Three Holyoke Police Officers sue Chief-Civil Service upheld suspensions last year

Three Holyoke police officers who came under fire for their involvement in an off-duty fight are suing Chief Anthony R. Scott, alleging their boss has waged an ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against them.

Patrolmen Joseph H. Wilson, Timothy D. Skwira and Sean C. Shattuck filed a lawsuit against Scott in Hampden Superior Court. The suit claims infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, malicious prosecution and other counts.

The plaintiffs were involved in a fight with a patron at the bar Pal Joey’s in Holyoke on Dec. 18, 2007. That incident sparked an FBI investigation, a departmental probe and criminal charges against Shattuck and Wilson that ultimately resulted in acquittals by a jury in Palmer District Court. Skwira did not face criminal charges.

The incident was described in trial testimony by witnesses for the bar patron, Christopher Martinez, as a vicious beating. Witnesses for the officers said Martinez was in the midst of steroid rage and was the aggressor.

All three patrolmen were placed on paid leave while the case was pending. They ultimately received 15-day unpaid suspensions from former Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan. Almost immediately following the brawl, Scott asked the FBI to launch a civil rights probe.

FBI supervisor Mark S. Karangekis said he issued a preliminary report to U.S. Department of Justice officials more than a year ago, and referred further questions to the local U.S. Attorney’s office.

In addition to the public fallout, the suit claims Scott harassed the officers behind the scenes by trying to take away vacation pay, barring them from union meetings and pursuing criminal charges against them that even the district attorney’s office passed up.

“Subsequent to the incident on (Dec. 18, 2007), Defendant Scott initiated a campaign (which is ongoing to the present date) designed to harass and intimidate the plaintiffs,” reads the lawsuit filed by attorney Thomas A. Kenefick III.

The lawsuit also states Scott yanked Shattuck off enhanced duties, including roles on the department’s emergency response and firearms training teams, depriving him of income. Kennefick said he could not detail the amount of income Shattuck lost as a result, but called it “a significant amount.”

Shattuck and Wilson returned to full-time duty after serving out their unpaid suspensions in 2008. However, Skwira has been out of work, or on “limited duty,” for a long stretch of time because of work-related injuries that triggered depression and insomnia, the complaint says. Scott refused to make reasonable accommodations with regard to his health problems as required by law, the lawsuit states.

In a 3-2 ruling a year ago, the state Civil Service Commission upheld the suspensions of the three officers. In that 32-page ruling, the commission criticized the officers for failing to contact police or file a report immediately after the incident. “At a bare minimum, an incident report should have been filed by the three officers at the conclusion of the altercation,” the ruling stated.

The commission concluded the patrolmen “each violated the three rules of the Holyoke Police Department cited by the mayor and that there was reasonable justification for disciplining the officers for violating these rules.”

In a dissenting opinion, the commission’s two other members wrote, “The three appellants here, under the totality of the circumstances, handled the situation that was thrust upon them in admirable fashion.”

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
This entry was posted in Civil Service News & Information, General, Mass. Labor Law News & Cases. Bookmark the permalink.

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