Pittsfield officer's lawyer fires back over termination
PITTSFIELD — "Preposterous," "farcical" and "absurd."
Those are some of the terms an attorney used to describe conclusions reached by investigators to justify the firing of former Pittsfield Police Officer Dale Eason.
Eason, a 20-year veteran of the department, was fired earlier this month after an investigation into his conduct during a February shoplifting arrest outside the Big Y supermarket.
Attorney Timothy Burke alleges Eason was fired as a result of "embellished and unfounded charges initiated by the department," and accused the department of retaliation against his client.
Burke said the case will now head to arbitration within the next couple of months and, if Eason is not reinstated following that procedure, there are avenues for appeal, including the superior and appeals courts.
A message left with Pittsfield Police seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The investigation concluded Eason was untruthful, engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer and falsified his report of the incident.
Investigators claimed Eason used excessive force to remove a female shoplifting suspect from the back of his cruiser and again to return her to the backseat.
The investigation also concluded Eason was not truthful when he said he removed the woman for her safety because she was thrashing around and it determined he removed her solely for the purpose of allowing Big Y loss prevention to photograph her.
In the memo to Matthew Kerwood, who presided over Eason's disciplinary hearing — the attorney called it a "so-called hearing" — Burke noted the department did not call any witnesses, denying Eason the opportunity for cross-examination. Kerwood is the city's finance director.
The memo said the alleged retaliation comes as a result of Eason airing complaints about remarks made by a senior member of the department investigating his handling of a June 2015 arrest of an 88-year-old woman.
"When viewed objectively, the facts here demonstrate a clear retaliatory animus by the Pittsfield Police Department administration, which has subsequently led to the unsupported charges that ... Eason is currently accused of," reads part of a memo written by Burke.
Eason was allegedly referred to as "toxic" and a "known problem" for the department during the investigation into that arrest.
He requested an investigation into the officer who made those remarks and who conducted the investigation into the arrest, Burke said, but that request was never honored.
Eason was exonerated following that investigation, Burke said, but the department still used it to bolster its claims against him in the more recent case.
"The allegation of 'untruthfulness' is frequently used by police departments in a retaliatory manner to terminate officers that fall into disfavor with management, regardless whether the officer was misstating the truth," according to Burke's memo.
"The only alleged 'untruthfulness,' by ... Eason is that he 'lied,' by stating that the reason he took her out of the vehicle was for her safety because she was thrashing around."
Investigators determined the woman shouldn't have been removed from the car and said Eason did so only to allow loss prevention to take a photo and disputed Eason's claim she was thrashing about in the car and creating an unsafe situation.
Burke said Eason gave consistent testimony both in his report and during his interview that he removed the woman both for the photo and for her safety.
The memo states that there is no evidence to contradict Eason's report that the woman was thrashing around in the back seat of the cruiser.
In surveillance video of the arrest, however, Eason's cruiser does not appear to be moving while the suspect was inside, a point that was brought up during Eason's interview with investigators.
Burke's memo goes on to document the woman's alleged behavior at the station during booking, and said it remains consistent with Eason's claims of her behavior during the arrest.
She was described as "noncompliant" during a search and she had to be restrained, according to police documents.
The woman also allegedly slapped, punched and kicked the walls and door of her cell for hours after being placed in the cell, according to the memo.
"Certainly the ... description of (the woman's) behavior lends credence to the account of Eason," part of the memo reads.
Burke said Eason did not attempt to hide or withhold information about his reasons for removing the woman from the car.
"To the contrary, his report goes into great detail regarding the Big Y wanting to take a picture of her and his thought process for his decision to remove her," he wrote.
"How (the investigation) concludes that ... Eason was untruthful about the reasons for removing the woman is mystifying," Burke wrote, claiming investigators apparently ignored the entire portion of Eason's report regarding the store's desire for a photo of the woman as a shoplifting suspect.
Burke said the investigation's logic is "fatally flawed for many reasons," noting there is no video showing the interior of the cruiser.
"To conclude with certainty that there was no thrashing based on a video that doesn't depict the interior of the cruiser or any view of her actions is preposterous."
Audio recordings of the 911 call from Big Y and dispatch transmissions were part of the investigation, but none of the recordings are from the interior of the vehicle while the woman was in the backseat.
In one recording where the woman can be heard, she is screaming in the background, according to the memo.
The memo takes issue with the interview of a member of the Big Y loss prevention staff, who was not present while the woman was allegedly thrashing in the back seat.
The memo states that to conclude that Eason was lying about the woman's behavior because a witness who was not present didn't say he saw her thrashing is "farcical"
Police concluded if the woman were that out of control, Eason could have taken her to the station, called for backup or enlisted the help of the other responding officer, who was still on scene.
"Police officers aren't afforded the ability to make drawn out calculations of what they 'could' do in a time-sensitive scenario," Burke said in his memo.
"To conclude with absolute certainty that Eason was 'untruthful' because he 'could' have asked ... for assistance is absurd."
"Officer Eason's conduct was entirely reasonable and appropriate and done in compliance with a legitimate law enforcement goal. There was no excessive force used."
Burke said the investigation erroneously concludes that removing the woman from the cruiser for a photo, "is not a legitimate action of a Pittsfield Police Officer."
"This department has no specific policy on the removal of an arrested subject for the purpose of photographing them," Burke wrote. "Nor did the department offer any evidence that this was a violation of an existing departmental policy."
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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