Chief Kevin Coppinger of Lynn Police has concluded an internal investigation into incidents related to me. I previously wrote about and released video of my encounters with the Lynn police last September when I was stopped from making a complaint and when a records employee correctly informed me that the Lynn police were unlikely to obey the public records law. I have now referred these matters to the Attorney General’s office because an independent investigation needs to be done.
Chief Coppinger’s investigation summary letter announced that the Lynn police did find that a car accident had occurred and further that Detective Michael DiMeglio had not reported the accident properly. Beyond those findings is a disappointing set of excuses given for law breaking and a flatout failure to hold any officers accountable. Chief Coppinger also plainly states that his officers should be allowed to continue breaking laws at their "discretion."
Coppinger’s summery opens with the statement, “as requested per your e-mail of September 24, 2014, I have caused an investigation into the alleged incidents,” however my email from that day specifically stated that I wanted an independent investigation and had no interest in Coppinger conducting an internal investigation.
From my email to Coppinger:
I believe the matters previously mentioned need to be fully investigated, that the investigation should be a broad investigation into the policies, practices, and individual behaviors of the Lynn police and its employees, I requested and still believe the investigation should be a criminal investigation not an internal affairs matter, and lastly I believe that the investigation should be done by an independent party. This investigation cannot be handled adequately by the Lynn police because of the obvious conflicts of interest, and because there is no way to know at the onset of the investigation who may or may not be involved in the activities that need to be investigated (thus it is impossible to assign anyone from the Lynn Police Department to conduct the investigation).
The Lynn police claim they cannot determine who was at fault for the car accident despite the fact that I was on foot and stationary while DiMeglio drove into me. Lynn police say they cannot rule the possibility that my tripod, which was attached to my camera bag and slung over my shoulder, isn’t somehow at fault.
Setting aside the ludicrous dispute about who was at fault in the accident, DiMeglio never identified himself after hitting me. Instead, he remained in his vehicle and never rolled down his window to interact with me at the scene of the accident despite my attempts to engage him.
Coppinger’s letter claims, “The officer failed to follow department policy when reporting a motor vehicle accident. The officer was disciplined in regards to the matter”.
This issue goes beyond department policy, and should have been looked into as a criminal matter by an uninvolved body as I requested. If the situation was reversed and anyone struck a Lynn police employee with a car then left the scene of the accident without stopping to identify themself, they would almost certainly be arrested and prosecuted.
Bearing in mind that there is clear video of me being forced to leave the police station under threat of arrest before I could make my report and that Coppinger’s summary begins with “as requested per your e-mail of September 24, 2014, I have caused an investigation into the alleged incidents,” inexplicably Coppinger found that I was not blocked from making my complaint on September 8. If his finding was accurate, then his investigation would have commenced without the need for my email and without a 16 day wait. Coppinger’s letter acknowledges the wait and cites the email as what trigger his actions, proving that I was in fact blocked from making my complaint.
The response does not address the repair done to the Camry that hit me, which I consider tampering with evidence. It never addresses my accusation of intimidation stemming from when four Lynn police officers simultaneously blocked me from making a complaint. Sergeant Thomas McDermott’s threat to arrest me in the lobby for trespassing was not addressed, and Officer David Fitzgerald’s claim that he does not possess a police ID card as required by Massachusetts law was not addressed.
It is my hope that the Attorney General’s office will thoroughly investigate these issues.
Several times throughout the summary Chief Coppinger claims I did not respond to requests to provide statements and evidence. This is not accurate I responded multiple times and explained that since I was under threat of arrest, I did not feel comfortable providing statements or materials. I requested that Chief Coppinger tell me whether or not I could return to the police station without being arrested so that I could provide the testimony and materials he requested, but Coppinger failed to do so. On September 8, I had all the materials in hand and could have turned them all in had I not been forced out of the station.
In Massachusetts it is the law that all on duty police officers (excluding the State police) must carry and provide a police ID card upon lawful demand. I directly asked officers Fitzgerald and Ralph Sirois for their ID cards and both refused. Officer Fitzgerald went so far as to claim he didn’t have one. Both officers clearly violated this law.
Coppinger belongs to the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs organization that helped build masspoliceid.mbateam.com/. Their site stresses the importance of police ID cards. Despite his department’s affiliation with the ID card program, Chief Coppinger brushed off his officer’s failure to follow the law by saying that "the officers used their discretion by identifying themselves with their badge numbers instead of their identification cards” (emphasis added).
Contrary to Coppinger’s claim, the officers did not have a lawful ability to break the law their “discretion.” Coppinger’s disregard for the laws broken by Lynn police officers and his failure to hold his officers to meaningful account highlights how inappropriate it was for him to conduct the investigation. Furthermore, Coppinger's statement isn't even accurate; when I initially asked Officer Fitzgerald to identify himself, he wouldn't give me any information at all. It wasn't until I re-entered the police station to make a complaint about him that he told me his badge number.
Coppinger says in the summary, “It is my opinion that our officers used good judgment in not making any arrests based on the totality of the circumstances. Given Coppinger’s stated opinion, it’s disappointing that he did not address the threat of arrest made by Sergeant McDermott in his findings.
Lastly Coppinger addressed the flagrant violation of the Massachusetts Open Record law that I documented:
The Lynn Police Department is well aware of the Public Records Laws and our Records Officer personnel frequently attend training in this area. While I do acknowledge that we were one day late in responding to your September 8 request, that extra day was used to help accurately provide you with the cost estimate you received.
Chief Coppinger again acknowledges his department had full knowledge of the law and broke it knowingly. The public records law sets a limit of 10 days to respond with a detailed cost estimate. Providing a cost estimate is not a valid reason to break the law.
The “cost estimate” I received lacked detail, failed to address several records I requested, and seemingly overcharged me compared to the prices set by law. The response claimed that I must pay for 22 hours of a department's employee’s time to print out 118 pages of unidentified material. The response failed to note any records withheld and cited no exemptions or search and segregation time. According to their letter, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Lynn police intended to charge me more than $500 so that an employee could take 22 hours to press print on some unidentified document. My request included audio and visual recordings as well, but those records were not addressed in any way. To date, there has been no full or proper response to my records request.
In ways large and small, Coppinger’s summary letter confirms the need for an independent investigation. The Lynn police have been exempted from the laws of Massachusetts by Coppinger who has no authority to do so. In some ways, I am glad that Coppinger decided to disregard my call for an independent investigation and weigh in on these incidents himself because his inaction paired with his findings clearly show the need for a real investigation and serious accountability extending all the way up to his position.
I have referred this matter to the Attorney General’s office with the hope that they will take the appropriate actions that Coppinger and the Lynn police failed to.
Tax dollars paid to the officers encountered in this story:
Ralph Sirois: $100,419.35 in 2013
David Fitzgerald: $88,556.18 in 2013
Kevin Coppinger: $182,845.45 in 2013
Michael DiMeglio: $76,674.73 in 2013
Thomas McDermott: $130,204.64 in 2013
Numbers from The Daily Item.