In wake of DOJ report on Springfield police misconduct, public defenders, defense lawyers, and criminal defendants seek an investigation and allege the withholding of exculpatory evidence
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear a lawsuit seeking the investigation and disclosure of violence, false reporting, and other misconduct by the Springfield Police Department (SPD). A judge yesterday “reserved and reported” the lawsuit—brought by public defenders, bar advocates, defense lawyers, and criminal defendants— to the state’s highest court for briefing and argument.
In April 2021, the ACLU of Massachusetts—together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and law firm Goulston & Storrs—filed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Judicial Court to hold that the state must investigate allegations of systemic Springfield police violence, false reporting, and misconduct, and to ensure that the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office properly discloses that misconduct as exculpatory evidence in criminal cases. The lawsuit pointed to a July 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as criminal indictments, community complaints, media reports, and lawsuits, as indicators of systemic and egregious SPD misconduct.
In response to the Massachusetts drug lab scandals, courts have made clear that the Commonwealth has a duty to investigate and disclose, on a case-by-case basis, egregious misconduct by government employees who participate in criminal cases as members of prosecution teams. But hearings and filings in this case have revealed that no one in Massachusetts government has ever investigated the extent of the SPD misconduct, even in light of the DOJ’s findings that SPD officers engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force. This case has also revealed that, by October 2020, the SPD had compiled hundreds of pages of documents as well as an “internal memo” concerning the DOJ report. The documents were not disclosed to criminal defendants until the summer of 2021, after the lawsuit was filed, and the “internal memo” remains secret.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of people and groups affected by these failures: two individuals who have been prosecuted in Hampden County, two criminal defense lawyers who practice in Hampden County, CPCS itself, and the bar advocate organization Hampden County Lawyers for Justice.
Carol Rose, executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, released the following statement:
“Too often, police abuse is followed by prosecutorial inaction. But the Commonwealth has a responsibility to investigate police misconduct, and the district attorneys who prosecute people with the help of police officers have a legal duty to disclose misconduct by those officers—even when that evidence resides inside the police department.”
Anthony Benedetti, CPCS Chief Counsel at CPCS, released the following statement:
“Our clients deserve to know about the misconduct of the police officers who are involved in their cases. This crucial evidence is often the difference between incarceration and freedom. We need to know more about the police misconduct in Springfield – from excessive force to the writing of false police reports to cover up those actions, as found by the Department of Justice. The criminal legal system operates better when those involved in it are transparent. Anything less in unacceptable.”