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Springfield To Pay $450,000 For Police Brutality Settlement

Springfield Police Department Headquarters on Pearl Street
Paul Tuthill

        The city of Springfield, Massachusetts is paying a sizable sum of money to settle a police brutality complaint as debate continues over increasing civilian oversight of the troubled police department.   

       The Springfield City Council voted Monday to approve spending $450,000 to settle a police brutality case in which a federal court jury had ruled against the city finding there was a “policy or custom of inadequately supervising or disciplining its police officers.”

    In February, the jury in Boston awarded $250,000 to Lee Hutchins Sr. who accused three police officers of using excessive force during a domestic disturbance in 2013. He was pepper-sprayed and struck with a police baton in his home.

   City Solicitor Ed Pikula said because of court costs, attorney fees, and interest on the judgement the city was facing a potential payment of $600,000.  The negotiated settlement includes a promise by the city not to appeal the jury’s verdict.

   It is the second sizable sum the city has paid in the last seven months to settle a police misconduct case.  Last October, the Council approved a settlement of $885,000 to four men who said they were assaulted by off-duty officers after a dispute in a bar in 2015.

   In April, 13 current or former Springfield cops were charged by the Massachusetts Attorney General with either participating in the beating or helping to cover it up.

   Councilors have pointed to these cases, and others, as reasons to reform the supervision of the police department, but have been in gridlock with Mayor Domenic Sarno.

   Councilor Mike Fenton proposed an ordinance that would expand the membership of the Community Police Hearing Board and give it “teeth” by granting the panel subpoena power.

  "The purpose of this is to reach a compromise and reflect the practices of  the (police) department while also improving them," said Fenton.

   The proposed ordnance has languished in the Public Safety Committee for more than two months.

   City Councilor Tim Allen said there has been too much foot-dragging.

  " At some point, it is important to have good government and move forward with a system that is effective for the citizens," said Allen. " I think it is time to act like a body that wants to govern rather than a body that wants to deliberate."

         The chair of the Public Safety Committee, Councilor Orlando Ramos, proposed several amendments that would give the Council a say over who serves on the hearing board.   He pledged to schedule committee meetings on the proposed ordinance beginning next week.

  "I am in favor of keeping it in committee and working through this," said Ramos. " We have to be able to compromise somewhere in the middle and that is what I am proposing."

  Also Monday, the City Council voted 11-2 for an ordinance that requires the city to take specific steps to publicize municipal elections.

         Sponsored by Councilor Jesse Lederman, the aim is to increase voter turnout.  At the 2017 municipal election, voter turnout registered a dismal 10 percent.

  "There is no silver bullet that is going to shoot us from 9.9 percent voter turnout to 100," said Lederman.

   The ordinance requires the Elections Office to mail postcards to every household in the city at least 20 days prior to an election.  The notice will include the date of the election, the polling location for the household and the offices or referenda questions that will appear on the ballot.

   On the day of the election, signs that read “Vote Today” are to be posted at intersections close to all polling places.

  A provision to require the city to place an automated phone call to registered voters prior to the election was dropped by Lederman from the final version of the ordinance.

   He said the council is "sensitive to the fact that automated calls and robocalls have become something that has been abused by some corporate actors."

    Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola estimated it will cost $13,000 per election to print and mail the post card notices.  

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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