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Officer fears backlash over UMass recording lawsuit

Cameras taped audio in station

A University of Massachusetts Amherst police officer who sued the university said yesterday that he fears retaliation for speaking out after learning cameras inside the campus police station could secretly record officers’ conversations.

“I’m still afraid of what might happen,’’ Officer Mark Shlosser said in an interview. “But when you see something to me that’s as obvious as this, it’s comparable to seeing a crime committed in your presence and not doing anything about it.’’

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Shlosser, 53, filed a civil lawsuit in state court earlier this month, alleging that cameras with the ability to record officers’ conversations were installed in certain areas without the officers’ knowledge.

Yesterday a Hampshire Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction, ordering UMass to stop all audio recording and interception at the police station, except for in the interview rooms and the booking and detention areas.

The university has said in court papers that it intended only for the interview rooms and booking areas to be equipped with audio-recording cameras and that administrators and police officials did not know they were located elsewhere.

The booking area of the facility, which opened last spring, had signs indicating that audio and video monitoring were in use, but there were no warnings in other areas, Shlosser’s complaint states.

Jim Meade, a university computer system administrator, disabled the microphones on the hallway cameras Jan. 23, a day after a police dispatcher discovered that she could hear conversations picked up by the cameras, the university said in a court filing.

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After the university learned on Feb. 18 that it was still possible to pick up audio from the cameras, an engineer from SIGNET Electronic Systems, the university’s service provider, “virtually removed the microphone and speakers from the system,’’ except in the booking and detention areas, the filing states.

The company is now the sole holder of the password required to change the camera settings, according to the filing, and even though a dispatcher had enabled a microphone in January, there are “no audio recordings from any of the [hallway] cameras.’’

Shlosser’s lawyer, Thomas A. Kenefick III of Springfield, said in a phone interview that his client is seeking unspecified monetary damages because his rights were violated under the state’s wiretapping statute, which requires that both parties in a conversation consent to an audio recording.

The lawsuit against UMass was first reported this week by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Kenefick said that he will file a motion in Superior Court for class action certification to allow at least 10 other officers to join the lawsuit.

“We believe somebody knew [about the hallway cameras], and somebody had a reason for putting them there,’’ Kenefick said, but he did not specify who.

He wrote in a court filing that university Police Chief Johnny C. Whitehead and Deputy Chief Patrick T. Archbald, who are named as defendants, were involved in the planning phases for the new station and should have known about the improper camera installation.

Whitehead is leaving his position next week to head the Rice University Police Department.

His departure was announced on the UMass Amherst website Jan. 4, about three weeks before the camera issue came to light.

Whitehead said last night through a UMass Amherst spokesman that he accepted the Rice job before learning about the camera problems.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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