The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts — together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and law firm Goulston & Storrs — today filed a lawsuit calling for an investigation into Springfield, Massachusetts police violence and misconduct, as well as the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office’s (HCDAO) failures to investigate and disclose that misconduct.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of people and groups affected by these failures: two individuals who have been prosecuted in Hampden County, two criminal defense lawyers who practice in Hampden County, CPCS itself, and the bar advocate organization Hampden County Lawyers for Justice.
Criminal indictments, community complaints, media reports, and lawsuits reveal widespread misconduct in the Springfield Police Department (SPD). In the Trump administration’s only investigation against a police department, the U.S. Department of Justice released a July 2020 report detailing six years of egregious, excessive force and false reporting by the SPD. The report shows that no entity — including the HCDAO — fulfilled their obligation to properly investigate officers accused of misconduct, or to inform defendants about misconduct by officers who could testify against them.
“As we’ve seen nationwide in recent episodes of police abuse followed by prosecutorial inaction — and as the DOJ’s report confirms — prosecutors and police too often serve and protect each other, instead of the public,” said Somil Trivedi, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project.
“District attorneys have the constitutional and ethical responsibility to investigate police misconduct and disclose that evidence to defendants and their attorneys,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Bay Staters deserve a full investigation to determine the extent of misconduct by Springfield police officers.”
In response to the Massachusetts drug lab scandals, courts have made clear that the commonwealth has a duty to investigate and disclose, on a case-by-case basis, egregious misconduct by government employees who participate as members of prosecution teams. Yet, according to today’s lawsuit, no investigation has been conducted to determine the full scope and impact of misconduct by SPD officers who are central figures in prosecution teams. Nor are there regular and thorough disclosures of the SPD’s misconduct in cases where people are prosecuted based on the word of SPD officers. Instead, the HCDAO has relied on Springfield police to obtain search warrants, bring charges, and secure convictions while inadequately disclosing evidence of officer misconduct to defense attorneys and defendants.
“I have been a public defender in Springfield for three decades, and getting evidence that could help our clients has always been an uphill battle,” said Lawrence W. Madden, Attorney in Charge at CPCS’s Springfield office. “Even after a Department of Justice investigation exposed widespread issues within the SPD, we very rarely get any information on the very officers mentioned in the report. Our clients, the community, and the administration of justice deserve better than this.”
During the drug lab scandals, thousands of people were wrongfully convicted of drug crimes based on faulty evidence and a government cover-up. In response, after years of ACLU litigation, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stepped in to correct the commonwealth’s failure to investigate. According to the new lawsuit, Massachusetts has not implemented the system of investigation, disclosure, and notice developed by the court in the drug lab context.
The ACLU is asking the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to order an investigation into the SPD and provide interim solutions to mitigate any ongoing due process violations in the lower courts. The ACLU is also calling for an investigation into the HCDAO’s practices, which have called into question the integrity of the entire Springfield criminal justice system.
“Our criminal justice system relies on the integrity of police and prosecutors to uphold the constitutional rights of individuals,” said Marty Fantozzi, co-managing director of Goulston & Storrs. “The findings in the DOJ report raise disturbing questions regarding a pattern of behavior within the Springfield Police Department that warrant a comprehensive investigation.”