Metro

Detective accused of aiding drug dealer no longer on Somerville force

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced Wednesday that he had fired Detective Dante DiFronzo.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced Wednesday that he had fired Detective Dante DiFronzo.

A veteran police detective accused of helping a purported drug dealer find a rival, who was then robbed and nearly stabbed to death, no longer works for the department, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said Wednesday.

City officials declined to discuss the terms of the detective’s departure.

“The residents of Somerville must have confidence that the sworn men and women of the Somerville Police Department will not only protect public safety but also discharge their duties with the utmost integrity,” Curtatone said in a statement. “As mayor, I have a duty to maintain that excellence by holding accountable officers who violate the department’s standards of conduct.”

Advertisement

Detective Dante DiFronzo’s lawyer said he was dismissed Monday from the department following a disciplinary hearing that examined his actions three years ago, when DiFronzo’s street source and an accomplice allegedly stormed into the home of a man accused of stealing the street source’s marijuana and assaulted him.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Timothy Burke, DiFronzo’s lawyer, said the dismissal followed a biased hearing process presided over by a lawyer who was hired by the city. Burke said DiFronzo would appeal the dismissal to an arbitrator, who will be picked by both DiFronzo and city officials.

“We certainly do and will have input into the selection of a neutral and objective fact-finder through the arbitration process,” Burke said.

On March 2, 2015, DiFronzo’s street source, Jonathan Machado, allegedly threatened one man in the home with a machete while his accomplice stabbed Machado’s rival eight times and left him bleeding on the living room floor, according to internal city documents obtained by the Globe through a public records request.

Machado was indicted May 3 in Middlesex Superior Court on charges of home invasion, armed robbery, and assault and battery. DiFronzo had been on paid administrative leave since September 2016, when city officials said they learned from Middlesex prosecutors that DiFronzo and Machado shared texts about how to find Machado’s rival the day before the stabbing.

Advertisement

Burke said the department targeted DiFronzo, a 10-year veteran of the force and a 44-year-old father of three who had no disciplinary record and had twice been named officer of the year. Burke said DiFronzo frequently had complained to “anybody who would listen” about what he saw as the city’s pattern of promoting officers with serious disciplinary infractions.

“It’s important to point out that . . . Detective DiFronzo has been an outspoken critic of actions taken and not taken by the Somerville Police Department regarding misconduct by other officers who were either family, friends, or favored members of the department,” Burke said.

Burke said that DiFronzo wrote to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office in December 2017 about attempts to promote a sergeant to lieutenant even as he was facing a criminal investigation.

Healey’s office told DiFronzo they would be unable to look into his allegations because of a “lack of investigative resources,” Burke said.

In a statement, Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for Healey, said “The AG’s Office declined to open an investigation after a review of the materials provided. We carefully review every allegation that comes to our office.”

Advertisement

The investigation into DiFronzo raised questions about the often-murky relationship between officers and street informants, whom police are encouraged to cultivate to help solve crimes and who are often criminals themselves.

‘The lack of an existing formal investigation procedure, developed before we’re confronted by disturbing incidents, is troubling.’

DiFronzo said he told Machado not to hurt his rival, whom DiFronzo had been trying to track because the detective suspected he had been involved in a home invasion.

The case also led to friction between the city and prosecutors in the Middlesex district attorney’s office, who told city officials they could not investigate DiFronzo, citing a conflict of interest because he had worked closely with several senior prosecutors, according to the internal documents. A spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said DiFronzo was also a witness in the ongoing case against Machado.

Middlesex referred the case to the attorney general’s office, which ultimately declined to charge DiFronzo.

City officials said they felt “abandoned” by Middlesex prosecutors, who also declined to testify in the hearing against DiFronzo. The spokeswoman for the Middlesex DA told the Globe the office does not participate in other agencies’ personnel matters.

Ryan, who is up for reelection, was criticized Wednesday by her opponent, Democrat Donna Patalano, who said the case showed the need for an official policy that explains how prosecutors choose which cases of alleged police misconduct to investigate.

“The lack of an existing formal investigation procedure, developed before we’re confronted by disturbing incidents, is troubling,” Patalano said. “A written protocol for investigations involving conflicts of interest and officer-involved use-of-force is a best practice. Such a policy protects both the public and law enforcement because it provides a credible, transparent process for all parties.”

Ryan’s office declined to comment on that statement.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.