The Massachusetts State Police trooper who fired his rifle last weekend in a confrontation with bikers has admitted writing a series of racist and profane online comments that sparked public outcry, his lawyer said Friday.
State Police officials suspended Trooper Matthew Sheehan, a 13-year veteran of the department, without pay Friday for writing the controversial, divisive posts.
Sheehan had already been on paid leave in the wake of the shooting last Saturday in which he wounded a Cape Verdean ATV driver.
Sheehan’s attorney, Richard Rafferty, said Friday that Sheehan was being treated unfairly, noting that more senior State Police officials had been allowed to remain on the payroll, or retire with full pensions, while under investigation for misconduct.
“Here, we have a knee-jerk reaction by a colonel under political pressure to suspend a trooper without pay, virtually putting him and his family on the street, all without an investigation into the allegations of comments made in a chat room,” Rafferty said in a released statement.
The Globe first reported Thursday that Sheehan, 49, has a long history of posting racist and profane comments on the Masscops.com website, including some in support of police officers who shoot suspects. The story sparked immediate reaction and calls for Sheehan’s termination.
“Note to [expletive] scumbags!” Sheehan wrote, under the moniker Big Irish, in a July 2012 posting about an incident in Worcester in which a state trooper shot and killed a man who allegedly drove at him. “You try and run us over and you will die!!!! Good shoot ALL DAY LONG!!!!!!!”
State Police spokesman David Procopio said, “The tone and content of the posts in question are offensive and are contrary to the standards of conduct expected by the State Police of its members.” Procopio said the department will take further action, if warranted, after the internal investigation is complete
A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker said Baker finds the posts “deplorable and believes there is no place for this language in the state police or in public discourse.”
Sheehan sprinkled his posts as Big Irish with biographical information that the Globe verified as Sheehan’s, including his birthday, hometown, and work history. He mentioned taking a Globe reporter on a ride-along and was photographed for the story. Two people with knowledge of the situation also identified Sheehan as Big Irish. On Friday, he acknowledged writing the posts.
Sheehan earned $233,351 including overtime and other pay in 2016, according to public records.
Also on Friday, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, urged the governor and State Police to terminate Sheehan immediately.
“Trooper Sheehan is a danger to the community. His history of inflammatory racist language and improper use of force pose a threat to public safety,” attorney Sophia L. Hall said in a news release. “There is no justification for discharging a rifle at unarmed people of color on a crowded freeway.”
The Suffolk district attorney’s office is conducting an investigation into the expressway shooting and has interviewed Sheehan. State Police have a pending internal affairs investigation into the online commentary.
Sheehan posted nearly 200 times between 2012 and 2017 on the website, a chat forum for law enforcement. He may have thought his comments weren’t public because in one 2014 post he wrote:
“NO FB (Facebook) here!! Get in enough trouble here on my own. Post on screwballs and let people into your lives!!”
In another posting, in 2012, Sheehan said there was “no reason” why a police officer should ask a person to drop their weapon more than once before shooting. In others, he rants about criminals and, often, people of color, using disparaging language, calling them “deadbeats,” “baby’s momma’s,” “gang banging,” “EBT receiving,” “non GED getting,” and “crack smoking.” In another from 2012, in which he imagined a vigil after a police shooting, he referred to attendees as “None of Your Bidzness Rapper’s Delight Association.”
Sheehan fired his rifle Saturday while state troopers and Boston police tried to stop a group of between 25 and 35 people riding dirt bikes and ATVs in and out of traffic and in the wrong direction near the Exit 18 ramp of I-93 South. ATV driver Aderito Monteiro, 28, was wounded in the foot.
Sheehan, who has been a trooper since 2005, is currently assigned to the State Police — Tunnels Barracks. In 2008, he received the Massachusetts State Police Medal of Merit for helping a Gloucester police officer subdue an armed and violent man wanted for attempted murder and kidnapping, according to media reports at the time.
Sheehan has been the subject of five internal affairs complaints between 2011 and 2016, according to public records, including one for profanity and another for using excessive force. The excessive force complaint was found not to have merit. It was unclear Wednesday what the outcome of the profanity complaint was. Three other complaints, the nature of which were unclear, against Sheehan were listed as “filed,” which means no disciplinary action was taken.Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.