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Metro

Former Braintree chief denied releasing Amy Bishop

John Polio, retired Braintree police chief.

Boston Globe/File

John Polio, retired Braintree police chief.

A Quincy District Court judge overseeing a 2010 inquest was skeptical of the assertions of a former Braintree police chief that he did not meet with the mother of Amy Bishop in the hours after she shot her brother in 1986 and had not ordered the younger woman’s release.

In newly released testimony from the inquiry into Seth Bishop’s death, John Polio, who was chief at the time, said he did not speak with Judy Bishop, Amy’s mother, after the shooting, although other law enforcement officials said the two spoke privately at the police station just before Amy Bishop was released.

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Under questioning, Polio told the court he was unaware that Bishop had been released, and suggested that State Police investigators must have been responsible for the decision.

Asked if he had ordered Bishop’s release, Polio said: “Absolutely not.”

“If I was, I’d tell you,” he said.

Under direct questioning from Quincy District Court Judge Mark Coven, Polio said he never inquired about the investigation after the shooting because he “thought it was handled correctly,” he said.

“So you’re asking this court to believe that as chief of police, that you never asked one question to the captain that reported directly to you about what happened to an unexplained shooting in your town?” Polio was asked. “Not that I recall,” he replied.

“And if I were to tell you that there is credible evidence saying that the State Police asked on five or six occasions for the police reports and the pictures that were taken by your officers over a three-month period and were never provided, what would your response be to that?” Coven asked.

“That’s a lie,” Polio said.

The new testimony, obtained by the Globe from Norfolk Superior Court after a legal challenge, deepens the mystery over how Bishop could have been released after shooting her brother and confronting four other people with a loaded gun that day in 1986. That question that came under scrutiny after Bishop killed three people at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 2010 during a staff meeting.

After the shootings, law enforcement officials reviewed Bishop’s past and discovered her role in her brother’s death, which at the time was declared an accident.

The inquest determined that the shooting was not accidental, and that led to Bishop being charged with first-degree murder.

After Bishop pleaded guilty in the campus shootings and was sentenced to life in prison in Alabama, the Norfolk district attorney’s office announced it would not prosecute Amy Bishop for her brother’s death.

Before his own death in December 2010, Polio defended his handling of the case, and in his appearance at the inquest he denied any wrongdoing.

Coven said there was credible evidence from multiple witnesses that two officers said Polio had ordered Bishop’s release, which Polio said was “untrue.”

Polio said he knew the Bishop family “only casually,” saying “I probably bumped into her at town meetings.”

Polio said that after the district attorney’s office took over the investigation, he “truthfully thought everything was copacetic.”

He testified that he never followed up on the case, and never read any reports “until the Alabama shooting.”

“I thought everything was done as it should have been done,” he said.

Polio’s wife, who was his administrative assistant at the time of the shooting, also testified that Polio did not meet with Judy Bishop the day of the shooting.

Asking Virginia Polio to “excuse my incredulity,” Coven voiced skepticism that Polio was not told that Bishop had pointed a shotgun at two Braintree officers.

“He was not told that in my presence at any time,” she said.

But Polio’s account was contradicted by his subordinates. James Sullivan, an officer at the time who later retired as deputy chief, testified that he was told that Polio had determined “it was an accidental shooting and that I should release the prisoner immediately.”

Sullivan said he sarcastically told a captain that “if we listened to everyone’s mother who thought they were innocent, then we might as well not arrest anybody. And he said I was to follow the chief’s order, and I still disagreed with him.”

He testified that he asked another officer if they could “hold her on the murder charges,” but was told “Chief Polio had called and that she was to be released.”

Ronald Solimini, who took Bishop into custody, said Judy Bishop came into the station asking to see the chief and “kept on calling him by his first name.”

He said the Bishops left the station 20 minutes after Judy Bishop arrived. When he asked a lieutenant why, he was told that “the chief released her.”

In other unredacted testimony, Michael Arnold, a State Police officer in the ballistics unit, said he had concluded the shotgun did not fire accidentally.

“I tested it and there were no malfunctions with the gun,” he testified.

“The weapon did not fire itself,” he added.

Samuel Bishop, Amy’s father, had testified that Amy Bishop was traumatized by a robbery in August 1985. Asked if he ever thought about sending her to counseling, he replied that he hadn’t.

“You know what? I probably should have but I didn’t,” he said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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