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‘In the dark.’ Suffolk DA Rollins wants more information on troubled Boston officers

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael RollinsPat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins read the newspaper in late June with rising frustration: A captain in the Boston Police Department had been the subject of 20 different internal affairs investigations, including six open cases, and had still received a commendation for his conduct.

This was news to her. The captain was out on city streets, making arrests and bringing her prosecutors evidence, which had the power to put people behind bars — but his credibility appeared to be in question. How could her office not have known? She called Boston police and asked for a meeting. If there were other cops like the captain, she needed their names.

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But three months later, Suffolk County prosecutors still don’t know which police officers have clean records — and which don’t. The Boston Police Department has been slow to hand over information about which officers its own internal affairs department has found to have lied or broken the law. And Rollins, who has the power to subpoena the records, has said she might have to do just that.

“This is a black hole,” said Rollins in an interview last week. “This entire process is in the dark. And I’m the DA. And it’s in the dark.”

On Friday, Rollins released a database of 136 officers from departments in and around Suffolk County that her office said had been accused of lying, violence, or criminal activity, and whose credibility may be undermined in court.

Under the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must turn over evidence favorable to a defendant, including material that may undermine the credibility of their own witnesses — like police officers. Many prosecutors' offices around the country keep lists of officers found to have engaged in misconduct in case they are needed at trial.

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Records obtained by the Globe show that Rollins’s prosecutorial watch list was marked by inaccuracies and omissions. It identified 54 officers as Boston officers, though three were actually transit officers, and another a civilian criminalist, records show.

Meanwhile, Boston police data compiled by the Globe suggest Rollins failed to include 41 other officers on the force and 25 former officers, who, by her own standard, merit a spot on her list. These officers had been found by the department to have lied or broken the law in the last 10 years, though the data did not include the underlying facts behind every sustained charge.

Rollins on Tuesday said she was surprised and dismayed to learn that the Globe had records of officers that should have been in her database. She said she has requested information from the department and been told “we need to explain our process.”

“They have not flat-out said no,” said Rollins. “But they have not worked to voluntarily give us much of anything.”

She said she planned to speak with department officials to iron out a better system moving forward, and would not move too fast, but that she had not ruled out simply issuing a subpoena.

Boston police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle said the department had been fully forthcoming with Rollins, though he declined to say what information the department had supplied to her office.

“We’ve cooperated with her,” Boyle said. “You’d have to ask her what we didn’t provide because we’ve cooperated with her.”

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Rollins said she had no idea there were additional officers with sustained internal allegations for lying or breaking the law, and requested the Globe’s list.

The Globe spent more than two months compiling a decade’s worth of internal affairs complaints, combing through thousands of pages of written punishment records and analyzing reams of police data.

Officers working for the department as of last month who were left off the DA’s list include: an officer who drove his car drunk into a Boston police evidence management building in 2012; an officer fired in 2017 after police found explosives in his home and reinstated after a civil service hearing; and a lieutenant fired in 2017 for abandoning his car in the middle of the road after crashing it into a backhoe removing snow following a night of barhopping, then rehired after arbitration.

The department also has 26 internal affairs cases pending that contain at least one allegation that an officer broke the law, and 14 cases pending that contain at least one allegation that an officer lied. Those officers would meet Rollins’s criteria for inclusion on her database. The police department has not released those officers' names, so it is unclear if any of those officers actually appear on Rollins’s list.

Rollins’s list does include the name of the captain, John “Jack” Danilecki, that she read about in June, whose case spurred a meeting with police officials.

Peter Elikann, a longtime defense attorney in Massachusetts, said lists like the ones Rollins released, often referred to as “Brady lists” after the Supreme Court decision, are vital to the integrity of the judicial system — as long as they are thoughtfully and thoroughly compiled.

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“A Brady list is such a powerful instrument that can either free an innocent person or unfairly harm a police officer’s reputation, so it’s incumbent it be as accurate and comprehensive as possible,” said Elikann. “If there was ever a situation where a Brady list is published, and yet it is incomplete, it’s a great injustice and truly doesn’t serve the purpose a Brady list is supposed to.”

Rollins said the database it published is a “living document,” and that officers will be added and subtracted as more information becomes available.

“This disclosure ... is the first step in many moving forward in what I am going to be requiring from Boston Police in order for me to feel confident saying I know what is happening with respect to officers we are putting on the stand to help us sustain our burden to help take away someone’s liberty,” said Rollins Tuesday. “Right now, I don’t feel confident saying that.”

Attorney Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said Rollins’s list was a step in the right direction, even if it is not complete. Publishing the list, even with omissions or errors, makes it possible to correct mistakes, he said.

“It’s counties where the lists aren’t public where these kinds of revisions are less possible,” Segal said. “It can be true that the list can use some improving, and it’s also true that the fact that it’s been made public makes improving it possible.”

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Vernal Coleman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen. Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.