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VIDEO: Shirley police officer kicks man in the groin
The Shirley Police Department found cause to fire him — but he found jobs in Berkshire County, where he’s faced more investigations
Newly released video from a police holding cell shows now-former Shirley reserve officer Matthew O’Sullivan kicking a man in the groin and raising his fists.
O’Sullivan resigned shortly after the Middlesex County town’s police department found cause to fire him for the incident — but he was later hired by two departments in Berkshire County.
The incident occurred after O’Sullivan arrested a man on drunk driving charges on March 31, 2017. O’Sullivan brought the man to the police station, where he was uncooperative, according to police reports.
“I noticed Officer O’Sullivan to become agitated with Mr. [redacted] and leave the booking room,” reserve officer Ian Brown wrote in his report. “[O’Sullivan] returned multiple times to retrieve items or information from myself. Each time Officer O’Sullivan entered the booking room, he and [redacted] would continue to exchange words with each other agitating each other.”
After allowing the man to make a phone call, Brown and O’Sullivan escorted him to a holding cell.
The video shows the man bracing his hands against the cell door’s threshold while the officers try to push him inside.
O’Sullivan wrote in his report that the man struck him in the face. O’Sullivan said he kneed the man in the thigh two or three times, and the officers were then able to force him into the cell.
After that, O’Sullivan kicks the man in the groin, the video shows. O’Sullivan then stands in the doorway and raises his fists.
“Hit me,” the man yells. “Hit me, motherfucker.”
Brown separates the two, shouts at the man to sit on the bed, and closes the door while the man yells that O’Sullivan has “little-man syndrome.”
“[What did you] tell me to back up for?” O’Sullivan asks Brown after the two officers step away from the cell. “He’s the one that was coming at me.”
“Yeah, well, you were standing there squaring off with him,” Brown responds.
O’Sullivan wrote in his report that he feared for his safety and that kicking the man “allowed Officers enough time to close the door.”
The Shirley Police Department placed O’Sullivan on administrative leave while Sergeant Peter Violette conducted an internal investigation. Violette determined that O’Sullivan had violated the department’s policy against conduct unbecoming of an officer.
“The subject was active resistant and assaultive while being escorted in the hallway to the holding cell, but was not active aggressive/assaultive towards either officers [sic] when in the holding cell,” Violette wrote in his report.
Violette faulted O’Sullivan for kicking the man, taking a “fighting stance with his fists up,” and not ordering the man to back up.
“As Police Officers, we are trained to de-escalate and alleviate minor to dangerous situations,” Violette wrote. “In this incident, this did not happen, until Reserve Officer Brown decided to intervene.”
In a letter to the Shirley Select Board on April 21, 2017, Shirley Police Chief Samuel Santiago wrote that O’Sullivan’s “actions were not justified and … placed the Town of Shirley in vicarious liability and possible lawsuit for violation of department policy, state law and violation of an individual’s civil rights.”
Santiago concluded that there was cause to terminate O’Sullivan.
Five days later, O’Sullivan quit.
In 2019, Egremont hired O’Sullivan as a full-time officer. Since then, he has been the subject of at least 11 internal affairs investigations, one lawsuit, and one criminal investigation.
The Massachusetts State Police opened the criminal investigation after a handcuffed woman was knocked unconscious in the custody of O’Sullivan and now-former Sheffield officer Jacob Gonska in Egremont in August 2020.
The woman said that the officers threw her into a police cruiser and were responsible for knocking her out. Both officers wrote reports blaming the woman for hitting her head.
The Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office did not bring criminal charges against either officer. However, the DA’s Brady Review Team determined that both officers wrote reports that were “not consistent” with video from the cruiser.
The DA’s office added both men to its Brady list, which includes the names of cops whose credibility might be called into question when they testify in court, and began disclosing information about the incident to defense attorneys.
Neither officer was disciplined for the incident. However, Gonska voluntarily left law enforcement to pursue other employment, according to Sheffield Police Chief Eric Munson.
O’Sullivan is still employed by Egremont. He is also a part-time officer for Sheffield, which hired him after the August 2020 incident.
In November, WBUR reported that it found more than a dozen Massachusetts police officers who resigned or were fired for misconduct, only to then get police jobs with different departments. The incidents included alleged sexual assault and drunk driving. O’Sullivan was not one of the officers WBUR identified.
Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Meghan Kelly said that prosecutors are trying to determine if the Shirley and Egremont incidents have “an impact on Middlesex cases.”
The Mass Dump requested the video of the 2017 incident from the Shirley Police Department in May.
The department said it would not release the video because it contained exempt information. The department said it purchased video-editing software to comply with the request but could not find a way to remove the exempt information.
The Mass Dump filed four appeals with the state’s supervisor of public records to challenge the department’s refusal to comply with the request.
Finally, on December 29, the department released the video.
“The Shirley Police Department partnered with an outside media company to assist us with the redactions,” said Lieutenant Alfreda Cromwell.
The department provided several hours of video, but it removed personal information like the arrested man’s home address. The Mass Dump clipped a 43-second portion of the video depicting the kicking incident using software included with Windows.
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Since it’s the beginning of a new year, I wanted to take a look back at some of the best writing I did last year.
If you haven’t read the first piece I wrote about the 2020 Egremont incident, check it out here. It goes into a lot more detail than what you just read.
I wrote several pieces about a lawsuit that the Telegram & Gazette successfully fought against the city of Worcester for refusing to release police misconduct records. I recommend checking out the first piece. Here’s the introduction:
A judge excoriated Worcester for its unlawful three-year campaign to keep police-misconduct records secret from a local newspaper, writing in a recent ruling that a city lawyer attempted to mislead the court and “did not act in good faith.”
Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker ordered the city to pay $101,000 to cover the legal fees of its paper of record, the Telegram & Gazette. To hold the city accountable for its intransigence, she also ordered it to pay $5,000 in punitive damages.
It is the third time in two decades the T&G has taken the city to court over the issue of police-misconduct records—and the third time the newspaper has succeeded.
The city told the T&G that it will not appeal Kenton-Walker’s ruling. If it keeps its word, the lawsuit will not create any case law to be cited in the future. But in one sense, the decision sets a precedent—it is the first time a judge has awarded punitive damages under a provision in the 2016 public records law.
I also spoke about the T&G lawsuit on Bill Shaner’s Worcester’s Good But Hurts podcast. Listen here.
I wrote a long piece about the Democratic primary for secretary of the commonwealth and what it means for public records policy. William F. Galvin, the long-time secretary, faced a challenge from Boston NAACP president Tanisha Sullivan. Although Galvin has since won the primary and general election, there’s plenty of policy-related stuff in the piece that remains relevant.
I want to highlight one section that discusses how the secretary’s office could use administrative hearings to improve the state’s public records appeal process:
The supervisor [of public records] has the power to conduct hearings under state administrative procedures that are similar to those in court but can be less formal. Under the rules, a requester would be able to question witnesses and demand more information about why their records request was denied. If the requester or agency disagrees with the hearing officer’s decision, either can challenge it in court.
The Public Records Division has not held any such hearings under the current supervisor or her three most-recent predecessors, according to [Galvin spokeswoman Debra] O’Malley. It’s not clear if prior supervisors ever held such hearings.
In Connecticut, … requesters who are denied access to records can seek a hearing with the state’s nine-member Freedom of Information Commission. Dan Barrett, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said the process can be helpful.
“A commission can have some benefits I think principally for people who are not frequent requesters and they don’t want to hire a lawyer,” Barrett said. “[If] a person is looking for, let’s say, a single document from the local school board, maybe they don’t want to file a lawsuit, … [but] the commission is reasonably user friendly. There’s very little procedure. You don’t have to write briefs, that kind of stuff.”
Barrett said the hearing model has advantages over the system of written appeals used in Massachusetts.
“Public agencies, probably from sea to shining sea, will virtually always overclaim exemption,” he said. “It is extremely useful and in fact vital to put them to their proof. … So the hearing can be very useful, because you get to interrogate a witness.”
The Connecticut ACLU attorney continued: “It’s extremely common for the witness provided by the agency to be unable to identify, for example, how many documents are in dispute. It’s extremely common for the witness to have never read the documents.”
I also wrote a lot about Rayla Campbell, the Republican candidate for secretary of the commonwealth and a noxious anti-LGBTQ demagogue. Here’s the introduction to my favorite piece about her:
Rayla Campbell, the Republican candidate for Massachusetts secretary of the commonwealth, found herself in an awkward position at a Back the Blue rally on August 15—she had to explain to one of the police officers she came to support that she was not in possession of child pornography.
During her campaign for the state’s third-highest executive office, Campbell has called Gender Queer, an award-winning comic book memoir that can be found in libraries throughout Massachusetts, “child porn.” She has made a habit of showing off images from the book, which she claims is part of a vast effort by librarians and teachers to groom children for sexual abuse and trafficking. But at the rally in Plymouth, her schtick got a reaction she probably didn’t expect.
“A anonymous party reported that Rayla Campbell was showing a book containing child pornography,” said Kevin Manuel, operations captain for the Plymouth Police Department. “The officer went and spoke to her, and she showed the book that she had, … and the officer viewed the book, and it did not contain any child pornography in it.”
You can also listen to me talk about public records, police misconduct, and my work for an hour and a half on the Rigged podcast here.
Again, if you want to read more reporting like this, please consider supporting my work financially, either by signing up for a paid subscription to this newsletter or sending me a tip via PayPal. It takes a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to make information like this available, and I can’t do it without your help.
That’s all for now.