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Charges Against Officers In Bar Fight Renew Questions About Supervision Of Springfield Police

the front door of Springfield Police Headquarters

The announcement of criminal charges this week against five police officers in Springfield, Massachusetts again raised questions about supervision and discipline in the city’s police department.

The five police officers were summoned to court to answer to criminal complaints charging each with multiple counts of assault and battery and conspiracy for their alleged involvement in an altercation  with four men in a Springfield bar that later turned violent out in the parking lot on an April night in 2015.

It is a case that has hung like a dark cloud over the police department and has already cost the city $885,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the four alleged victims.

"Until we address the leadership issues at the top of the police department we will continue to get the same results and people should not be shocked," said  City Council President Justin Hurst.

He has repeatedly called for Police Commissioner John Barbieri to be replaced.

"Commissioner Barbieri probably is trying really hard to rectify the situation, but it is just not occurring under his watch," said Hurst. " There needs  to be a chain of leadership where police officers within that department are fearful of being held accountable. Right now that is not the case."

In a statement, Barbieri said, “If these allegations are true, this type of conduct by a Springfield Police Officer on or off-duty is unacceptable and appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination will be taken.”

None of the accused officers, who were all off-duty at the time of the incident nearly four years ago, have faced disciplinary action by the city.

When he first heard of the allegations, Mayor Domenic Sarno reached out to a retired state court judge to attempt to bring the case before the Community Police Hearing Board.  But, Sarno said the city was told to “stand down” until an investigation by the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey concluded.

  The state attorney general took up the case after Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni in 2017 declined to prosecute.  Although he concluded a crime had been committed, Gulluni said the victims’ identifications of their alleged attackers was not strong enough to stand up court.

Last October, the City Council approved an $885,000 settlement to a civil rights lawsuit filed against the city in federal court by the four alleged victims. The city made no admission of liability in the settlement.

Michelle Cruz, a lawyer for one of the alleged victims, Paul Cumby, said he welcomed the announcement of the criminal charges against the police officers.

"It is fair to say that Mr. Paul Cumby is relieved to finally see forward movement in bringing those who are responsible for the attack on him, his cousins and their friend to justice" said Cruz.  "He feels like it is a positive step in the right direction."

The criminal complaints were brought against:  Daniel Billingsley, 30, Anthony Cicero, 29, Christian Cicero, 28, Igor Basovskiy, 33, and Jameson Williams, 33.  All five pleaded not guilty in district court in Springfield and were released without bail pending a hearing in March.

The officers will be suspended without pay for 5 days and then placed on paid leave from duty as per state law and contractual agreements, according to a police department spokesman.

A sixth officer, Jose Diaz, 54, was previously charged in connection with the case in November. He also pleaded not guilty.

In January, a federal court jury awarded $250,000 to a Springfield man who was struck repeatedly by an officer wielding a police baton to break up a domestic dispute in 2013.

The jury found the city had a “policy or custom of inadequately supervising or disciplining its police officers.”

Barbieri has said he plans to reform the department’s internal investigation unit.

Also, the city hired a consultant this week to advise the police department on implementing a body-worn camera program.

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