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Prosecutors drop charges against former Springfield officer accused of beating teen

Another officer allegedly used a racial slur while striking a boy.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed a police brutality case against former Springfield police officer Steven M. Vigneault.Dave Roback / The Republican via Associated Press

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday dropped a criminal case against a former Springfield narcotics detective who had been accused with a colleague of using excessive force during the arrest of two boys nearly three years ago.

In a court filing, prosecutors wrote that the single civil rights charge against Steven M. Vigneault, 49, should be dismissed because one of the teenagers recently implicated another officer, not Vigneault. The teen said he was “100 [percent] positive” that he was kicked in the face by Springfield Officer Gregg A. Bigda.

Vigneault no longer faces prosecution related to the Feb. 27, 2016 arrest. His former colleague, Bigda, 51, remains under indictment for three alleged civil rights violations, one for using excessive force and two for abusive interrogation. Bigda, who allegedly used a racial slur while striking one of the boys, is also accused of obstruction of justice.

The Springfield Police Department has been beset by claims of misconduct, outside investigations, and civil litigation that have cast a harsh light on the force. In April 2018, the city announced the US Department of Justice was investigating whether the police narcotics unit routinely used excessive force and violated people’s civil rights. The probe is ongoing, a police spokesman said Wednesday.


Vigneault’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment.

When Vigneault was indicted in 2018, the evidence against him included testimony from an officer and former girlfriend who claimed he had confessed to kicking the boy, prosecutors wrote.

Vigneault resigned from the department in 2016. In a state whistle-blower lawsuit brought against Bigda and others, Vigneault said he quit amid fears that he would be falsely accused of kicking one of the teens. The lawsuit is pending.

Bigda, a former narcotics detective, was suspended without pay from the Springfield Police Department following his arrest by the FBI in October 2018. He has pleaded not guilty and is free pending an upcoming trial.


A status conference in the case was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in US District Court in Springfield.

Gregg A. Bigda left the Springfield federal courthouse on Oct. 31, 2018. (Don Treeger / The Republican)Don Treeger

The police misconduct case began while Bigda and Vigneault were working a shift as narcotics detectives.

Hours before the confrontation in Palmer, on Feb. 26, 2016, Bigda was allegedly drinking rum at his desk, according to two civil lawsuits.

Vigneault claims in his lawsuit that he ordered a pizza to help Bigda sober up. When he went to get the meal, Vigneault said, he left an unmarked police SUV running outside the pizzeria, and four teens jumped inside and drove off.

Police tracked the SUV to nearby Palmer and detained three teens. The boys are Latino. Bigda and Vigneault are white.

On a residential strip of North Main Street, Bigda allegedly kicked a handcuffed 14-year-old in the face as he lay on the ground, spat on him, and said, “Welcome to white town [expletive],” according to a federal lawsuit filed in 2018 by the teenager’s mother. The lawsuit is pending.

The 14-year-old was hospitalized, and officers brought two other teens to the Palmer police station.

Bigda interrogated the 15year-old there, where surveillance video recorded him saying he could get away with murder.

“I could crush your [expletive] skull and [expletive] get away with it,” Bigda told the teen, according to the federal indictment. He also told the boy he could plant drugs on him with impunity.


“I’ll [expletive] charge you with whatever I want. I’ll stick a [expletive] kilo of coke in your pocket and put you away for [expletive] 15 years,” Bigda said, according to the indictment.

During a recent deposition, the teenager, who is identified in court papers by his initials, said Bigda was the one who had kicked him. At the time, the boy was 15 years old, court records show.

A Springfield police spokesman referred questions on Wednesday about Vigneault to the city solicitor, who didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a separate case, a dozen Springfield officers were indicted last year on charges stemming from the assault of four black men following an altercation at a bar in 2015 and an alleged coverup that followed. That case is pending in state court. Charges against one former officer have been dropped.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.