On January 12, 2013, 31-year-old Alyssa Brame was arrested by Lowell police, fell unconscious, and ultimately died of alcohol poisoning while in their 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.'" The entire incident was captured by the surveillance cameras at the Lowell Police Station.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office was responsible for the criminal investigation of Brame’s death, but her report reveals that there was little or no investigation conducted by her office. Ryan's report was so shoddy that she actually misspelled the names of several of the police officers she was supposed to be investigating. Ryan’s office issued letters of immunity to shield the police employees involved from future prosecution after finding their actions did not rise to the level of wanton or reckless conduct. In contrast, Lowell Police Superintendent Taylor told The Boston Globe, “I believe that the individuals involved in this case acted in... deliberate indifference.”
Seven 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 five of them, all of which allow them to keep their jobs, and the remaining two are not facing termination. Of the five who were offered deals, three accepted and two rejected them.
According to The Lowell Sun, "It has been one of [Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy's] top objectives to resolve the Brame case short of hearings which, both sides [i.e., the city and the police] have said privately, will raise issues the city will find uncomfortable."
On July 1, we contacted the Lowell City Council (including Mayor Rodney Elliott) and City Manager Kevin Murphy through the Lowell government website and asked them to provide insight about the deals they offered. We asked them about their system for determining the success of their police department, and for what, if any, offense they would fire a police officer. We also asked when the hearings would be for the two officers who rejected the deals and if they would be public.
We did not receive replies from any member of the Lowell city government, so on July 8, we traveled to Lowell to to ask our questions in person.
We first tried to speak to City Manager Kevin Murphy, who is responsible for offering the deals. Murphy sent out his assistant, Karen Moynihan, who told us that he would not meet with us and that all he would say was "no comment."
Moynihan did confirm that Murphy had read the questions we sent in. When asked why we had to show up in person to get the "no comment," Moynihan could not provide an answer. Lowell taxpayers are slated to pay Murphy $175,000 and Moynihan $55,710 respectively next year.
Later that day, outside City Hall, we ran into Henri Marchand, assistant to the city manager. We attempted to ask Marchand about the Brame case, but he walked away from us, saying only "no comment."
We hoped the mayor’s office might be willing to instruct the city manager to meet with us, so we asked the mayor's assistant Celine Gettings for help. Gettings assured us that she would bring the matter to Mayor Elliott’s attention and have him read the questions we sent.
A week later, Maya returned to follow-up and Gettings explained that the mayor would not instruct Murphy to speak with us and that he would not comment on any of the questions, claiming they are related to "an ongoing legal matter." Maya was then referred to the Law Department even though our questions all regard decisions made directly by the the city manager and other city officials, some of which were not even directly related to the Brame case.
Despite Gettings' assurance that the Law Department would answer all our questions, City Solicitor Christine O'Connor hung up on us during a phone call yesterday after being told the call was recorded. During a second call, she said off-the-record that the hearings for the two officers who rejected the deals were scheduled for Monday morning at 9 AM in the mayor's office. O'Connor said she couldn't tell us if the hearings would be open to the public because the two officers had not yet told her if they wanted them to be. O'Connor said the two officers were entitled to a say in whether their own disciplinary hearings would be public.
The two officers who rejected the deals they were offered deals are:
- Lieutenant Thomas Siopes, who was in charge when Alyssa Brame was brought into the station. Murphy and the City of Lowell offered Siopes a dealt that would allow him to retain his job. Siopes was found by the Board of Inquiry to have misled the Massachusetts State Police and the Middlesex District Attorney's Office's investigation into the Brame case, and was found to have been present with full knowledge and the final authority throughout the process that led to Alyssa’s death. Siopes also left work early the night Brame died without being relieved. The Board of Inquiry asked Siopes if he would call an ambulance for Brame if he knew what he knows now and Siopes responded, “No.” Siopes said he would knowingly allow Brame to die in his custody and seems to have no remorse whatsoever. Given his admission and the City of Lowell’s offer to keep him employed, the city is apparently willing to allow Siopes to leave more people to die. To his credit, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor did recommend that Siopes be terminated, according to The Lowell Sun. Siopes was offered a demotion to patrolman plus a 180-day unpaid suspension by the city.
- Sergeant James Fay, who was also offered a deal to save his job despite being found to have played a significant role in Brame’s death. When Brame fell unconscious, Fay was asked by Kevin Lombard if they should call an ambulance and Fay said “No.” Fay was the highest ranking officer in the room when the decision was made to dump Brame in a cell. Fay was offered a demotion to patrolman for a year, plus a 60-day suspension.
The three who accepted the deals are:
- Sergeant Francis Nobrega, who will receive a 15-day suspension, five days of which he has the option to work details and collect pay. Nobrega was present when Alyssa lost consciousness and was found by a Lowell police board of inquiry to have purposefully mislead the Massachusetts State police and district attorney’s investigation into Brame's death as well.
- Sergeant Michael Guiffrida, who checked Brame’s vital signs around when she lost consciousness but did nothing to get her aid, will serve a 15-day suspension, 10 days of which he has the option to work details and collect pay.
- Lieutenant Michael Kilmartin, who agreed to a temporary demotion and a 45-day suspension because he failed to act on the knowledge that he had about Brame’s condition while in a supervisory role.
The punishment, or lack thereof, has not been disclosed for three of the eight Lowell police employees faulted in the Board of Inquiry report: Kevin Lombard, a senior detention officer who was too busy watching TV to check on Brame as she was dying, Shawn Tetreault, a detention officer also failed to check on Brame, and William Florence, the wagon driver who helped haul Brame around the police station. Tetreault and Florence were facing lesser punishment and were not facing hearings.
The first question we had asked the Lowell City Council, Mayor, and City Manager was if these three officers had been punished and what that punishment was. On July 8, we ran into Florence in uniform and on duty outside the police station and asked him this question directly. Florence did not answer and quickly entered the building, ending our conversation.
Bernie Lynch, the prevous city manager, had wanted to handle the Brame case before his term as manager ended on March 10. Lynch had scheduled hearings on the matter four months ago, showing at least an interest in having a public debate on Brame with a potential to hold the officers accountable. The lawyer for the Lowell police agitated for the Brame case to be decided by Murphy rather than Lynch, citing a lack of time to prepare.
Murphy’s priority has been to avoid having hearings about Brame. The police successfully stalled until a man who appears to have wanted nothing more than to hide the shameful behavior of these officers took office.
In his role as city manager, Murphy is also in charge of drafting the Lowell city government’s 2015 budget. On June 5, Murphy presented his budget proposal, which includes salaries for all eight of the Lowell police employees involved in Brame case. The budget shows that the eight are slated to earn a combined total of more than half a million dollars out of the 24 million proposed for the Lowell Police Department. Siopes and Kilmartin are to make around $109,000. Fay and Nobrega will make almost $98,000 each. William Francis is set to make $75,250, and the detention officers Lombard and Tetreault will make about $36,500 and $32,000 respectively.
Murphy’s budget comes with expectations as well. On page 53, Murphy spells out the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the Lowell Police Department upon which the city grades the performance of the department. The KPIs set goals, including recovering 40 firearms, booking 4,359 people, the arrangement of 8,000 private details, and putting $1.2 million dollars into the Lowell General Fund.
There is not a single KPI tied to police accountability. For instance, there are no KPIs about reducing use of force incidents, reducing in-custody deaths, or addressing citizen complaints.
The message being sent by Murphy is that success for the police includes jailing people and writing tickets, but does not include addressing police misconduct or keeping people who are in police custody safe.
The Lowell city government, under Kevin Murphy's leadership, has set the precedent that police officers who allow members of the public to die in their custody and say they would do it again if given the chance should not be terminated. If leaving a woman in a cell to die without medical attention isn't a fire-able offense for the Lowell police, it seems that nothing is.
With the deals Murphy offered the police, everyone wins – the police who take the deals get off with lighter punishment and the city doesn't have to deal with as many "uncomfortable" questions about the outrageous conduct by Lowell police that contributed to a young woman's death. Everyone wins but the public, whose safety is being put at risk by the city's reckless decision to refuse to keep its police department transparent and accountable.
That's probably the reason why no one in the city government wants to talk about the deals offered to these officers – they are a shameful embarrassment to the city and there is no justification for them.