Leaders of a statewide police union say their Florida-based parent organization staged a coup, ousted them, installed a new leader, and froze their bank account — all because they considered disaffiliating.
Now, three former leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, which represents 4,000 officers in 156 municipalities — primarily small towns — have filed a lawsuit against the International Union of Police Associations, which represents about 100,000 law enforcement employees in the United States and its territories. Mass COP does not represent officers in major cities like Boston, Worcester, Cambridge and Lowell, but does have MBTA Transit Police as members.
The plaintiffs say the international union, to which the Massachusetts coalition pays more than $200,000 in annual dues, is preventing its three leaders from running a 24-hour hot line for officers with urgent legal questions, paying the union’s attorneys, and running a benevolent fund for officers killed or injured on the job.
“This entire affair has nothing to do with what’s good for Mass COP’s members — it’s about what’s good for IUPA and its cash flow,” attorneys representing the ousted Massachusetts officers wrote in the lawsuit. “Mass COP represents one of IUPA’s largest locals, and it’s playing hardball in an attempt to preserve the flow of funds. Good faith is lacking, and federal law permits administratorship only in good faith.”
Attorneys for the two unions did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Mass COP has been affiliated with the International Union of Police Associations since its founding in 1979, according to the complaint.
The case dates to mid-October, when Mass COP leaders notified the international union that they would talk about possible disaffiliation at a meeting Nov. 14, according to the complaint. The complaint did not discuss the local union’s possible reasons for leaving the international group.
The international’s president, Sam A. Cabral, responded in an Oct. 16 letter, saying “there will be representatives present from the International at your upcoming meeting.”
But two days before the meeting, Cabral declared that an “emergency situation” required him to put Mass COP into administratorship, attorneys for the Mass COP leaders say in the suit. He stripped three leaders of their union titles: president Scott A. Hovsepian, a Waltham police officer; first vice president John E. Nelson, of the Peabody Police Department; and secretary and treasurer Robert W. Murphy, a retired Brookline police sergeant.
In a letter filed with the complaint, Cabral claimed Mass COP leaders underreported their membership by about 300 people to pay lower per-capita dues.
That day, Nov. 12, Cabral appointed an emergency administrator, who went to a Wellesley branch of Brookline Bank and, letter in hand, froze the group’s account, according to the complaint. The letter also ordered the bank to no longer allow Hovsepian, Nelson or Murphy to access the union’s funds, court records show.
Mass COP’s leaders had not seen the orders and were “entirely unaware of what IUPA was up to,” attorneys wrote.
The next day, the newly appointed administrator sent an e-mail to Mass COP’s 17 local vice presidents cancelling the Nov. 14 meeting and telling them Hovsepian, Nelson, and Murphy were removed because of “improper actions.”
Since then, the Massachusetts union’s actions have all but ground to a halt, lawyers said.
“A single administrator . . . cannot possibly provide the level of service, management, oversight, and guidance to Mass COP and its members that Secretary/Treasurer Murphy, First Vice President Nelson, and President Hovsepian do,” attorneys for the three wrote in their complaint.
“In their roles for Mass COP, they confront important and at times life-threatening issues on a regular basis,” attorneys wrote. “If the administratorship is allowed to continue, Mass COP members will suffer — irreversibly.”
The International Union of Police Associations had not on Monday filed a response to the complaint.
Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-929-2043.