of alcohol poisoning while in police custody.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute anyone for Brame’s death, but an internal Board of Inquiry review by the police department found that six police officers and two civilian employees violated department policies, possibly contributing to Brame’s death. Police left Brame alone in a cell for over an hour after she lost consciousness. When she was finally checked on and found unresponsive, another 15 minutes passed before anyone called 911. The Board of Inquiry report notes that the department “has had a long-standing policy of ‘At no time will an unconscious prisoner be placed into a cell. Unconscious prisoners shall be examined by trained medical individuals as soon as possible.’”
Several of the employees involved in Brame’s death were recommended for disciplinary action by Police Superintendent William Taylor. The City of Lowell offered deals to the five employees facing the harshest punishment, which allowed them to accept lesser punishment instead of facing hearings. Siopes, who was in charge the night Brame died, was the only one to reject the deal offered to him, which included a demotion to patrolman and a 180-day unpaid suspension.
Monday's session was only the first in a hearing which seemed likely to stretch out across several days. During the session, the city began laying out its case for why Siopes should be fired. Most of the session consisted of testimony from Police Superintendent William Taylor, whose testimony primarily focused on his reaction to an audio-recording of an interview that Masschusetts State Police detectives conducted with Siopes and to surveillance video of the night of Brame's death.
As The Lowell Sun reported in their coverage of the hearing:
Police Superintendent William Taylor offered scathing criticism during testimony that took up most of a nearly six-hour hearing in City Hall.
Taylor, who was not chief at the time, said Siopes lacks leadership capabilities and called it "inconceivable" that Siopes wouldn't have acted differently that night if given the chance, as he appeared to say in an interview with investigators last fall.
Siopes was asked in that interview if he would do anything differently. After pausing, he answered no, according to a tape of the exchange.
"It's unbelievable," Taylor said after the tape was played during Tuesday's hearing. "It's inconceivable to me that he wouldn't change his behavior."
Siopes sat stone-faced and still as city attorneys questioned Taylor about aspects of the job, typical police training and what should have happened the night Brame died. Peter Perroni, one of his attorneys, repeatedly objected to what he called leading or irrelevant questions.
Eric Slagle, the city's director of development services, acted as hearing officer. He will make a recommendation to City Manager Kevin Murphy, who will decide whether to uphold the requested firing of Siopes.
Prior to Taylor's testimony, Siopes's attorney Gary Nolan delivered an opening statement criticizing the case against Siopes. He said the city was intentionally taking some of the things Siopes had said out of context to make him seem "callous."
"Everyone in this case acknowledges the tragic circumstances in the death of Miss Brame. And they are tragic circumstances and Lieutenant Siopes regrets them as well," Nolan said.
Nolan's opening statement also suggested his case would focus on the failure of the Lowell Police Department to properly train officers.
"They have to prove that the supervisors in this department were properly trained to do what they're suggesting they failed to do," he said. "They also have to prove that this [policy] you've heard about was an actual policy of the department. When I say 'policy,' I don't mean some piece of paper that was hidden in an attic that nobody ever follows. I'm saying it's a protocol that they know about."
Nolan noted that the Board of Inquiry found that a number of other employees weren't properly trained on the policy. Nolan said documents possessed by the police department and city showed the city government and police administration had been aware of training problems for years, but did nothing to fix them, allegations which are shocking if true.
Nolan also said that two of the officers who were present the night Brame died were EMTs and didn't recommend an alternative course of action to Siopes, but the Board of Inquiry didn't mention it in their report.
Nolan said the hearing was about "protection in government jobs from political control." He said the police administration and city were in "damage control mode" and trying to deflect blame from themselves for failing to properly implement policies and training.
The hearing was open to the public at Siopes's request. A number of people showed up for the hearing, including members of Siopes's family. We did not see Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, Alyssa Brame's mother, at the hearing. Howard Friedman, a civil rights attorney representing Swiridowsky-Muckle, said on Friday that neither of them had ever been notified by the city that the hearing was scheduled for this week.
Last Friday, City Solicitor Christine O'Connor, one of the lawyers representing the city in its case against Siopes, told us the hearing was scheduled for Monday. When Maya showed up, she was told by another member of the Law Department that at 4 PM on Friday, the hearing had been rescheduled for Tuesday morning. At no time did we ever receive a phone call telling us the hearing had been rescheduled.
We believe the public has a right to be informed of the functions of its government, so we are extremely disappointed by the lack of communication on the city's part.
We are unable to make it to the rest of the sessions for the hearing, but we do intend to request the city's audio-recordings of the hearing (which appeared to be recorded on an antiquated cassette tape recorder) and other records related to the case. For now, we recommend checking The Lowell Sun for additional coverage of the hearing.
We have also have a great deal of video, some of which we hope to share at some point in the future.
Update (7/24/14): You can read about the second day of the hearing here.
Update (7/25/14): You can read about the second day of the hearing here.
Additionally, we were contacted earlier today by Alice Swiridowsky-Muckle, who told us by email she was “furious” that no one from the city contacted her about the hearing. She said Howard Friedman contacted her about the hearing, but she did not see the email until yesterday because she was visiting a family member in the hospital.
Update (7/26/14): You can read about the fourth day of the hearing here.