Maybe it was the time in 1997 when Springfield Detective Gregg Bigda stood idly by as a fellow officer kicked a Black man in the face.
Or the three state court criminal cases where judges concluded that Bigda provided false testimony.
Or, in 2016, when Bigda kicked a handcuffed Latino teenager in the head, let a police dog mangle another teen, and yelled, “Welcome to the white man’s world.”
Or perhaps the videotaped interrogation that followed that beating, featuring threats by Bigda to plant drugs on the 16-year-old he’d kicked, crush his skull, and take him out in the parking lot to kill him.
Whatever the reason, this much is clear: Officials in Springfield do not want Gregg Bigda back in a police uniform ever again.
The mayor of the city, already struggling to reform the department under a federal consent decree, has said there is “no place for him on the force.” The current police commissioner has publicly called his “moral character” into question.
But there seems no stopping Gregg Bigda. Though he hasn’t done any police work since 2018 after his long string of alleged abuses essentially spurred a Justice Department investigation into his department, the disgraced detective is still on the city’s payroll. He’s set to receive $83,616 this year alone, all while suing the city for damages, including funds lost from hypothetical lost overtime and private detail pay.
Springfield officials claim they have no way to fire him and make it hold up. Their last, best hope is that a relatively new state commission created to address police misconduct will end the Bigda saga once and for all, stripping him of his ability to work in Springfield’s department, or any department nationwide.
The Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission — created in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020 — was meant to weed out bad actors like Bigda from policing. Massachusetts was one of the few states in the country without such an authority. On paper, it has the power to revoke the certification of any of the state’s more than 21,000 police officers, registering their names in a federal portal that should bar them from ever serving in law enforcement again.
But more than two years in, the Massachusetts commission has hardly used this power. Just one officer, John Donnelly, a Woburn patrolman who helped organize the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., has been permanently decertified.
Many documented police offenders in Massachusetts idle in a certification limbo like Bigda, kept out of service but afforded a salary and benefits. His case has been pending for months. Each day, the 29-year veteran inches closer toward notching 30 years of service and collecting the sizable pension that accompanies the milestone.
“I hope to hell he’s still not here a year from now but at this point who knows,” said Springfield City Solicitor John Payne. “The mayor and the superintendent are exasperated by the fact that we can’t get this thing resolved.”
Bigda’s case illuminates the slowness and relative inefficacy of the commission overall, as well as the cursory and limited nature of its recently released database of problematic officers. The “officer disciplinary records database” was heralded as bringing a shade of transparency to the normally murky world of police misconduct. But its grand reveal in late August raised more questions than it answered.
Bidga was one of over 2,000 officers reported by his department as racking up at least one sustained complaint in the last few decades. But with just three allegations in the database, he does not appear as a particularly bad actor upon first glance. Others are listed with upward of 10. . Certainly, nothing in the database would suggest his own commissioner and city are begging for his decertification. Or that he has averaged nearly two complaints a year since 2000. Or that Springfield has weathered at least eightlawsuits centered on Bigda’s alleged abuses, paying out $979,500 to plaintiffs between 2013 and 2023.
Bigda’s police union, IBPO Local 364, did not respond to a request for comment from the Globe. Neither did his attorney, Donald C. Keavany Jr. The Police Department directed inquiries to Payne.
The names and cases contained in the POST database run the gamut from severe to small. One officer poked another in the forehead with his finger. A handful were cited for “rudeness.” Others were accused of assault and battery, sexual assault, drinking alcohol on duty, and making racist comments. Generally, though, the details are scant.
Take, for example, Bigda’s most high-profile misstep — a February 2016 incident that sparked a federal indictment. Simply describing the incident as “other/criminal misconduct” does little to underscore the complexity and gravity of the complaint.
In truth, that wild night began with a Springfield officer stopping to pick up an order from a pizzeria. He left his cruiser idling outside the shop and a group of teens hopped inside and took the car for a joyride into nearby Palmer.
Bigda caught word of the theft, gave chase, and arrested two of the teens. The brutality of those arrests — Bigda broke one boy’s nose and taunted: “Welcome to the white man’s world” — shocked another responding detective from nearby Wilbraham and he lodged a complaint of excessive force against Bigda.
The Springfield Police Department investigated and then-commissioner John Barbieri handed Bigda a 60-day suspension for his conduct that night. Critics lambasted him for letting the detective off easy. Barbieri countered with the claim that he did not think the termination of Bigda would have survived an appeal.
By contract, police unions can often contest firings before a group of arbitrators that historically rules in favor of the dismissed officer. Arbitrators reduced or overturned police officer discipline in 52 percent of cases analyzed nationwide in a 2020 study by Stephen Rushin, a Loyola University Chicago School of Law researcher.
This arbitration system is widespread across Massachusetts and a grave frustration for department brass and advocates for police accountability. The well-documented obstacle to meaningful discipline instills a feeling of resignation in police chiefs, who often view termination as a Pyrrhic act, not worth the hassle or financial toll because of the likely reversed outcome.
“There are so many fights with the union you don’t take on,” said Daniel J. Oates, the former police chief of Miami Beach, Fla., and Aurora, Colo. “You can’t do all the arbitrations you want to do because you can’t risk losing all the time. The odds are stacked so overwhelmingly against you. You put your leadership, reputation, and ethical standard on the line.”
It’s possible Barbieri’s calculus would have changed if the video of Bigda interrogating the teens after their arrest had been made public earlier.
The officer spent hours with the teens inside a holding cell at the Palmer police station. Video cameras captured most of the vulgar interaction. In one clip, Bigda calls one of the teens a “f***ing c*** sucking piss piece of s***.” He assumes that the other does not know who his father is. He threatens to bring both back to the Springfield police station where the holding cells don’t have cameras to record the next interrogation.
“When we hit that f***ing [city] line, I’m going to bloody your body,” he tells one of the teens. “If anything happens to you at my place, it never happened. If I don’t write it in the report, it never f***ing happened. Do you want this to be the worst day of your life?”
But the Springfield commissioner told the media he did not see the video until the fall of 2016, well after the window to fire Bigda had passed. The Springfield police officers’ collective bargaining agreement stipulates that an officer can only be fired within 90 days of the date of the offense, a provision common in police union contracts across the state.
“These agreements create a system in which police officers that are investigated for misconduct are done so under a process that is way more favorable to police officers than the general public,” said Ben Grunwald, a professor of criminal law at Duke University.
Interviews about misconduct, per typical union rules, must take place during working hours. They must be for “reasonable periods,” allowing time for calls, meals, and rest. Sometimes, a contract will mandate a delay before an officer is interviewed about alleged misconduct — colloquially known as a “cooling-off period” — or require investigators to provide officers with access to evidence before beginning the interview.
Those types of provisions often let investigations into complaints against officers end without any discipline at all. A Globe analysis of citizen complaints against Boston police officers between 2016 and 2020 revealed that the department’s internal affairs investigators sustained the allegations just 11 percent of the time. Those involving use of force were sustained about 3 percent of the time.
The POST Commission database, notably, only includes those rare “sustained” complaints against officers, effectively understating the full slate of misconduct allegations levied against an officer.
As such, Bigda has just three sustained complaints linked to him in the database, despite behavior that has sparked 31 complaints in total from 2000 to 2018, according to court records. Almost half included allegations of physical force.
Experts told the Globe that was an alarmingly high number to log in less than two decades. By way of comparison, a University of Pennsylvania analysis of all complaints across the Chicago Police Department in 2021 revealed that, on average, officers generated 1.5 total complaints and 0.2 use of force complaints in a five-year period.
By the time Bigda returned to the force after his 60-day suspension, the interrogation video had been widely circulated online by the Springfield Republican newspaper. With that notoriety, his mere involvement in a case became enough to blight entire criminal prosecutions, resulting in several reduced sentences or outright dismissals.
One drug suspect who was facing up to 30 years in prison on drug trafficking charges was released on time served. Why? Bigda was the primary witness for the prosecution, according to court records, and would surely have withering cross-examination about his record and character.
Bigda was indicted federally for falsifying records, abusive interrogation, and excessive force in October 2018, two years after the beating. He was suspended without pay. But by 2021, he’d been acquitted on all charges after jurors found that his conduct was not so egregious that it “shocks the conscience.” The ruling meant he was entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars of back pay. And reinstatement to the force.
The former narcotics detective received $232,443 in 2022, according to payroll records. But the city has refused to budge on the latter provision and has continued to withhold a badge from Bigda ever since.
The Springfield Police Department has a troubled history and a reputation sullied by a litany of excessive force, domestic abuse, and child rape cases throughout the last decade.
That history, coupled with Bigda’s misconduct in 2016, was a key reason the Justice Department placed the 500-member department under federal consent decree in 2022, a multiyear reform process also imposed on 13 other troubled departments across the nation. Other cities under consent decree include Ferguson, Mo., where police killed an 18-year-old Michael Brown, and Baltimore, where Freddie Gray died from injuries sustained while in police custody.
Amid the federal scrutiny, placing Bigda back in uniform, on patrol or desk duty, as he has demanded, has seemed out of the question to city officials.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place, left with the problem trying to figure out what to do with this guy because, quite frankly, we can’t put him back in on the street,” said Payne, the city solicitor. “Any case he touches would really be fretted in court due to his lack of credibility.”
The city fears that if it were to terminate Bigda he would contest the firing through an arbitration hearing that would ultimately rule in his favor. Then the city would have no choice but to put Bigda back in uniform.
The POST Commission is perhaps the city’s one last avenue of reprieve. The commission took steps to decertify Bigda in late May. But for now his status remains under review, pending a series of hearings. He and his lawyers will get a chance to appeal. When asked by the Globe, the commission declined to provide a timeline for when it expects the process to be complete.
“All we can do is hope they get there sooner rather than later,” said Payne.
In the meantime, Bigda remains steadfast. In late June, he sued the city, alleging that the mayor and superintendent have conspired to “threaten, intimidate and coerce” him into resigning from his job. The lawsuit filed in US District Court seeks unspecified damages for alleged violations of Bigda’s civil rights, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and other counts.
The city countersued. In addition to documenting Bidga’s financial liability to the city, its lawsuit details a number of previously unknown allegations against Bigda. The city said that twice, in 2006, he was accused of violent excessive force. Once, he allegedly mistook an innocent man for a suspect, dragged him from his car, and then beat him in the head and neck. On another occasion, he chased a man to his mother’s apartment, where he then broke down the door, choked the suspect, kicked him, and broke his jaw.
But neither complaint appears in the POST Commission’s misconduct database. Springfield investigators found them to be “not sustained.”
Globe reporter Laura Crimaldi contributed to this report.