In the wake of the death of a Massachusetts police officer on Cape Cod last week there are calls for changing the state’s judicial system. Those calls are being echoed by the mayor of Springfield, who has repeatedly called out judges he says are putting dangerous criminals back on the streets.
Less than 48 hours after Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Gannon was shot and killed while trying to serve a warrant on a man described by police as a career criminal, the Yarmouth Police Department wrote on its Facebook page that the “Massachusetts criminal justice system has let us down.”
Gannon, a 2007 graduate of Westfield State University, was fatally shot last Thursday while trying to serve an arrest warrant on 29-year-old Thomas Latanowich at a home in Barnstable. Latanowich has an extensive criminal record that includes 125 prior charges.
The warrant was issued after he missed a home visit by a probation officer and failed to show up to take a required drug test.
Latanowich is now being held without bail on a murder charge.
Hundreds of people turned out Saturday night for a candlelight vigil in Yarmouth, where Police Chief Frank Frederickson said the death of Gannon had hit the department hard.
"Our officers are shattered," declared Frederickson. " Our community is also shattered."
An emotional Frederickson vowed to use Gannon’s death as a catalyst for policy changes to protect police officers.
"Share your voices. Help us," Frederickson implored the crowd. " I don't want to see this happen to anybody ever again."
A link to an online petition calling for an overhaul of the state’s judicial system was shared on social media by both the Yarmouth Police and the Auburn Police Department. Auburn Officer Ronald Tarantino Jr. was fatally shot in 2016. The suspect, who was later killed in a shootout with State Police, had a long criminal record and was out on bail at the time.
The petition says judges need to be held accountable for their decisions, and it calls for fixing the justice system, but does not say exactly how.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has a specific proposal. In a statement his office released Sunday night, Sarno invited police officers to help him lobby the state legislature to advance a bill that would let prosecutors appeal bail rulings.
The legislation was first filed in 2014, and Sarno made an appeal for it after the killing of Officer Tatantino.
" This legislation takes away no rights from the defendant, it just puts us, we the people of the Commonwealth, on an equal playing field," said Sarno.
Sarno has repeatedly and publicly criticized judges he accuses of setting bails too low for people arrested on gun and drug charges.
"Any of these repeat violent offenders need to be locked up," said Sarno. "This is not fair to the residents and businesses of Springfield or to our police officers in Springfield and throughout the Commonwealth."
The press release from Sarno’s office said he had signed the online petition calling for reforming the state’s judiciary.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sweeping package of criminal justice reforms, even though the Republican governor did not agree with everything that was in the bill which passed overwhelmingly in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Baker plans to refile a bill that would impose a mandatory prison sentence for assaulting a police officer.