CANTON — A day after residents here voted to have the town’s police force audited, police Chief Helena Rafferty said she welcomed the outside review, saying it will “end the wild speculation” over the department’s handling of a high-profile murder investigation that has spurred widespread controversy.
With tensions high over the ongoing prosecution of Karen Read, who is charged with running over her boyfriend with her car outside a Canton home after a night of drinking in January 2022, voters at an hourslong Town Meeting approved $200,000 to hire an independent consulting firm “to proceed with an administrative, policy, procedures and compliance review” of the Police Department. The vote was 903 to 800.
Rafferty, who has been chief since July 2022, said that while she thought the audit was unnecessary and that “the funds could be spent for more school resource officers or a plethora of other safety measures,” she said it would “end the wild speculation about our Police Department and demonstrate to everyone that the Citizens of Canton should be proud of our dedicated officers.”
Read, 43, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, motor vehicle manslaughter while driving impaired, and leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury and death. She is free on $50,000 bail.
Prosecutors allege after arguing with John O’Keefe, a Boston police officer, Read made a three-point turn to leave the home, hit O’Keefe with her SUV, and left him to die. Around 6 a.m. the next morning, she found his unconscious body in a snowbank during a blizzard.
Read’s lawyers have asserted that O’Keefe, 46, was beaten in the basement of the Canton home owned by a fellow Boston police officer, Sergeant Brian Albert, and that Albert’s family dog, a German shepherd, scratched O’Keefe’s right arm during the struggle. Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey’s office, which is prosecuting the case, has dismissed the claims as baseless.
On Tuesday, Morrissey said that while the audit will likely discover that the department is underfunded, it won’t answer questions about how the Read case was handled. District attorneys oversee all homicide investigations and police in Canton asked State Police to take over the Read investigation as soon as they realized O’Keefe’s body had been found at the home of Albert, whose brother, Kevin, works for the Canton Police Department, Morrissey said.
“Canton, in an abundance of caution, called State Police early on,” he said. “How many departments do you know who recognized early on they have a potential conflict and take a step back as quick as they did? I have to hand it to them . . . they wanted to recuse themselves from the case — and they did.”
Morrissey said the most important role local police played in the investigation took place in the minutes after he was found.
“I feel bad for the department when some people are so critical of their work,” he said. “I think they did yeoman’s work in a blizzard to try to save the guy’s life and get him to the hospital. That was their primary concern, to try to save this guy’s life.”
Read’s lawyers have claimed that law enforcement officials conspired to frame her for the killing and that O’Keefe likely died inside the Albert home.
The defense has also questioned the personal connections between State Police Trooper Michael Proctor, a key investigator, and Jennifer McCabe, Brian Albert’s sister-in-law.
Last week, a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that McCabe’s phone records for 24 hours on the day O’Keefe was killed must be turned over to Read’s lawyers. The lawyers contend that a Google search using the phrase “hos [sic] long to die in cold” was conducted at 2:27 a.m. on McCabe’s phone — about four hours before Read, McCabe, and a third woman discovered O’Keefe’s body.
Prosecutors have said the time stamp for that search is not accurate.
Aidan Kearney, a blogger known as Turtleboy with a wide following, has amplifed the defense’s claims and brought intense scrutiny to the case. He was charged last month by a special prosecutor for allegedly harassing multiple witnesses in the Read case. Kearney has pleaded not guilty to all charges and said he is under attack for exposing a corrupt law enforcement.
In Canton, residents said the controversy around the investigation has split the town into opposing camps. Many declined to be quoted by name because they feared how their neighbors would react.
“The town is completely divided, split down the middle on this issue,” said Kim, 53, who asked that her last name not be published.
Kim, who has lived in Canton for 23 years, said she was at Monday’s Town Meeting and supported the investigation because she has many unanswered questions.
“I want to know what happened,” she said. “The majority of the town came out last night because we just want to know, what’s the truth of what happened? Was he hit by the car? Or was she framed?”
Peter Neville, 68, also voted in favor of the investigation.
“There’s too much back and forth to not really take a hard look at whether or not — I don’t necessarily believe there’s malfeasance or anything like that, but hey, why don’t we find out for sure?” he asked.
Frank Kelly, who grew up in Canton and owns a local pub, said he has been hearing the speculation about O’Keefe’s death from patrons for months but did not attend Monday’s meeting because he now lives in Sharon.
Kelly said he supports the Canton police and would have voted against the investigation. After hearing what Read’s attorneys and supporters allege happened that night, he is waiting for prosecutors to present all their evidence at trial.
“Quite honestly, we’ve only heard pretty much one side of the story,” he said. “We haven’t heard the other side because the prosecution, obviously, they’re holding things tight to the vest, as they well should. We’ve got to hear both sides of the story before we can make up our mind what really happened.”