Lawrence police opted to escalate a vehicle stop to the point of threatening to use potentially lethal force (while endangering bystanders and other officers) rather than identify themselves, then violently arrested and refused to provide medical aid for the victim of their aggression.Read More
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans thinks officer Edward Barrett, who was recorded off duty attacking a pedestrian, isn't a threat.Read More
Off duty Boston police officer chases down and attacks pedestrian in a road rage incident then hauls him away claiming he is under arrest. Luckily a passerby recorded the interaction.Read More
While looking into the violent arrest of an 88 year old woman (an event the Pittsfield police say will taint their department's reputation for years) we accidentally discovered that the Pittsfield police had lost evidence in an unknown number of cases without telling anyone. We made Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless aware of the loss, but his office also failed to notify anyone.Read More
The Quincy police have been lying for almost a year and a half to bury a minor police report about a local celebrity peeing in public.Read More
The public is not able to see the WorcesterRead More
Salem police detained us for shooting video of a National Grid property from a public beach. There was reason for the police to believe we had committed a crime.Read More
A Chelsea police officer was arraigned earlier today on criminal charges after a video surfaced that allegedly shows him beating a handcuffed man during a Sept. 26, 2014, incident. Police officer Felix Rivera, Jr., 34, is facing charges of assault and battery, filing a false police report, and violating a man's civil rights.
According to a joint press release issued by the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office and Chelsea Police Department:
Based on Rivera’s report, the victim – then 20 and a resident of Chelsea – was arraigned in Chelsea District Court on charges of assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. In March of this year, however, the victim’s attorney provided Suffolk prosecutors with a video clip filmed by an unknown witness showing the incident and argued that the charges against the victim were unfounded.
The ensuing investigation by Assistant District Attorney Michele Granda of the DA’s Special Prosecutions Unit and Chelsea Police Internal Affairs detectives developed significant evidence, including the statements of other officers, that corroborated the victim’s claims. As a result, prosecutors terminated the pending case against the victim and began presenting evidence and testimony to the Suffolk County Grand Jury.
The investigation revealed that multiple Chelsea Police units responded to the rear of 155 Chestnut St. that night for a report of a man with a gun. Among those present at the scene was the victim, whom a supervising officer found to be intoxicated and interfering with the investigation. This supervisor directed other officers to place him into protective custody and remove him from the area.
As the handcuffed victim was being escorted away, Rivera allegedly struck him four times in the face, knocking him to the ground. Another officer reached out to stop him. This officer denied the allegation in Rivera’s report that the victim had pushed him while being led from the scene.
Rivera has been suspended without pay from his job and is currently being represented by attorney Keith Nicholson.
The district attorney's office has not released the video yet, but we have filed a public records request for it.
While it's good news that this officer was charged if the allegations are true, this case still raises a number of troubling questions.
If other officers had witnessed this beating and saw that it was unjustified, as the press release claims, then Rivera should have been arrested on the spot and no charges should have been filed against the victim.
Instead, the victim was charged and the district attorney's office seems to have had every intention of prosecuting him based solely on the word of Rivera. Charges against the victim were not dropped until about five months after the incident occurred and not until a video contradicting the officer's statements was released.
Perhaps instead of blindly trusting police officers who claim to be victims of assault, prosecutors should begin insisting on being provided with actual evidence before filing criminal charges.
Rivera was previously awarded a Medal of Valor for his role in stopping an armed home invasion, showing that faith alone isn't enough even for seemingly heroic police officers.
It remains to be seen whether the district attorney's office will re-open every other case this Rivera has been involved in, given that they have established that he is a liar.
It's not clear if any of the other officers who were involved in the incident are facing any potential consequences for not immediately reporting the beating or arresting the perpetrator.
A recent conviction of a Massachusetts police chief for extortion raises questions about whether clerk magistrate’s hearings, a common type of criminal procedure in Massachusetts courts, should have more transparency. In almost all courts, these hearings are closed to the public and the media. Clerk magistrate’s hearings are used to find if there is sufficient cause to proceed with a formal criminal charge against a defendant.
Former Lee, Massachusetts police chief Joseph Buffis was convicted of extortion last month for his role in coercing a couple to donate to a charitable toy fund he controlled in exchange for a favorable outcome in a prostitution case. He was found not guilty of other charges, including multiple counts of money laundering and wire fraud related to the toy fund. He faces up to 20 years in prison for the extortion charge and will be sentenced on October 19.
The extortion revolved around a prostitution sting that resulted in a criminal citation for Thomas Fusco and Tara Viola, the former owners of the Inn at Laurel Lake. Viola was charged with sexual conduct for a fee, and both were charged with keeping a house of prostitution. Buffis knew that Fusco and Viola were eager to work out any deal that would both get them out from under the charge and stop any additional bad publicity from destroying their business.
He concocted a scheme where he would agree to not issue the criminal complaint at a clerk’s hearing, have them sign non-disclosures about the agreement, and even issue a memo to his own department to be silent on the matter in exchange for a $4000 charitable donation to his fund. He worked out this arrangement in a meeting before the hearing, and also convinced them not to bring their own attorney.
Buffis counted on the fact that proceedings at a clerk magistrate’s hearing are closed to the public. He used the flexible rules and his power as a police prosecutor to his advantage to force the donation, in exchange for quietly killing the charge.
The clerk magistrate himself who presided over the hearing had no role in either the payment or the non-disclosure, which is very unusual. However, it is common for a Clerk to agree to not issue a criminal complaint when the police prosecutor in not interesting in pursuing the case further.
How clerk magistrate’s hearings work and how they can be exploited
Clerk magistrate’s hearings are a common, but poorly understood criminal proceeding in Massachusetts courts. For misdemeanor offenses, a police officer can, at their discretion, issue a criminal citation for a person to appear at a clerk’s hearing instead of arresting them. Also, if someone is suspected of a misdemeanor crime not witnessed by a police officer, they are always issued a citation. A “show cause,” or clerk magistrate’s hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to issue a formal criminal complaint and proceed with charges.
Clerk’s hearings are closed to the public and the press in almost all courts, including Southern Berkshire District Court where this hearing took place. The widely understood reason why these hearings are not public is to protect the privacy or the accused, which is generally a good thing because a defendant at a clerk’s hearing has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
The magistrate has a great deal of discretion in whether or not to proceed with issuing a criminal complaint. If the prosecutor is not pursuing the charges aggressively or is willing to cut a deal in exchange for not issuing the charge, the magistrate will almost always agree. The magistrate can also rule against a prosecutor arguing in support of the charge if he doesn’t find sufficient probable cause to proceed, or for any other reason in the interest of justice.
It is a police prosecutor from the department, typically a high ranking officer, and not an Assistant District Attorney who is in charge of the prosecution. That is how Buffis was able to control the outcome of the hearing in this case.
It is not required that the defendant have his own attorney at the hearing, but it's usually a good idea. A defense attorney’s role, besides winning the hearing on the facts, can be to help negotiate a creative solution to avoid charges for his client. However, alternate solutions are almost always tied to solving the problem, not just a simple payout.
For example, with a leaving the scene of an accident charge, it is typical to work out a deal where all damages are paid by the defendant or his insurance. Or in drug cases, the defendant might be required to complete a treatment program. If these terms are agreed upon and the conditions are met, the police will drop the case.
Should clerk’s magistrate’s hearings be opened up to the public?
There has never been a definitive answer as to how Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19 concerning media access applies in clerk magistrate’s hearings. The rule states that:
A judge shall permit photographing or electronic recording or transmitting of courtroom proceedings open to the public by the news media for news gathering purposes and dissemination of information to the public, subject to the limitations of this rule.
However, most courts do not classify clerk magistrate’s hearings as “courtroom proceedings open to the public.” They are almost always open only to the parties involved and court officers. To my knowledge, the only district courts that have clerk magistrate hearings open to the public and media are Newton and Quincy.
A publicly accessible hearing would have made this extortion attempt difficult, if not impossible. However, I believe what happened in this case is very rare. And keeping the defendants names off the record is a very reasonable privacy request, given that unless a complaint is issued, they are not charged with any crime.
In fact, in the few courts that do have open clerk’s hearings, like Quincy District court, I have in the past requested that my client’s hearing be moved to a closed court to protect his privacy in the case of a delicate and potentially damaging public accusation.
So I believe that it still makes sense to keep these hearings closed. To respond to the Buffis extortion by opening all clerk’s hearings would be an example of "hard cases make bad law." This was an extreme and unusual situation that would cause more harm than good for individual rights.
But the public does have a right to know what is going on in its courtrooms. Government transparency and as much openness as possible in all courtroom practices should be the goal.
It would be reasonable to track the outcomes of clerk magistrate’s hearings, as long as the names of those not ultimately charged is kept private. That can help inform the public of both government overreach, and flaws in the process and outcomes.
Russell Matson is a drunk driving and criminal defense lawyer in Braintree, Massachusetts. He represents clients on criminal matters across Massachusetts. His web site is http://www.madrunkdrivingdefense.com.
The saga of George Thompson, the Fall River man who was arrested for recording a police officer, is emblematic of America's tiered justice system, where ordinary people are punished just for exercising their rights, but powerful people like police officers face no repercussions whatsoever even when the brazenly break the law.
George Thompson was arrested by Fall River police officer Thomas Barboza in January, 2014 after he used his iPhone to record the officer even though recording police is protected by the First Amendment. While Thompson was still facing wiretapping and resisting arrest charges, a police department employee wiped his phone, destroying the video and all other data on it. The police department tried to blame Thompson for deleting the video, claiming without evidence that he might have used a cloud service to do it, until a company they hired to examine the phone determined a police employee had done it.Read More