Fired Pittsfield Police officer falsified report

PITTSFIELD — City police officer Dale Eason, who was fired last week, used excessive force during a February shoplifting arrest — and then falsified the report, an internal investigation revealed.

"Any force used by Officer Eason is excessive, because it is his conduct that created this situation," wrote Pittsfield Police Lt. Michael Grady in his report on the investigation.

Eason had been on administrative leave effective May 17; he was fired on Sept. 7.

Documents obtained by The Eagle through a public records request provide details regarding the "multiple misconduct charges" cited by the department in a Sept. 9 statement announcing Eason's firing.

Grady found that Eason was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, being untruthful and falsifying records.

The shoplifting arrest was the last in a string of at least three incidents in which questions were raised about his conduct. In two other cases — the arrests of an elderly woman in June 2015 and a man who was video recording him in 2014 — similar concerns were raised about Eason's behavior.

Eason was one of two officers who responded to the shoplifting call Feb. 23 at the Big Y supermarket on West Street. The suspect, who denied having stolen anything from the store, was compliant while first being escorted into the back of a Pittsfield Police cruiser, according to witnesses and surveillance video, which also was obtained by The Eagle.

But in his report, Eason wrote that the woman began "thrashing her body around in the back seat," and "for her safety, I attempted to remove (her) from my vehicle and place her on the ground to control her body."

Grady interviewed Eason on May 24 about the arrest and about the version of events he included in his report.

During that interview, Eason acknowledged he pulled the woman out of the cruiser so Big Y loss prevention could take a photo to identify her if she came back to the store, and not for her safety as he stated.

"Security wants ... a picture," Eason told Grady. "They wanted me to bring her back inside the store. Obviously I couldn't do that.

"I thought the best thing to do was take her out of the cruiser," Eason said. "They wanted her picture inside the cruiser. That's not working because she's moving her head."

That contradicts a statement given by a member of the store's loss prevention staff who told police the decision whether to take the woman's photo while she was inside or outside the vehicle was up to Eason.

Eason pulled the woman — who was in handcuffs — out of the back of the cruiser with excessive force, according to investigators, and not for his stated purpose.

"The issue is, Dale, we're just struggling with, she never should have been taken out of the car," Grady said during the interview.

"I know this now," Eason replied.

"She never, ever, ever should've been taken out of that car to supply a photograph," Grady said.

"It looks awful in the ... parking lot. We're in a main travel lane. We're propping her up on the ground to get a photograph of her," Grady said. "There's customers coming and going. There's customers actually trying to take photographs or record it with their phone. And, that's how this whole thing starts."

In the conclusion of his report, Grady wrote, "Removing (the woman) from the cruiser so that (loss prevention) could get a picture of her is not a legitimate action of a Pittsfield Police officer."

Pittsfield Police Lieutenant Jeffrey Bradford, also present at Eason's interview, said, "You're familiar with the use of force. We use force to place people under arrest. Is it fair to say that you used force to get her out of a car, not for arrest purposes but for the photo purpose?"

"I would agree with that," Eason replied.

Once the photo was taken, Eason again used force to get her back into the cruiser.

Grady said there were concerns about Eason's statement that he removed the woman to control her, when she was already secured in the cruiser.

He said Officer Matthew Kirchner was "a hundred yards away," and noted Eason could have transported her to the station, less than a half-mile away or called dispatch for assistance if she were truly out of control.

"I listened to the 911 call and I listened to all the radio transmissions," Grady said. "The times you were on the radio and she's in the car, all we hear is sobbing or crying. There doesn't appear to be any thrashing. There doesn't appear to be any screaming."

"When you watch the video, you don't see the car moving at all ... like you would if someone was thrashing around in the back seat," Grady said.

Grady interviewed the woman while she was incarcerated in the Western Massachusetts Women's Correctional Center in Chicopee on charges not connected to the Feb. 23 arrest.

She said she was upset about being arrested, but had no idea why Eason would try to pull her out of the cruiser.

Not until she was out of the cruiser and on the ground did she realize she had been pulled out for a photograph.

She said her foot had become lodged beneath the protective cage separating the front and back seats.

In the surveillance video, the suspect is missing her right shoe when she is forced from the vehicle.

She said Eason wouldn't properly let her out of the car. She accused him of pulling her out of the car, "by her throat," telling her to, "shut the ... up," and holding her head and neck while the photo was taken.

She also claimed she was assaulted by Eason and that he punched her in the chest during the incident.

After she is back in the cruiser, Eason can be seen picking her shoe up from the ground and putting it inside the vehicle.

Her attorney in the shoplifting case, Alexander Sohn, obtained a copy of the surveillance video that contradicted Eason's report and submitted it to the Berkshire District Attorney's office.

After the DA's office reviewed the video, it was submitted it to Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn for a follow-up investigation, Grady said.

The DA's office dropped all charges against the woman in April.

"People who abuse other people need to be held accountable, whether in uniform or not," Sohn said in a statement released Wednesday. "I credit the District Attorney's office and Pittsfield Police Department for taking swift action once confronted with the surveillance video I obtained."

"Although I believe this type of behavior is the exception and not the rule, it concerns me because more often than not, there is not a video to track down," said Sohn.

"In order to restore faith in the system, it is not enough to say that the vast majority of police officers do not take part in such behavior," Sohn said. "It is incumbent that all the honest police officers take it upon themselves to not sit by in silent acquiescence."

Eason, who marked 20 years with the department earlier this year, has had his judgement, use of force and handling of evidence called into question before.

He was an arresting officer in a June 2015 incident involving an 88-year-old woman after police were dispatched to the wrong address for a report of a disturbance.

In Eason's report he claimed the woman threatened police with a knife and slapped an officer before being taken to the ground, handcuffed and arrested. The charge was dropped soon after her arraignment.

In response to that arrest, an internal Pittsfield Police email obtained by The Eagle described Eason as one of the department's "most problematic officers when it comes to the use of force and good judgment," and said if a different combination of officers had been sent to the same call it would not have ended with the woman's arrest.

In 2014, Eason seized the phone of a man who refused to stop recording him during a traffic stop and arrested the man on a charge of disorderly conduct.

In Eason's report and during a motion hearing, he claimed the man was intoxicated and his behavior was interfering with traffic. The man denied being intoxicated.

When the man received his phone back after being arrested and booked, the video of Eason was missing, despite other videos he'd shot still being present.

A motion to dismiss the case was filed, claiming Eason had destroyed evidence and had no warrant to examine the phone's contents.

A judge ruled, however, there was not enough evidence to prove anyone had tampered with the phone or its contents.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.