DA Rollins releases list of police officers with 'credibility issues'

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins. Robin Lubbock/WBUR photo

The names of 136 law enforcement officers appear on a list of potential prosecutorial witnesses with credibility issues assembled by Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ office. Rollins released the list — comprised mostly of officers from the Boston Police Department and State Police — late Friday night.

In a statement, the DA’s office referred to it as the “Law Enforcement Automatic Discovery” database and said 115 names have been added to it in the last year. Rollins took office in January 2019.

Two other state district attorney’s offices keep similar lists. Also known as “Brady,” “disclosure” or “do-not-call” lists, these are lists of officers flagged by prosecutors as either having engaged in, or been accused of, misconduct that the DA’s office might legally need to disclose to the defense.

David Nathanson, an attorney specializing in post-conviction defense in Suffolk County, said while the release of the list seems like a new innovation, it shouldn’t be.

“This is what Brady has meant for 40-plus years,” he said. “I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a process of getting more fairness, more justice, more transparency for people who are charged with crimes, especially serious crimes, in Suffolk County,” he continued.

The Suffolk DA’s office, which covers Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop, said the names of officers can be added after being subject to criminal charges or an investigation, allegations of discrimination, an investigation into the officers’ truthfulness or integrity, or a finding that the officer isn’t credible.

While the list isn’t “voluminous,” the actions of the officers on the list are harmful, Rollins said.

“When the credibility of law enforcement is in question, all participants in the system — and the public — should be aware of that,” she said. “The people of Suffolk County deserve to know that the public officials they rely on for their safety are truly invested in it. Anything less is a betrayal of their trust and our obligation to serve.”

Rollins’ office originally did not want to make their officer disclosure list public. When WBUR initially requested the list under the state’s public records law, the DA declined to provide it, citing the attorney work product exemption. WBUR appealed that decision in August to the state supervisor of records.

The supervisor sided with WBUR two weeks later, ordering the the DA’s office to provide the requested material “as soon as practicable.”

Responding to WBUR’s reporting in an interview with The Boston Globe’s editorial board, Rollins committed to making the full list public by Sept. 25. Rollins’ office released the list just before 9 p.m. Friday night, as more than 1,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Boston protesting police brutality amid a heavy police presence.

“In these uncertain times we as a nation find ourselves in, with so much tension and mistrust between law enforcement and the communities we are sworn to protect, we must maintain credibility in everything we do,” Rollins said in the statement.

On the Suffolk list are 70 state police troopers, 54 Boston police officers and a handful of other officers from Chelsea, Revere, MBTA police, the IRS and a special police officer.

The list notes the status of law enforcement officers, including whether they were disciplined, convicted, or had the allegations against them sustained. And a few words sum up why the officer is on the list. Many are on the list for infractions that were already public and are based on news reports. More than two dozen state troopers are on the list for their roles in the State Police overtime scandal.

More than 50 officers who faced criminal charges, both pending and adjudicated, are on the list. That includes the nine current and former Boston police officers who are under federal indictment for routinely filing for overtime they did not work at the department’s evidence warehouse in Hyde Park.

Six of the nine officers are retired. The other three are now on unpaid leave.

As of Sept. 4, at least 14 of the 54 Boston police officers on Rollins’ list are still employed by the department, according to a recent Boston police department roster. Of those 14, 11 are listed as being on leave of some kind.

Requests for comment from the Boston Police Department and the union representing most officers were not returned over the weekend.

None of the five transit police officers are still with the department, a spokesperson said. Attempts to reach Revere police, with three officers on the list, were unsuccessful.

A spokesperson for the Massachusetts State Police did not immediately have a comment. Of the 70 troopers on the list, more than half have resigned, retired or been terminated. At least 16 are still on the job as of August.

Twenty-three of the officers are on Suffolk’s list because they were on the Brady lists compiled by the DAs in Norfolk and Middlesex counties.

Norfolk DA Michael Morrissey maintains a disclosure list of 38 officers. All but four are state police troopers publicly known for their involvement in high-profile misconduct, like the embattled agency’s recent overtime pay scandal.

In its review of the Middlesex list, WBUR discovered cases involving officers that were never made public, including a Somerville police officer convicted of stealing $83,000 from a police union account and two other officers suspected of embezzling union funds.

Suffolk’s list doesn’t appear to have relied as much on internal affairs information from the Boston police or other departments. Most internal affairs information is sourced to The Boston Globe.

Defense attorneys said the list seems under-inclusive, missing several pending and completed internal investigations of officers. Rosemary Scapicchio, a Boston-based criminal defense attorney, says Rollins’ office should be actively seeking internal affairs records, rather than citing press reports. These in-house probes — often shielded from the public — can reveal a lot about possible credibility issues of individual officers.

“There is a sea change in terms of what the public wants to know about police officers,” she says “So I think releasing the list certainly makes [Rollins’] administration seem more transparent. But if you really want to fulfill it, you have to ensure its accuracy and its inclusion of all the relevant material.”

The Berkshire and Northwestern district attorneys say they’re in the process of creating officer disclosure lists. Five DA offices said they do not keep any list at all. That goes against recent guidance from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

In a decision supporting a lower court’s ruling to turn over potentially damaging information about police witnesses in a case out of Fall River, the justices wrote that while they don’t have the authority to require the Attorney General and every district attorney’s office to maintain a disclosure list, “we strongly recommend that they do.”

This article was originally published by WBUR 90.9FM on Sept. 25. WBUR and the Reporter share content through a media partnership.