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EDITORIAL

BPD foot-dragging on Jan. 6 probe hits new lengths

A Boston cop out on medical leave for more than a year has gone from D.C. rally to anti-vax activist.

BPD Officer Joe Abasciano (center, with beard and olive-green hat) protested in January with opponents of the City of Boston’s vaccine mandate, in front of the State House on Beacon Street, demanding the end to the policy.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Joe Abasciano doesn’t seem to think the usual rules apply to him.

If he were just any civilian, that might not matter. But he happens to be a Boston police officer and, in a department that’s been beset by rule-breakers lately, one more embarrassment isn’t what it needs.

Abasciano has been under investigation by the department for more than a year in connection with his involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection and a Twitter rant against Vice President Mike Pence.

Despite the fact that he has been out on paid medical leave since 20 days after that insurrection, he has been well enough to attend an anti-vaccination rally at the State House this January and go knocking on the locked door of his own police union with other protesters, again demonstrating against COVID-19 vaccine mandates for city employees.

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And while the taxpayers continue to foot the bill for his salary and benefits (his base pay in 2020 was $96,890), Abasciano has moved to a horse farm in Milton, N.H., about a hundred miles from the city he is alleged to be serving.

At what point does someone — the acting police commissioner, Mayor Michelle Wu, her Office of Police Accountability and Transparency — demand an explanation of how and why an investigation goes on forever and medical leave becomes the gift that keeps on giving?

The department opened an investigation into Abasciano, a 14-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, back in January 2021, after he was identified as Twitter user @mailboxjoe — an account since closed. It was there that he posted photos of the Jan. 6 crowds and called it a “day for choosing.” He accused Pence of treason for certifying the election of Joe Biden, tweeting, “I hope you never sleep well again.

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“[Y]our treasonous Act lead [sic] to the murder of an innocent girl [presumably Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by Capitol Police] and the death of America.”

Before the month was over, Abasciano was out on medical leave.

Boston Police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle told the Globe editorial board that privacy rules prevented him from disclosing the nature of Abasciano’s medical condition, adding, “But I can tell you he is going to doctors. . . . The way this works is, you periodically come in for doctors’ appointments with the department doctor and also see your own physician.”

Either could clear Abasciano for a return to, say, desk duty. But that has not happened either. Boyle did not know when Abasciano’s last department check-in occurred.

The original Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association contract also gives the commissioner the authority to demand a physician’s certificate for any extended illness.

It was in that same contract that the BPPA won the right for its members to be exempt from the city’s residency rules after 10 years of service. Boyle said that 2013 legislative changes to the civil service laws removed a cap on the distance public safety personnel could live from the city, and the department has since interpreted that collective bargaining agreement to permit out-of-state residency once that 10-year mark has been reached.

Of course, woe to those who haven’t yet cleared the 10-year hurdle, like Officer Matthew P. Morrissey, who was put under surveillance last October by the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards, which suspected he actually lived over the city line, in Milton. Morrissey didn’t take kindly to the surveillance and now faces criminal charges of intimidating and harassing the superior officer assigned to investigate him.

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Clearly, Abasciano doesn’t have a problem with the 100-mile commute back into Boston to pursue his current political cause of opposition to vaccine mandates.

Meanwhile, that internal affairs investigation about Abasciano’s conduct on and around Jan. 6 remains open, according to Boyle. Last May, Acting Commissioner Gregory Long told a meeting of the City Council he expected the probe to conclude “in the next couple of weeks.”

Ten months later, there’s still no resolution in sight. There’s still no determination if Abasciano was simply exercising his First Amendment rights or engaging in something more sinister. More than 725 people in 50 states have already been charged by federal authorities. That included some members of law enforcement. Police departments in Seattle, Florida, Houston, Virginia, and Pennsylvania conducted similar investigations of department members — now long since concluded. Isn’t it time the BPD put this mess in its rearview mirror?

And surely the city’s Office of Police Accountability and Transparency should play a role. But its Internal Affairs Oversight Panel apparently doesn’t get the case until after the BPD’s Internal Affairs Division finishes up — making its watchdog role something of a lapdog to the existing closed-door process. An agency charged with police transparency should be about more than data dashboards.

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For a mayor who promised both a rebuilding of the “culture and structure” at the BPD, the Abrasciano case looks a lot like the same old, same old.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.