Boston police officers accused of crimes face a much kinder, gentler justice system than civilians, according to a new Globe investigation.
Allegations that would likely get anyone else arrested disappear into drawn-out internal affairs investigations that rarely end with criminal charges or firing, even when the department concludes that officers broke the law.
The Globe found dozens of Boston police officers whose legal problems just melted away.
The story focused in part on a 2013 car crash caused by then-Detective Robert Tully, who was driving an unmarked cruiser near his home in suburban Rockland. Tully crossed the centerline and hit a car driven by a nurse coming home from work, sending both of them to the hospital.
Hospital records showed Tully had booze on his breath, was slurring his words, and his blood alcohol content was 2.5 times the legal limit. He was never charged with driving under the influence.
The victim’s father asked Rockland police and the Plymouth District Attorney’s Office to request Tully’s toxicology reports from the hospital, but there is no evidence that they ever did. Boston police also failed to investigate thoroughly.
In reporting the story, the Globe received the following statements from public officials, police, and prosecutors:
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh statement
Any misconduct in the Boston Police Department is wholly unacceptable. The people of Boston deserve to be served by city employees, including police officers, who exhibit the highest levels of integrity, accountability, and good conduct. That is the standard to which I hold myself, and every public servant. Any officer who breaks the law and breaks their community’s trust must be met with swift and thorough action, including discipline and a referral to outside authorities when necessary. It should go without saying that the law must apply equally to all people. As Mayor, I will not tolerate misconduct at our police department, and am taking the action needed to enact systemic reforms to increase transparency and accountability at every level.
Walsh administration statement on the crash and former Detective Robert Tully
The crash occurred on Dec. 11, 2013 in Rockland, MA. At the time of the crash, Detective Robert Tully was assigned to the Boston Police Drug Control Unit, detailed to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Task Force to partner with law enforcement agencies. The Law Department answered the Complaint that Tully was acting under the scope of his employment based on the information that was available to the Law Department when the lawsuit was first filed.
At the time of the crash, a report was filed by the Rockland Police Department. Detective Tully was cited by Rockland Police for a marked lanes violation, which is a civil infraction. There was no mention of alcohol in either the Rockland police report or the Rockland motor vehicle accident report. Apart from Detective Tully, no Boston Police officers were at the scene of the crash, which was handled entirely by the Rockland Police Department.
At the time of the crash and at the time the lawsuit was filed, the City of Boston Legal Department and the Boston Police Department had received no information of alcohol being a factor in the crash on December 11, 2013.
In August 2016, three years after the crash, during the pendency of a civil lawsuit brought by the plaintiff, the City of Boston received additional evidence about the crash. Once the City received this information, it immediately filed a motion to Amend the Answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint and a Third Party Complaint against Robert Tully.
Detective Tully retired from the Boston Police Department on July 11, 2014. The City of Boston and the Boston Police Department do not have a mechanism to stop retirements from happening. Any decisions on retirement payments are made by the Boston Retirement Board, not the City of Boston or the Boston Police Department. The statute is found at GL c 32, s. 15(6).
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross statement
The officers of the Boston Police Department have a duty to serve and protect, and any misconduct in our department will not be tolerated. The actions of these individuals do not represent the hard work and dedication of the thousands of Boston Police Officers who serve their communities with integrity, honor and pride every day. Creating trust in our communities and keeping them safe is our first priority, and I hold our officers to the highest standards. If an officer is involved in any behavior that does not meet our standards, the Boston Police Bureau of Professional Standards will investigate the matter thoroughly, and I will discipline the officer as appropriate, up to and including termination. We are committed to identifying and investigating any conduct that does not uphold our values.
Boston Police Department statement on the crash and former Detective Robert Tully
On information regarding the lawsuit, BPD defers to the City of Boston Legal Department, which handled the case.
This crash occurred outside of the City of Boston’s jurisdiction. When a motor vehicle crash occurs, and an officer is driving a department-issued vehicle, the police officer’s superior conducts an investigation of the crash, inside or outside the City of Boston’s jurisdiction.
When in 2016 additional evidence about the crash came to light, the Boston Police Department opened an Internal Affairs investigation.
Additional Boston Police Department statements
The Boston Police Department holds its officers to the highest standards of integrity. Any wrongdoing by a Boston Police Officer is referred to the Bureau of Professional Standards, which follows a procedure to investigate any violations of the Boston Police Department rules, including any violations of the law.
The Boston Police Department does not have a mechanism to stop officers from retiring while they are under investigation. However, the Boston Retirement Board (a separate entity that administers pension payments for the City of Boston) does have the ability to claw back and/or terminate officers’ pensions if they have been convicted of a crime. Any change for an officer’s pension is at the discretion of the Boston Retirement Board.
The Boston Police Department takes any alleged crimes extremely seriously, and refers crimes for prosecution to the District Attorney and other law enforcement entities in the jurisdiction the alleged crime occurs. Once the Boston Police Department has referred an alleged crime to a prosecutor, it is the responsibility of that prosecutor whether to prosecute the crime. The Boston Police Department does not enter into plea bargain deals, nor does it have jurisdiction over which cases District Attorney and other law enforcement entities choose to prosecute.
The Police Commissioner continues to have open lines of communication with the Suffolk County District Attorney and our state and federal law enforcement partners to enhance accountability and transparency. The Boston Police Department is in frequent contact with the Suffolk DA over active cases being investigated by the Bureau of Professional Standards.
The Commissioner is working closely with the DA to ensure all conformance to laws cases in Bureau of Professional Standards are referred to the DA for prosecution. The Commissioner has directed the Bureau of Professional Standards to review the small number of conformance to laws cases that have not been referred to the DA, and review again whether they should be referred for prosecution.
Moving forward, the Boston Police Department will communicate with the DA or appropriate prosecutor about all conformance to laws cases, and the Bureau of Professional Standards will have regular meetings with the DA about this topic.
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins statement
Most of the thousands of law enforcement officers in Suffolk County are dedicated professionals who provide exemplary service to the communities they serve. But when a law enforcement officer breaks a law, all participants in the system – and the public – should be aware of that. The people of Suffolk County deserve to know that the public officials they rely on for their safety are truly invested in it. Anything less is a betrayal of their trust and our obligation to serve. SCDAO is working with BPD and other agencies to improve communication. The leadership of all Suffolk County law enforcement departments meet regularly. The Globe is doing critical work. It is important to note that most of the cases raised happened years ago and a different administration was in this office. But finality should not supersede justice. That is one reason why we created the LEAD database. If we learn about officers who broke the law, and may no longer be on the force, their credibility as witnesses can and should still be questioned.
A critical focus of my office is on current cases; the increase in gun violence in the city; and assisting the most vulnerable in this pandemic such as victims of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.
Former Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley statement
During my tenure as Suffolk District Attorney, my office prosecuted approximately two dozen police officers, not all from the BPD, who were accused of a wide variety of offenses including domestic violence, operating under the influence and assault charges, among others. Police officers accused of violating the law received no special or preferential treatment from my office. I made prosecutorial decisions based on the facts of the case and the law, and nothing else.
Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz
Did not respond to repeated requests for comment, as well as a request for records related to this case. When reporters visited Cruz’s office, spokeswoman Beth Stone described the crash as a “local matter” and refused to answer questions.
Rockland Police Chief John Llewellyn
Click below to listen to two Globe interviews with Llewellyn.
Rockland Town Administrator Douglas Lapp
Based on my experience working for the Town for the past year-and-a-half, I have 100 percent complete faith in the Rockland Police Department.
US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling
The U.S. Attorney’s Office routinely negotiates resignation as part of plea deals with police officers, as it does with those who hold professional licenses or certain regulatory privileges allowing them to, for example, contract with the government.
With respect to police officers, requiring resignation is in the public interest because it ensures that the officer – now a convicted felon – does not continue to occupy a position of public trust, instead of leaving that issue to internal administrative procedures that vary from department to department. In certain instances, law enforcement officers retire during the pendency of the investigation, or will be terminated following conviction, making the issue moot.
That said, this office avoids getting involved in other collateral matters affected by a police officer’s felony conviction, for example, whether a convicted officer should be allowed to keep his or her pension.
Finally, resignation is not something we allow police officers to use as barter for a more lenient plea deal in a federal criminal case. It is the opposite: because they serve in positions of public trust and swear to uphold the law, we not only seek sentences for convicted police officers that are comparable to those imposed on private citizens for similar crimes, but may also demand that they give up their chosen profession.
More broadly, we negotiate similar professional prohibitions or resignations in plea deals with, for example, lawyers, accountants, medical professionals and senior corporate officers.