Probe of suspect's overdose in Pittsfield Police custody may prompt department policy changes
PITTSFIELD — City police officers will not face disciplinary action in connection with the nonfatal overdose of a suspect while in custody, according to Police Chief Michael Wynn.
An investigation into the July incident, which is nearly complete, showed that the department may need to review some of its policies and training when it comes to the transportation of prisoners.
"We haven't found any violations of any policies, procedures, rules or regulations," Wynn told The Eagle on Thursday. "We did find some practices that probably weren't in keeping with the most stringent and best practices."
"We will be reviewing our prisoner transport and detention policies and doing some in-house training," he said.
On July 22, police arrested 36-year-old Billie J. Twing on multiple charges including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, witness intimidation and kidnapping.
Before he was booked at the station, Twing swallowed an undetermined amount of the anti-seizure medication and sedative Klonopin, requiring him to be transported to the hospital.
Through his attorney at the time, Twing said he hadn't been searched prior to being transported to the police station.
Wynn said a two-month investigation, conducted by Lieutenant Michael Maddalena, disputes that claim.
"The investigation has shown that Mr. Twing was frisked on two occasions," Wynn said. "Once, prior to transport (to the station) and once at the exchange from officer to officer."
"The officers involved in the field identified that he had pill bottles on him but properly did not remove them from his person because they weren't part of the inventory search," said Wynn.
Twing's current attorney, Richard LeBlanc, declined to comment on the case and the investigation when reached by telephone Thursday. Twing remains held without bail.
Wynn explained that because Twing was not being arrested on drug charges and the pills he was carrying were prescribed to him, they wouldn't have necessarily been seized during an initial frisk prior to the full inventory search during booking.
"(The pills) would have been considered property and they were left on him," Wynn said, likening the pills to a wallet or other item not considered a threat or contraband that might remain in a suspect's possession following those searches.
Wynn said initial frisks of suspects at the time of arrest are generally used to check for weapons or other items that could harm an officer.
Once a determination has been made that a suspect is going to be arrested, Wynn said, there's typically a second, more thorough search made to see if the suspect is in possession of anything that may be evidence of a crime or something that could facilitate an escape.
Wynn also said Twing's hands were initially cuffed behind his back — which would have prevented him from reaching into his pocket — but during the trip to the station, he managed to maneuver his arms over his legs, getting his hands to the front of his body.
When Twing got to the station, he immediately asked to use the bathroom prior to booking, and was granted permission to use the facilities in one of the cells.
"He's frisked, he's handcuffed behind his back, he's transported, he moves the handcuffs, he requests an accommodation ... that's granted," Wynn said. "The booking process hadn't started yet, so the inventory search had not been conducted and wouldn't have been prior to that point."
"While he's in the cell, the officers hear the noise of pills, [Twing] makes the claim [he swallowed them] he was transported [to the hospital] and he was treated," said Wynn.
Initial police reports in the case said Twing claimed he swallowed 52 Klonopin tablets while in custody.
"Based on a witness interview, it's our position that it's unlikely that he had as many pills in his possession as he claimed he did at the time," Wynn said.
Wynn said the investigation and witness statements showed that Twing was likely consuming the pills at a higher rate than the prescribed dose, which would have left him with fewer than he claimed, based on the length of time between the filling of the prescription and his arrest.
"One of the things that's unclear is how much information was transferred from officer to officer during the transport," Wynn said. "We know that the officers in the field knew that (Twing) had the pill bottles on him. We're not sure that information made it to the officers who were processing him."
"This is definitely an anomalous incident and it was more a question of inconsistent information and bad timing," said Wynn.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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