DEDHAM — An attorney for a Milton police officer under investigation for allegedly directing a racist rant at a Black teenager and Hispanic teenager is seeking a secret, closed-door court hearing to decide whether she should face criminal charges.
Beth Cook, an assistant clerk magistrate in Dedham District Court, turned down the attorney’s request Tuesday to hold the hearing behind closed doors for the officer, whose name has been kept under wraps.
“I believe the public interest outweighs the privacy factor," Cook said Tuesday. “It is my intent to open this hearing.”
But attorney Douglas Louison, who represents the officer, said he intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that his client is entitled to privacy while the court considers whether she should be prosecuted. Police in Westwood and Milton launched investigations into the incident that allegedly took place last month at her home in Westwood.
The court proceeding has been tabled for now, until the SJC takes up the appeal.
Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, The Boston Globe asked the court to make the proceeding public, saying the public has an interest in how the judicial system handles requests to issue criminal charges against police officers. The Globe noted that Milton police publicly announced the officer had been placed on paid administrative leave and the case has been reported on by local media. Still, secrecy surrounds the incident.
Cook acknowledged that one allegation involves a “racial hate crime by someone whose job is to maintain public order.” The officer also faces an accusation that she assaulted her own husband during the incident on Sept. 19, according to Louison.
“I believe the privacy interest outweighs the perception of public interest,” Louison said. The case involves an off-duty incident in which the officer’s police powers did not play a role, he said.
Risa King, the mother of a 14-year-old Black boy, has said Westwood police officers began investigating after she reported that the officer, who is white, aimed racist criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement at her son and a 14-year-old Hispanic boy who were at the officer’s Westwood home for a sleepover. The officer is also the mother of two teenage boys.
King declined to comment Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Westwood police denied the Globe’s request for records about the incident on the grounds the investigation was ongoing. On Tuesday, the department said it would reconsider whether the records could be released. The Department of Children and Families also said it is investigating, but declined to provide details.
Show-cause hearings historically have been held behind closed doors, though clerk magistrates are authorized to allow the public to attend if they find the case involves a public official and matter of public interest.
The proceedings are held when a person has not been arrested by police, but is accused by law enforcement or, in some instances, a member of the public of committing a crime. Clerk magistrates can take testimony from witnesses and then decide whether to issue criminal charges. Massachusetts is the only state with such a system.