A Massachusetts lawyer is involved in a public dispute with the current Berkshire District Attorney and his predecessor over the handling of sexual assault cases at Williams College.
John Pucci wrote a letter to The Berkshire Eagle in August that pointedly criticized Berkshire District Attorney Paul Caccaviello for his “failure” to properly address sexual assault cases at the small private college in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Citing reports filed by the college, he took the DA’s office to task for prosecuting only one of dozens of sexual assaults on record between 2014 and 2016. Pucci did so following a letter from the school’s director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, who had written in after Caccaviello blamed the school for failing to report the cases in a DA candidate’s forum at the college in July.
Meg Bossong said the DA’s claims were “patently and categorically false” and cited former DA David Capeless’s 2014 interview with iBerkshires.com in which he defended the school, saying “they're not suppressing the information” about sexual assault.
Last week, Caccaviello revived the letter from Pucci with both a letter of his own to the Eagle as well as a press release that characterized the lawyer’s claims as “without merit,” “misleading, ill-informed, and insensitive to victims.” He also drew attention to Pucci’s two $500 contributions to the campaign of the write-in candidate’s rival, Democratic primary winner Andrea Harrington.
Capeless — who was Berkshire DA for 14 years with Caccaviello as his First Assistant — also attempted to dismiss Pucci’s claims in a conversation with WAMC, calling them “false” and politically motivated.
“Mr. Pucci is a disgruntled attorney, who represented somebody who unfortunately got involved in a drunken incident at Williams College, an alumna," said Capeless. "And we investigated it thoroughly along with the Williamstown Police Department and found that there was not a basis for going forward with any case. That’s his problem.”
In an interview with WAMC, Pucci rebutted the claims of both DAs.
An attorney at Bulkley Richardson in Springfield, he’s been a trial lawyer for 38 years. Ten of those years he spent as a federal prosecutor, six in Philadelphia and four as Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield, which has jurisdiction over Berkshire County. In 2016, he was named to a panel of 12 by Governor Charlie Baker to recruit and screen candidates for the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
“I was involved in a case in which I represented a woman who was sexually assaulted at Williams. Let me back up a step and say that I don’t want to make this interview about a single case. I think there’s a much broader and bigger picture of what’s happening at Williams College that really needs to come to light and be focused on," Pucci told WAMC. “There was a rape at Williams College. The victim and her husband came to me because they were unsatisfied with what was happening at the DA’s office — there was a lack of communication.”
He said they approached him to serve as a lawyer and councilor to ensure their voices were heard.
“From the beginning, the district attorney’s office feigned an interest and oversaw a faux investigation in which barely half of the witnesses were identified, in which my client had had a physical rape exam and it had found a vaginal tear, a very significant finding, and the district attorney’s office would not complete the forensic testing in the case,” said Pucci.
He alleges the office did not follow legal protocol.
“In Massachusetts, there’s a law — it requires law enforcement to preserve forensic evidence in sexual assault cases for 15 years after the alleged sexual assault took place," said the attorney. "Caccaviello in particular refused, refused to maintain the forensic evidence in this case that I’m talking about.”
Pucci says he wrote to Caccaviello and Capeless, but didn’t receive a response.
“And six months later I got an email from the police department saying ‘we have the forensic evidence, we consulted with the DA, we’re not going to maintain custody of it,’ and they refused to do what the law requires,” he told WAMC.
Pucci says he left the case feeling like it was inadequately investigated, calling the DA’s office and the Williamstown Police Department “irresponsible in violating the law with regards to the preservation of forensic evidence.”
Williams College has declined to comment.
Pucci says the sexual assault figures he cited in his letter to the Eagle- derived from publically available Clery Act reports that Williams Colleges publishes online- have since changed.
“On October 1, Williams released new data for an additional year 2017," said Pucci. "When you add ’14, ’15, ’16, to ’17, the total number of sexual assaults reported publically by Williams College is 73, those four years, including something like 55 rapes.”
He said Caccaviello was responding to dated information, and included Capeless in his criticism of how both DAs have responded to concerns over the lack of prosecutions from the reported sexual assaults.
“Their explanations are both pathetic and terrible, and let me explain why," said Pucci. "Their explanation- and it’s in Caccaviello’s letter to the editor, which is really clear, this is their explanation- when we got- the DA got- reports of sexual assaults through the law enforcement grapevine, the sexual assaults at Williams College, they didn’t include the names of the victims. That’s their explanation, and so therefore, our hands are tied, and we assume that because we didn’t have the names of the now 73 sexual assault victims, we assume they did not want to participate in a criminal investigation. They didn’t talk to these people.”
Describing their response as “totally irresponsible,” Pucci claims Capeless and Caccaviello made assumptions from data that the survivors of the assaults did not want to cooperate or consider prosecution. He said Williams wasn’t to blame for not releasing the names, characterizing the decision to not publish the names of survivors as responsible.
“But when the district attorney’s office learns that there are as many as 73 sexual assaults that have occurred in the last four years at Williams, they have a duty to investigate," said Pucci. "And this is not that complicated. It’s stunning to me that Caccaviello can step back and say ‘we inferred they didn’t want to cooperate.’”
Pucci says the DA’s office could have initiated a basic criminal prosecution investigation.
“You contact Williams College. You ask them for their reports and interviews of the victims. If they don’t want to give them to you, you issue a grand jury subpoena," he said. "The district attorney in Berkshire County has a grand jury standing and available. They issue a simple piece of paper to Williams, Williams gives them the name of the victims, and then they do the basics. The basics are laid out in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security guidelines for sexual assault investigations.”
Pucci said the office should be prepared to handle that kind of investigation, but that it didn’t follow through with it. While he acknowledged that the process requires a willing participant in the survivor, he expressed confusion and frustration that the office hadn’t pursued more prosecutions.
“In 73 instances since ’14, ’15, ’16, and ’17, the district attorney’s office in Berkshire County has refused to even do the ABCs of investigation,” he said to WAMC.
Pucci acknowledged that he is a supporter of and a contributor to the Andrea Harrington campaign largely because of his experiences with the Berkshire DA office to date.
“I have seen the abuses and irresponsibility of that office, and as a former prosecutor, I take umbrage to it," said Pucci. "And I felt an urge to speak truth to power, and that’s why I’m doing that today and why I’ve done it in letters to the editor. People can’t sit back and just take what has happened as a status quo that is satisfactory. It’s a completely broken status quo and these cases demonstrate it.”
Pucci also criticized what he said were efforts by the Caccaviello campaign to distance itself from the Capeless era.
“Caccaviello was his henchman, his right hand man," he told WAMC. "Caccaviello perpetrated the policies there, Caccaviello was part of refusing to investigate the Williams College cases, and that is not leadership.”
He also addressed Caccaviello’s main argument for his capability to hold the position: 30 years of experience in the office.
“Well his experience includes what’s happened at Williams College," said Pucci. "He owns it. He owns it with Capeless.”
Looking past the data, Pucci said he was speaking out for the voices heard the least in ongoing conversation.
“I mean, these aren’t just stats. These are people," he told WAMC. "The 73 women who took the courageous step to go to security at Williams and report a sexual assault. Those 73 women have suffered indelible damage to their hearts and their souls from through the sexual assault they suffered, and they have been shunted aside. What about the women?”