Williamstown Select Board Covers Brady List, DIRE Committee At First In-Person Meeting Since 2020
The Williamstown, Massachusetts select board held its first in-person meeting Monday since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020.
At the select board’s last meeting, residents raised concerns about an officer in the Williamstown Police Department being on Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s Brady list. The designation means that the officer in question might not be called to testify in court cases by the DA due to a history of misconduct that would negate their credibility. The select board decided to extend an invitation to Harrington to attend a future meeting to clarify the significance of the inclusion.
“I would say to her, come here," said Select Board member Jane Patton. "Cause here's the deal. Let's just let folks hear it from the horse's mouth. Right? We may interpret it differently, not intentionally. But we may, you know, we may hear it one way with one filter, somebody may. So then we could press her for clarity. And if we need to go some layers deeper.”
Patton noted that questions about the Brady list had persisted since it became clear a Williamstown police officer was on it last year.
“I would think perhaps she would welcome this opportunity to help us fully understand and clear this up," she continued. "That's kind of where I'm at. I just don't like not being able to ask the follow up questions, right? I've had a year of follow up questions. I would like to have the opportunity to say, no, I'm not getting that, or help me understand or what have you.”
As a backup plan, the select board will send two members to meet with Harrington if she does not attend a meeting in Williamstown.
An update was given on the town’s Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee. Founded during last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, it has recently suffered a rash of departures including five people of color.
“DIRE has not met since our last select board meeting. Obviously, we're down to three people on DIRE. We're still looking for anybody who wants to apply to continue to apply," said recently elected select board member Jeffrey Johnson. “The reason why we took a break is we do want to get our two meetings in after the select board meeting but we wanted to add some more members. So we have a couple people that are going to be coming in to fill out applications that will come to the select board. And I think that's just sort of where we're at. DIRE is not going anywhere.”
While the forms to apply are available on the town website, Johnson said he didn’t want accessibility issues around technology to impede anyone from joining the committee.
“I will make myself available if you need help with the form of filling it out and then obviously be submitted for consideration by the board," he said. "But right now, we need applicants. We have three people, one is a select board member, one is working with the social work initiative, and Drew Art is doing a lot of work on the HR information. So we need some more bodies and some more help. So, come on people. Let's go.”
Interim Chief Mike Ziemba gave an update on the town’s police department, which has been grappling with scandals around racism, sexual harassment and illegal searches of community members for months.
“We're continuing to work with a local vendor to establish our own webpage in an effort to provide more information and accessibility to the community," said Ziemba. "Probably another month or two, we should have that up.”
He said the department adopted a new use of force policy as of June 28th.
“This was implemented to keep our department in compliance with the new police reform bill that mandated same," said Ziemba. "This new policy is very similar to the previous policy, but spells out prohibition of chokeholds, encourages de-escalation and requires officers to observe others acting and properly to intervene.”
The select board also heard that a community assessment project intended to explore how to make all Williamstown residents feel safe and secure needed $87,000 more than it was budgeted. The town is exploring how to keep the project moving forward despite the miscalculation.