Cloud over sheriff's past

Thursday, Feb. 11

Pittsfield police twice have interviewed a Pittsfield man who claims he was sexually assaulted as a child by current Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., The Eagle has learned.

No charges were ever filed against Massimiano, who has been unavailable for comment about the allegations over the past four weeks. Massimiano hasn't returned the newspaper's phone calls or responded to written requests for a meeting with reporters and editors, and numerous attempts to speak with him at his home have been unsuccessful.

On Wednesday, The Eagle called Massimiano's office a final time, asking for a response before the allegations were published. The call was not returned.

Pittsfield police interviewed Massimiano's accuser, James E. Monahan, in 2004 and 2008, according to law enforcement sources who have knowledge of the interviews. The sources said police made a written report of the first session and a video of the second. Monahan verified to The Eagle that he was interviewed twice and that the second interview was recorded on video.

Monahan, now 46, has told The Eagle in four face-to-face interviews over the past three months that he was fondled by Massimiano as a 7-year-old in 1971 and then again in 1976. Monahan also brought up the 1971 allegation during a live radio broadcast last month.

Massimiano, now 65, was in his mid-20s and was a probation officer in Berkshire County when the first assault allegedly occurred. He was in his early 30s and was chief of probation for Berkshire Superior Court when the second assault allegedly happened. Massimiano has been the county sheriff since being appointed to the position by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis in 1978.

One of the sources told The Eagle that Pittsfield police did not launch an investigation of Massimiano because the statute of limitations had expired on the accusations, which were 33 and 28 years old, respectively, in 2004. The source said the 2008 interview was conducted so that the allegations could be more formally documented.

Monahan said Pittsfield police approached him first about both interviews. He said police set up the 2004 meeting after hearing about the sexual assault allegations from one of his friends. The 2008 interview came about because police wanted to get Monahan's accusations on video in the event that any other allegations would be levied against the sheriff within the statute of limitations, according to Monahan.

Monahan said he never approached Pittsfield police because he was embarrassed by the nature of his accusations.

Monahan told The Eagle that Massimiano fondled him in 1971 in a restroom at the Pittsfield Boys' Club and in 1976 in a public restroom in downtown Pittsfield.

Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless and Pittsfield City Attorney Richard M. Dohoney have declined to comment to The Eagle about Monahan's allegations.

Police have not responded to the newspaper's oral and written requests for a copy of Monahan's 2008 video interview, which has been kept at the Pittsfield police station.

Monahan, who works in the health and human services field, told The Eagle he never pursued civil action against Massimiano because he wasn't interested in getting financial reparations. Monahan said he just wanted an apology from Massimiano.

Monahan said the sheriff apologized to him this year during a phone conversation on Jan. 10.

Massimiano didn't specify his reason for apologizing and did not admit to any wrongdoing, according to Monahan, who said his 2008 interview with police spurred him to seek the apology.

On Jan. 10, Monahan said he checked himself into Berkshire Medical Center after suffering an anxiety attack triggered by that day's Eagle article about Massimiano's political career.

The next day, according to hospital records, Monahan received a phone call from “a prominent Pittsfield official” while Monahan was being treated by BMC medical personnel at the Jones II unit for voluntary inpatient care. Monahan was at the facility for several days.

“During our interview this official did call in to Jones II and we had a brief phone conference,” according to a two-page report that is part of Monahan's medical records at BMC. “Jim was able to articulate himself well and communicate that he wanted to have a meeting with this gentleman in the supported community of Jones II.”

The report went on to say that the official said he would not meet with “a group of people” but would come to Jones II to speak with Monahan privately.

The physician who filled out the report told the official that a private meeting “would not be beneficial to Jim.”

“After a brief discussion, it was decided that we would end the phone conversation and Jim would contact him [the official] further if we decided to follow through with arranging for a meeting,” the report stated, noting that despite his prior substance-abuse issues, Monahan's “toxicology and blood alcohol levels have been negative.”

Monahan said Massimiano knew he was at BMC because Monahan had told him the previous day that he planned to go there.

Monahan came to The Eagle in late October to state his accusations against Massimiano, but Eagle editors who were at the meeting decided against publishing the allegations until they could be investigated.

The newspaper's investigation heightened after Monahan repeated the 1971 allegation against Massimiano during a live radio call-in show on Pittsfield station WBRK on Jan. 15, and also after Monahan held a press conference outside of the Pittsfield police station the day before.

Only four people -- Monahan, two Eagle reporters, and an Eagle photographer -- attended the press conference, even though the Sheriff's Office and the Pittsfield Police Department had been notified of it.

Massimiano has not spoken with The Eagle since saying in the Jan. 10 article that he would seek re-election in November. On Jan. 14, veteran Pittsfield Police Detective Thomas N. Bowler became the first person since 1980 to challenge Massimiano for the sheriff's position. That same day, Massimiano withdrew from the sheriff's race, citing his and his wife's “ongoing health issues” and the difficulty of upholding “the duties of his office” while managing a re-election campaign.

More than two months before his withdrawal, Massimiano was campaigning for re-election to the Pittsfield School Committee, but he became the only candidate eliminated in a seven-way race for six positions.

“I found it curious,” Massimiano told The Eagle for the Jan. 10 article, referring to his defeat.

At Massimiano's last School Committee meeting, on Dec. 16, Mayor James M. Ruberto hailed the sheriff as a key member of the board.

“There's no stronger advocate for the students of Pittsfield, and no stronger advocate for at-risk children in our city,” Ruberto said.

Massimiano's health issues, which he cited in announcing his exit from the sheriff's race, weren't specified until Jan. 27, when he released a written statement saying he has been “dealing with a bone marrow deficiency over the past several years” and has been receiving blood transfusions for it. He also said in the statement that he has no plans to leave his job as sheriff before his six-year term expires on Jan. 4, 2011.

The statement came amid speculation that health issues would force Massimiano to resign. He reiterated his commitment to the job in a full-page advertisement he took out in The Eagle on Feb. 3. In the ad, he also touted his accomplishments as sheriff, including the construction of the $34 million Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction in 2001.

During the WBRK “Talk Berkshires” program, which is hosted by Sherman Baldwin, Monahan -- who did not immediately identify himself on the air -- called to say he knew why Massimiano had withdrawn from the sheriff's race. The caller, however, said he didn't want to specify the reason. He eventually was persuaded to do so, and he stated his allegation about what happened to him as a 7-year-old.

Baldwin responded with shock.

“Whoa!” he said. ... “Can you give me your first and last name, sir?”

Seconds later, Baldwin told his audience: “We have a caller now making a very harsh accusation.”

After asking his producer to get the caller's name, Baldwin read it over the air.

“His name is Jim Monahan, folks.”

That same day, WBRK officials said, a representative from Massimiano's office requested -- and received -- a recording of the “Talk Berkshires” segment, which lasted 5 minutes and 12 seconds.

WBRK President Willard “Chip” Hodgkins has not returned phone calls seeking comment about the segment, and neither Massimiano nor the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office has commented about it.

To reach Conor Berry:
or (413) 496-6249.

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