Take away this bully’s badge
MEDFORD — Stephen LeBert is a roadside bully.
Actually, he’s worse than that. He’s a bully with a badge and a gun. And his days as a member of the Medford Police Department must be numbered. It’s hard to imagine Mayor Michael J. McGlynn welcoming him back to the police force after what he did on High Street here on Sunday night.
LeBert is the police officer — excuse me, “a [expletive] Medford detective” — who encountered motorist Michael A. Coates in a rotary here, when a confused Coates entered the rotary the wrong way, nearly hitting the off-duty LeBert head-on, according to the officer.
LeBert then tailgated Coates, 25, with his high beams on, Coates’s lawyer said, before the 30-year police force veteran — dressed in shorts and a white T-shirt — angrily confronted Coates.
What happened next is not exactly what they teach you at the police academy.
“I’ll put a hole right through your [expletive] head,’’ LeBert, enraged and out of control, said during the encounter captured by Coates’s dashboard camera. “Pull your car over. I’ll put a hole right in your [expletive] head. I’ll put a hole right through your head.’’
What a great guy, just the officer you’d like your wife or mother or your niece or nephew to see after they’ve made a mistake behind the wheel.
Actually, that’s exactly what Harry MacGilvray, president of the Medford Police Patrolmen’s Association, called LeBert: A good guy, a good cop. “If something happened to you in your home, he’s the guy you’d want to investigate,’’ MacGilvray said.
Police Chief Leo Sacco said the same thing. But Sacco knows, too, the other side of LeBert. He recognizes the guy who showed up at Michael Coates’s car window Sunday night. There were warning signs for years, Sacco said, and he didn’t heed them. Just Stevie being Stevie, he thought.
“There have been people who’ve complained about LeBert for being rude, discourteous, and bullying,’’ said Sacco, chief here for 25 years. “I don’t condone what he did and I can’t justify it. You don’t have to be loud. You don’t have to be obnoxious.’’
And then Sacco did something of which too few public officials seem capable. He accepted responsibility. “I let LeBert down. And I let the whole profession down because I didn’t correct the action that led to what happened on Sunday night,’’ Sacco said. “This incident makes us look like a bunch of rogues who don’t have their act together. We’re so much better than that.’’
Sacco is a proud son of Medford. His father, Leo Sacco Sr., was a Medford cop for 35 years, retiring as a detective lieutenant. His son, Leo Sacco 3d, just made sergeant on the force. So this hurts. “It sets us back tremendously,’’ said the chief, who holds a law degree from Suffolk University. “This is not what we’re about.’’
LeBert’s disciplinary record is hardly stellar, and the records show multiple suspensions for misconduct. Coates’s lawyer, Kristin Muniz declined to discuss her client’s driving record.
But Sacco said it’s irrelevant. Nothing excuses or explains LeBert’s conduct after Coates got confused at a rotary that Sacco acknowledged is confusing. “We’re going to improve the markings,’’ he told me when he drove me there Thursday.
Muniz said Coates will provide investigators with the video. “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you need a dashcam to protect you from the police,’’ she said.
Maybe Michael Coates, who is expected to be interviewed by internal affairs investigators on Tuesday, is a not a great driver. Maybe he gets confused easily.
But Stephen LeBert represents something far worse than a motorist who gets lost in a confounding intersection.
He’s a bully with a badge.
“He’s out there by himself on an island right now, not knowing what is going to happen to him,’’ Sacco said.
Mayor McGlynn should exile LeBert to that island. He should make sure LeBert doesn’t get his badge back so he can never again wave it at a confused driver — and then threaten to shoot him in the head.
Thomas Farragher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.