Last year, an FBI agent fatally shot a Chechen man named Ibragim Todashev at his apartment in Orlando, Florida under suspicious circumstances. Todashev, a friend of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was reportedly being questioned about a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts that Tsarnaev is accused of perpetrating.
While the shooting was being investigated by the FBI and the Florida State Attorney's Office, the name of the FBI agent who shot Todashev, as well as the names of two Massachusetts state troopers who were involved in questioning Todashev, were withheld from the public. After the investigations into the shooting were completed and the three men were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, the FBI and Florida state attorney continued to keep the names secret, citing unspecified safety concerns.
Earlier this year, an anonymous blogger was able to determine their identities. "B Blake" – a writer for the blog "THE BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS: What Happened?" – was able to reverse some of the redactions made in the Florida state attorney's report and learn their names. She identified the FBI agent as Aaron McFarlane and the two Massachusetts state troopers as Curtis Cinelli and Joel Gagne.
After doing a bit of digging, B Blake was able to determine that Aaron McFarlane was a former Oakland, California police officer who was involved in an infamous corruption scandal. Not long after, The Boston Globe published a story about McFarlane's past and it became national news.
I wondered if the two state troopers involved in the shooting also had histories of misconduct, so I requested copies of their internal affairs files from the Massachusetts State Police.
The internal affairs records show that both state troopers have faced formal complaints twice. Additionally, I have learned that Cinelli faced a lawsuit in 2010.
Complaints against Cinelli
Curtis Cinelli was hired by the Massachusetts State Police on June 19, 2000.
In 2001, Cinelli was accused of misconduct at a traffic stop by a man who was a passenger in the vehicle. In his complaint, the man said Cinelli followed the driver for a considerable distance before stopping her and was rude.
The sergeant who investigated the complaint said he interviewed the woman and she denied speeding, but did not mention anything about Cinelli being rude.
"Although [redacted] was upset, nervous, and scared aboit being stopped by Tpr. Cinelli, her main concern was receiving a ticket for something she felt she did not deserve," the sergeant wrote. Cinelli was exonerated.
In 2011, a woman accused Cinelli and several other state troopers of misconduct after they searched her home while looking for her husband, whom they had an arrest warrant for.
The woman said police left her door unlocked and left her window open (one of them had climbed through the window). She also said police had damaged a number of soda cans that were stacked in front of her window, causing liquid to leak onto the floor.
The woman was also upset that police searched her home without her knowledge because she had allowed state police to search it several times before.
State police said they later arrested the husband while he was a passenger in the woman's car. They concluded that the woman was assisting her husband in evading arrest, but did not file charges against her.
Investigators said there was not enough evidence to sustain her complaint and exonerated Cinelli and the other officers involved.
In 2010, Cinelli faced a lawsuit from Manson Brown, a man who escaped from a Massachusetts prison before being apprehended in Georgia. Cinelli and Joseph Pepe, a Department of Corrections employee, were sent to transport Brown back to Massachusetts.
In his lawsuit, Brown accused Cinelli of taking him to a room with a number of sheriff's deputies, where Cinelli and a deputy used their cell phones to take photos with Brown.
Brown also said that he was subjected to a "staged perp walk." According to Brown, Cinelli and Pepe escorted him out through the main lobby of the Delkab County Jail. Brown pulled up his hood to avoid being video-recorded by news media, but Cinelli pulled the hood off. Brown tried to duck down to avoid being recorded, but Cinelli and Pepe grabbed him and forced him to face the camera. Several deputies laughed at Brown and this was broadcast by local media.
Brown's claims against Cinelli were dismissed in 2013 because they were filed in the wrong venue. Brown does not appear to have re-filed his lawsuit in the proper venue since then.
According to The Boston Herald, Cinelli made $121,211.66 in 2013.
Complaints against Gagne
Joel Gagne was hired by the Massachusetts State Police on November 1, 2004.
On June 18, 2007, Gagne was accused of assault and battery on a woman by a third party, but the alleged victim "denied that she was battered or assaulted in any way... She then relayed that the complainant was prone to lying."
The records related to this complaint were heavily redacted, making it impossible to determine the relationship between Gagne, the alleged victim, and the complainant.
One investigator wrote that "Although an incident did occur," the allegations in the complaint "are unsubstantiated." The complaint was determined to be unfounded.
In a 2012 complaint, a woman accused Gagne of banging on her car window and screaming at her after she made a sarcastic comment during a traffic stop.
In her complaint, the woman wrote that she was pulled over for speeding. She admitted that she was speeding, but said she lived in the area and was under the impression that the speed limit was higher than what the officer wrote on her citation. She waved the officer back to her car to ask him about it and he approached, this time accompanied by Gagne.
"The whole time this incident occured, [sic] officer 3565 remained completely professional," the woman wrote. Gagne, on the other hand, "was extremely rude to me the whole time. For example, when I initially asked state trooper 3565 about the speed limit misunderstanding, [Gagne] interrupted me stating that he did not know where driving 83 MPH was legal, which was completely unnecessary."
"After I resolved my issue with officer 3565, I was putting up my window and said 'Ok, fine, good luck catching more people'. [Gagne] proceeded to bang on my car window and screamed 'What did you say?' at me multiple times until I pulled my window down and repeated what I had said. He then gave me an extremely threatening look and started walking back to his vehicle without saying anything more. I then got back on the highway. As a [redacted] I did not feel comfortable in this situation at all. I was shaking, crying and felt sick to my stomach as I continued down Rt 3N," she wrote.
The status of this complaint was listed as "filed" and it does not appear to have been resolved yet.
According to The Boston Herald, Gagne made $133,754.81 in 2013.
Background information about complaints against police
The fact that Curtis Cinelli and Joel Gagne have faced allegations of misconduct in the past is not by itself a cause for alarm. According to data provided by the state police, 407 complaints were filed against state police in 2011, 318 in 2012, and 244 in 2013,* suggesting it may not be all that uncommon for state troopers to get a few complaints during their careers.
Other reporters have uncovered examples of state troopers with far more complaints than Cinelli and Gagne have received. Earlier this year, Fox 25's Mike Beaudet reported that John Analetto, the former state trooper who was convicted of extortion last year, received 23 formal complaints before he was arrested by the FBI. Beaudet also reported that David Lemar, a state trooper who was fired over his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring, had 22 complaints during time with the state police.
The Bay State Examiner is currently working on a public request to determine how many complaints each Massachusetts state trooper has received, so we can determine what a "normal" number of complaints is.
While none of the allegations of misconduct against Cinelli and Gagne have been sustained, this doesn't necessarily mean they aren't valid.
When Mike Beaudet recently interviewed State Police Colonel Timothy Alben about police misconduct, Alben said it can be difficult for investigators to prove that an officer engaged in misconduct. "We have to deal with credibility issues sometimes of witnesses. We have to deal with evidentiary matters that are not necessarily ideal or the lack of cooperation sometimes from witnesses," Alben said.
There are also questions about how much effort the state police put into proving misconduct cases against officers. For instance, allegations of misconduct at traffic stops like those faced by both Cinelli and Gagne would be much easier to prove if state police used dashboard-mounted video cameras.
Such cameras are used by police departments across the country and are relatively common. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 61% of local police departments and 67% of sheriff’s departments used dashcams in 2007. However, last year the state police confirmed in response to a public records request that they do not have cameras installed in any of their vehicles.
Even if any of public allegations of misconduct against Cinelli and Gagne are true, they are not as disturbing as the information that has been uncovered about Aaron McFarlane, the FBI agent who killed Todashev. As The Boston Globe reported:
McFarlane had worked at the troubled Oakland department from 2000 to 2004, during the biggest police corruption scandal in the city’s history. Oakland fired four police officers who called themselves the “Riders” after prosecutors filed criminal charges against them in 2000 on accusations of beating and kidnapping people, making false arrests, planting evidence, and falsifying police reports. No one was ever convicted, but the city settled a federal lawsuit for $10.9 million and the department remains under court oversight today.
McFarlane testified for the defense in the first Riders criminal trial. In his cross-examination, prosecutor David Hollister suggested that McFarlane had falsified a police report to drum up a reason to arrest a man. According to a court transcript requested by the Globe, Hollister said the report, which was investigated by Oakland’s internal affairs unit, “at first flush certainly appears to be criminal.”
“I think on its face, Officer McFarlane should probably have some concerns about whether or not he violated Section 118.1 of the Penal Code in filing a false police report,” Hollister said.
McFarlane reluctantly pleaded the Fifth to avoid incriminating himself and later testified under immunity, but he told Hollister that he did nothing wrong.
“I write the truth in my reports,” McFarlane said, according to the transcript.
Hollister also questioned McFarlane about another arrest that night: a man who suffered a head injury. A police report said McFarlane had transported him to jail, according to the transcript. McFarlane said he did not know how the man was injured.
Shortly after McFarlane’s testimony, two men filed lawsuits against McFarlane and another officer accusing them of beating them the year before. Michael Cole, a convicted drug dealer, said McFarlane held him down as another officer, Steven Nowak, allegedly stomped on his head, injuring his eye and breaking his nose, allegedly because Cole’s uncle had filed a complaint against Nowak.
McFarlane and Nowak denied the assertions in court records. McFarlane said Cole kicked and hit him during a search of a notorious drug corner and injured himself when he fled in handcuffs and fell. The city settled the suit for $22,500. The city also settled a related lawsuit for $10,000 filed by Cole’s friend Robert Girard, who said McFarlane and Nowak beat him after he photographed Cole’s injuries at the hospital. McFarlane said Girard had barged into an off-limits area and hit McFarlane in the chest.
In the settlements, McFarlane and Nowak did not acknowledge any wrongdoing and Nowak remains in the department. Oakland police would not divulge the outcome of the internal affairs investigations, saying it was confidential. Donelan, the union president, said Oakland police are often targeted by frivolous lawsuits that are settled to avoid the expense of a full-blown trial. “This is litigation central,” he said. “It’s not about the officers. It’s about the environment they’re operating in.”
According to court records, McFarlane had repeatedly injured his leg and broken an ankle while on the force, and retired on medical disability. Amy Morgan, spokeswoman for the state-run retirement system in Sacramento, said only that he is collecting a pension of more than $52,000 a year for life.
It is unclear what McFarlane did next, but federal records show he joined the Boston FBI in 2008 after passing a rigorous background check and graduating from the bureau’s academy at Quantico, Va. At the time of the Marathon bombings, he was investigating bank robberies, working with Boston and other police agencies, and sometimes appearing as a guest speaker at industry conferences.
In Boston, the FBI refused to discuss McFarlane’s work history, saying it could threaten his safety. “Publishing the alleged name of the Agent involved in this shooting incident serves no public interest or service, except to foster continued media scrutiny,” the Boston FBI said in a statement. “The personal safety of the Agent continues to be of concern to the Boston Division, and publishing the Agent’s name potentially places the Agent and his family at risk for reprisal.”
Nevertheless, I thought it was in the public's interest that the internal affairs records of all the police involved in Ibragim Todashev's killing be released.
Since I obtained the internal affairs records from the state police, I have learned that Joel Gagne worked for the Westford Police Department prior to working for the Massachusetts State Police. I plan to send a public records request to the Westford police for his internal affairs records.
*Fox 25 reported that the state police received 478 complaints in 2011 and 306 in 2013. Fox 25 did not say how many complaints state police received in 2012.
The state police charged $37.50 in fees for Cinelli and Gagne's internal affairs files. Please consider donating to The Bay State Examiner so we can continue bringing you public records and original reporting.