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City Councilors Question Springfield Police Commissioner About Reinstating Cops Facing Charges

The police commissioner in Springfield, Massachusetts continues to defend the reinstatement of five officers while criminal charges against them are still pending. 

Addressing the Springfield City Council for the first time about the controversial decision to bring the cops back on the force before their felony cases have been adjudicated, Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said she was not concerned about setting a precedent.

"I take this decision seriously and I judge it on the facts," said Clapprood. "I don't use emotions or politics."

The five officers were indicted in 2019 for allegedly trying to cover up a now-notorious incident that happened in 2015 where five off-duty cops allegedly beat up four people in a parking lot after a verbal argument in Nathan Bill’s Bar and Restaurant.

The still-unresolved case led to internal affairs reforms at the police department. The city paid out more than $800,000 to settle a civil suit.

Trials for the 10 officers, all of whom were suspended without pay, were scheduled to start in March, but were postponed when state court buildings closed in response to the coronavirus public health emergency. 

Citing staff shortages caused in part by COVID-19, Clapprood last month announced she was reinstating five of the defendants.  But just days after the officers returned to active duty on April 22, a lawyer from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office contacted the city’s law department and citing a federal statute questioned the legality of the indicted cops carrying guns.

Rather than get bogged down a legal dispute, Clapprood reassigned the five cops to desk duty. She told councilors the assignments will still help out the department’s staffing issues.

"They are adding to my workforce and as you know COVID comes and goes," said Clapprood. She  said there have been as many as 39 officers out at one time because of the coronavirus. 

"We have a lot of officers out for different reasons," said Clapprood.

Clapprood assured Councilors she did not plan to reinstate the five officers accused in the actual assaults of the civilians or a former narcotics detective who is suspended while awaiting trial in a separate case.      She said the five reinstated officers would still face departmental disciplinary proceedings once their criminal cases are resolved.

Mayor Domenic Sarno was told by Clapprood about her plans to reinstate the officers, but members of the City Council were blindsided by the news, said Councilor Tracye Whitfield.

"If we are going to have a mutual  relationship, we can't be caught off guard," Whitfield said to the police commissioner.

After the meeting, City Council President Justin Hurst said he still believes it is a mistake to have the five cops back on the force.

"I have heard from a number of community leaders, some who have spoken up and some who have not spoken up as yet, who are appalled by the decision," Hurst told WAMC.

The Urban League of Greater Springfield issued a statement calling Clapprood’s decision “short-sighted and an exercise in poor judgement.”

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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