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Ouster unlikely for leaking of Tsarnaev photos

Sergeant faces probe, desk duty after releasing images of Tsarnaev

FRAMINGHAM — The State Police sergeant whose unauthorized release of photos showing the capture of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev brought praise and criticism appears likely to keep his job, the leader of the State Police said Tuesday.

Colonel Timothy P. Alben said, after an administrative hearing resulted in Sergeant Sean P. Murphy being placed on restricted duty, that he held Murphy in “high regard” and considered him “an exemplary employee.”

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“He is a man of character, he is a man of honor,” the head of the State Police said. “He is a person who has come in here and given a great deal to this organization.”

But Alben said he has a responsibility to make sure the Marathon bombing inquiry and every criminal investigation is carried out appropriately, and to uphold department rules.

“If we get into a situation where we allow employees to cherry-pick and to choose what confidential information can be shared with the public and with the media in pending investigations or prosecutions, then we’ve lost the integrity of the Massachusetts State Police,” he said.

Sergeant Sean P. Murphy was placed on restricted duty after a hearing at State Police headquarters Tuesday.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Sergeant Sean P. Murphy was placed on restricted duty after a hearing at State Police headquarters Tuesday.

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Murphy, a tactical photographer who is a 25-year veteran of the force, was relieved of duty last week after releasing the images to Boston magazine. Murphy said he released the photos — which show a wounded and disheveled Tsarnaev surrendering, a laser bead from a police gun on his forehead — as a response to Rolling Stone magazine’s decision to put a fetching self-portrait of Tsarnaev on its cover. Murphy’s attorney said Tuesday that the sergeant did not receive money for the photos.

Murphy essentially will be on desk duty while the agency’s internal affairs unit investigates his actions, officials said.

Alben said a range of sanctions could be brought against Murphy, but he said he didn’t think it likely Murphy would be terminated. “That is not a realistic option,” he said.

A State Police spokesman said later Tuesday that the decision to fire a trooper hinges, in part, on the seriousness of the alleged offense and a trooper’s disciplinary history.

“Certainly, this is a serious allegation, one we are not taking lightly; but there is no allegation of criminal conduct, no allegation of violence,” State Police spokesman David Procopio said. “Sergeant Murphy has a superb record of service to the department in terms of making positive contributions and having a nonexistent record of discipline.”

Federal prosecutors handling the Marathon bombing case said last week that the leak of the State Police photos was “completely unacceptable.” But an array of backers have given Murphy enthusiastic support.

“I believe Sergeant Murphy did the right thing by the public by releasing the photos, especially after what Rolling Stone did,” said Andrew Connor, 29, who traveled to State Police headquarters from West Springfield early Tuesday to show his support for Murphy. “Those are the real pictures, the pictures we should have all seen from the manhunt.”

Murphy’s son, Connor, called his father his hero and said he could not be more proud of his actions.

“Throughout this process, he has shown the characteristics that I hope to someday model myself after. If I could be one-fourth of the man he is now, I’ll be more than happy with my life,” said Connor Murphy, 19, after the hearing. His father, who is not allowed to speak publicly during the investigation, stood by his son’s side.

Among those showing support for Murphy was the family of MIT police officer Sean Collier, whom the Tsarnaev brothers are accused of killing April 18.

“We believe that Sergeant Murphy’s motives were selfless when he released the photos, taken the night after our son and brother was murdered and the terrorist was apprehended. In our opinion, he has been sufficiently punished,” the Collier family said in a statement Monday. “Sergeant Murphy wanted to right what he and many in Boston and around the country saw as a wrong, and to counter the aggrandizement of terrorism by Rolling Stone magazine.”

After Rolling Stone published a self-portrait of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, Sergeant Sean Murphy gave State Police photos of him surrendering to Boston magazine.

SERGEANT SEAN MURPHY/STATE POLICE VIA BOSTON MAGAZINE

After Rolling Stone published a self-portrait of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, Sergeant Sean Murphy gave State Police photos of him surrendering to Boston magazine.

Leonard H. Kesten, Murphy’s attorney, emphasized that the trooper released the pictures with his name attached rather than anonymously.

“Sergeant Murphy acted from the heart, and I admire it,” Kesten said. “He showed courage in putting it out there with his name on it and I think we all recognize that.”

The internal investigation will seek to determine whether Murphy violated rules, regulations, or policies, State Police said.

As he arrived at the hearing Tuesday morning, Murphy was asked how he felt about the public support he has received.

“Life is good,’’ he said.

Tsarnaev, now 20, and his older brother, Tamerlan, allegedly planted the twin bombs that exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line April 15, killing three people and wounding more than 260. The terror attacks, which turned a colorful scene of athletic celebration into chaos, rocked the nation, raising questions about how the Tsarnaevs had become radicalized and whether the attacks could have been prevented by law enforcement and security agencies.

The Tsarnaevs also allegedly killed Collier before a confrontation on April 19 in Watertown in which Tamerlan died after a shoot-out with police and being run over by his brother. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later hiding under the plastic cover of a boat stored in Watertown.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Colin A. Young can be reached at colin.young@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColinAYoung.
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