The state Civil Service Commission has upheld the firing of a Braintree police officer, concluding that he “twice demonstrated a willingness to place the well-being of a friend before the law, his fellow officers, and the public.”
Paul Venuto was terminated from his job at the Braintree Police Department in April 2012 for allegedly trying to interfere in the arrests of two of his friends in 2008 and 2009.
Venuto filed an appeal contesting his dismissal with the commission, which reviewed the case and issued its decision on Aug. 22. Stephen C. Pfaff, an attorney representing Venuto, said Venuto does not plan to appeal the decision.
“Mr. Venuto, though upset with the commission’s decision, has decided to move on,” he said.
Venuto now works in private security, said Pfaff. A LinkedIn profile under Venuto’s name states that he attended Braintree High School, received an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Quincy College, and completed police recruit training in 2005.
Venuto was a permanent full-time police officer in Braintree, and his conduct did not come into question until the summer of 2011, after a domestic violence incident was reported by his live-in girlfriend. She subsequently recanted the allegations and the matter was investigated by police in Braintree, according to the Civil Service Commission’s decision.
Shortly after that, Braintree officers informed a detective about two incidents in which Venuto “displayed questionable conduct.” When the police chief learned of the allegations, he requested an internal investigation, which eventually resulted in Venuto’s termination.
The first incident took place on April 10, 2008, when a friend of Venuto’s, identified in the Civil Service Commission decision as “Mr. H,” was arrested by Braintree police conducting undercover surveillance outside the 7-Eleven convenience store on Commercial Street in Weymouth Landing.
Prior to the arrest, one of the undercover officers had noticed a red Pontiac Grand Am parked near the Quincy Avenue side of the 7-Eleven parking lot. They called dispatch to find out more information about the vehicle. Venuto overheard this inquiry to the dispatcher, and realized that the car belonged to his friend.
Venuto immediately called one of the undercover officers at the scene and asked him what he was doing.
“I’m watching a five-pound largemouth,” said the detective, using the department’s code phrase for drug surveillance.
After Venuto told the detective that he was friends with the owner of the Pontiac, the detective informed Venuto that it looked like his friend “was about to do something dumb.”
After about five minutes, a white Mitsubishi Diamante pulled up and parked next to the Pontiac. The driver appeared to hand something through the Mitsubishi’s passenger side window to Mr. H.
Believing that a drug deal had just occurred, the officers approached both men. The detective overheard Mr. H. ending a phone conversation, and asked him who he was talking to.
“My friend Paul,” Mr. H. replied, referring to Venuto.
Mr. H later told police that Venuto had called him and said, “What are you doing? . . . They’re running your plates.”
Police reported they found a small baggie containing four OxyContin pills, a pill grinder, and a small amount of marijuana in Mr. H’s vehicle. Mr. H was arrested and charged with possession of a Class B substance (OxyContin), possession of a Class D substance (marijuana), and conspiracy to violate controlled substance laws. When the detective returned to the station, he verbally reprimanded Venuto for getting involved with Mr. H’s arrest.
The second incident occurred on Oct. 25, 2009, when Braintree police stopped a man on a motorcycle, identified as “Mr. A” in the Civil Service Commission decision. Police patted him down and found seven bags of cocaine in his pocket. He was arrested and charged with possession of a Class B illegal drug with the intent to distribute.
Venuto was not on duty at the time, but when he heard that Mr. A had been pulled over near the Quirk Jeep dealership on Quincy Avenue, he called one of the officers at the scene. Venuto told the officer that Mr. A was a “buddy” of his and asked whether anything could be done. The officer replied that “nothing could be done” because Mr. A was already under arrest for cocaine possession.
Venuto then responded, “Oh [expletive], I thought it was just a motor vehicle infraction.”
Venuto was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 15, 2011, and the Civil Service Commission held a hearing on the matter last month.
In its decision, the commission concluded that “Mr. Venuto’s conduct on the day of the Mr. A incident was not only unbecoming of an officer, but arguably a failed attempt to interfere with the course of justice.”
Four commissioners voted in favor of upholding Venuto’s termination, concluding that ““the Town of Braintree had just cause to discipline the Appellant for his serious misconduct during the incidents involving Mr. H and Mr. A.”
One commissioner, Paul M. Stein, voted in opposition. In his dissenting opinion, Stein stated that Venuto deserved a 90-day suspension, not job termination.Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.