A simmering law enforcement feud reignited Thursday, when an appeals court ruled State Police Trooper Anthony Dear may pursue a defamation lawsuit against two Boston police officers he says ended his career as a nightclub disc jockey in the city.
The lawsuit dates back to 2006, when Dear, with the approval of his State Police superiors, worked in the city and elsewhere as a nightclub disc jockey while the officers were assigned to the city’s Licensing Board.
Dear sued the two officers after the officers blamed overcrowding at a Boston nightspot on Thanksgiving 2006 on him and a company called Elite Productions. A Superior Court judge tossed out the lawsuit, ruling in 2007 that Boston police Sergeant John Devaney and Sergeant Detective Kevin McGill had absolute immunity against civil lawsuits for anything they wrote in a police report.
But in a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel, the Massachusetts Appeals Court said Thursday that the officers’ protection against civil lawsuits has limits, especially when Dear never had a chance to publicly confront accusations made against him in a police report filed with city licensing agencies.
“For the most part, the report does not contain witness statements, but the officers’ own speculation or recounting of unidentified hearsay,’’ Judge Scott K. Kafker wrote for the court. “As he was neither a party nor a witness at the proceeding, Dear had no opportunity to test the validity of the statements at the proceeding.’’
Dear, the court said, should be allowed to bring the civil lawsuit in front of a Suffolk Superior Court jury and let it decide if the information filed by police destroyed Dear’s entertainment career as he contends and whether he was harmed when he was subjected to an internal affairs investigation by State Police triggered by the Boston report.
“The statements by Devaney and McGill, particularly in light of Dear’s occupation as a state trooper, were capable of a defamatory meaning,’’ Kafker wrote. “Given the seriousness of the charges, the investigation and the report were at best incomplete and speculative, and at worst reckless or malicious.’’
The court added, “Besides checking Elite’s website and noticing Dear’s presence, the officers did no follow-up investigation before publishing serious charges of wrongdoing.’’
According to Dear’s attorney, Timothy M. Burke, even though State Police cleared Dear of any wrongdoing, Dear could not find nightspots willing to hire him after the Boston officers made their allegations to the regulatory agencies that have the power to strip nightspots of their licenses.
“He certainly had a huge following, and people enjoyed his music,’’ Burke said. “He couldn’t get hired.’’
In their report, the Boston officers blamed Dear and Elite for running “events that are chronically a danger to the public safety,’’ saying Dear routinely ignored city licensing rules.
Moreover, the officers wrote, Dear “has stated to Boston police officers he was working in an undercover capacity, which the officers found to be false.’’ The city regulators, the officers wrote, should order nightspots “not use ‘Elite Productions’ and Mr. Dear to promote events.’’
Douglas Louison,a lawyer for the Boston officers, who is being paid by the city, said the veracity of the police investigation has not been examined in court because the case has not yet gone to trial.