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Pittsfield Police Advisory And Review Board Hears Complaint Cases

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting with 10 participants.
Josh Landes
The March 16th, 2021 Pittsfield, Massachusetts Police Advisory and Review Board meeting.

At its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Police Advisory and Review Board reviewed police conduct complaints.

The case review began with chair Ellen Maxon noting that the board’s input on the complaints is essentially weightless.

“These are decisions that have already been made," she said. "That discipline has already happened. So it's not like there's a time essence on getting this done in a certain number of days.”

Police Chief Michael Wynn explained how his department handled one of the cases, in which an off-duty officer chose to confront a driver he thought was behaving erratically. The officer followed the driver into a parking lot and a physical altercation followed, ending with the off-duty cop sustaining injuries and having his personal possessions taken by the driver.

“Ultimately, the investigation finds that the officer did not initiate the physical altercation," said Wynn. "He initiated the contact but he did not initiate the physical altercation. And the investigator finds that he didn't violate any rules and regulations, he didn’t technically violate any of our training because it had been a long time since we had done any training in off-duty encounters. So we did not sustain a finding against the officer, but we did go to training and say it's time to dust off that curriculum and have some conversation with our people about whether this was, this is the wisest thing to do, particularly with family in the car. So no misconduct, no discipline, remedial training for the officer, I scheduled training for everybody on being a better witness.”

Another complaint was filed over a case where a Pittsfielder was incorrectly identified as having warrants out by a plainclothes patrol unit. The person was then allegedly subjected to vulgar language by one of the officers.

“One of the two members of the patrol at the time is actually our employee," said Wynn. "The other one was a member of the sheriff's office who was assigned to the anti-street crimes unit. Investigator, based on witness statements as well as interviews with officers, no allegations against our person. Everything appears to have been directed against a sheriff's officer who was in the car. We closed this with no actions against our officer and referred for investigation, sent that case to the sheriff's office, we're waiting for an outcome.”

A member of the board asked Wynn if the man incorrectly identified by the officers was targeted simply for being African American.

“In this case, the investigators – these parties are known to us," responded the chief. "In some cases, we have photos, investigators look, and they look at the photo of the party that we're looking for, we have active warrants for. It's never going be perfect, right? It's dark, it's general height, general weight, general skin complexion. You know, we have a warrant for this person, that guy kind of looks like him. At some point in time, we're going have to try to figure out if that guy is this guy, you know. They checked. It was close enough merit some follow up. This particular follow up, jump-out style follow up, maybe not the best. But they had, they have an active warrant, they have to try and identify the person. So the investigators did look. You know, it's, not just they’re rolling up on every Black guy at Cumberland Farms. In this particular case, they reasonably believed it was their subject.”

Another case concerned a student officer being fired for attempting to conceal an act of domestic violence. A board member asked Wynn if the information would follow him in case he attempted to find employment with another police department.

“The current process that’s in place in the Commonwealth, since they haven’t established standards for decertification, that's entirely dependent on the next police department," said Wynn. "If they do the due diligence, and they conduct a thorough background check, and they ask for this, we’ll disclose it. But there are many police departments out there that don't do complete background checks.”

Pittsfield’s Police Advisory and Review Board meets next April 20th.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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