Brennan Polidoro

Former Lanesborough Police Officer Brennan J. Polidoro makes a stop of a speeding motorist in July 2018. Polidoro was fired by the town this spring, after an investigation by then-Chief Timothy C. Sorrell determined that he improperly had used a state-run criminal justice database to look up women not involved in policing matters.

LANESBOROUGH — It’s not your personal Google. That’s what Lanesborough Police Officer Brennan J. Polidoro was told after the town’s chief determined that he violated state law by looking up women on a criminal justice database without a valid police purpose.

Polidoro was fired by the town this spring, after then-Chief Timothy C. Sorrell, in a probe that consumed most of his final months on the force, established a pattern of improper surveillance by the officer amounting to what Sorrell viewed as stalking and harassment of women.

The women targeted included people with whom Polidoro had current or past relationships — or those he wanted to date, the report found. Despite months of work, Sorrell isn’t sure he mapped the full extent of the former officer’s extracurricular outreach to women.

Polidoro, 30, was found by the Select Board to have engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer and breaking departmental rules.

Robert Markel, the part-time interim town manager, confirmed that Polidoro, who had been a full-time member of the force for about five years, no longer works for the town of Lanesborough.

“Once we found out there was an issue, we dealt with it,” said Sorrell, who retired July 1. “If he’s a dirty cop, he’s going down. It’s all about the public trust. I did the best for my agency and recommended to the Select Board that he be terminated — and he was terminated.”

Sorrell’s investigation covered actions by Polidoro from July 7, 2020, to Feb. 20. A copy of the 58-page report was obtained by The Eagle through a public records request.

Polidoro, who long had been Berkshire County’s only trained drug recognition officer, referred questions about his firing to his lawyer, Terence E. Coles, who represents the Lanesborough Police Officers Association through the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, Local 390.

Coles said Polidoro has appealed his firing.

“He has filed a grievance pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement which provides that officers may only be terminated for just cause,” Coles said in a written response to a request for comment. “Officer Polidoro’s grievance alleges that the town did not have just cause to terminate him.”

At the conclusion of an April 9 interview with Sorrell about his use of the Criminal Justice Information System database, Polidoro said he never ran or attempted to run a name intending to misuse the system.

The CJIS database, used by law enforcement agencies and others, provides access to criminal records, including, for example, whether a driver’s license has been suspended. Also, victims of crimes can register to receive information about an offender.

While police officers can run vehicle license plate numbers of anyone, they are barred from using names to query the database unless they have grounds to need the information the system is able to supply, according to Sorrell.

“That’s when you cross the line,” he said.

“This Officer then advised [Polidoro] that in talking to people at CJIS, it was explained … that we can’t use CJIS as a personal ‘Google’ search,” Sorrell wrote in his report.

When informed of Polidoro’s conduct, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office reviewed his record and placed him on the Brady list, which contains the names of officers who might be called as witnesses in criminal trials but have been found to be dishonest or biased. On top of that, Polidoro has been added to a roster of people the DA’s office will not call as witnesses.

In addition to seeking to have his firing overturned, Polidoro is contesting his addition to the Brady list, according to Coles, the officer’s attorney.

“Officer Polidoro is appealing his addition to the list because he is not accused of any misconduct that suggests untruthfulness and he disputes the allegations regardless,” he said.

In a July 7 letter to the DA’s office, Coles said that nothing in the Sorrell report questions the officer’s truthfulness.

“None of the findings suggest that Mr. Polidoro falsified reports, provided false testimony, stole anything or otherwise lied on the job,” Coles wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained through a public records request.

Karen J. Bell, the office’s first assistant district attorney, informed Coles last week, in a reply, that prosecutors had grounds to put his client on both lists. “Mr. Polidoro’s actions detailed in Chief Sorrell’s report ... amount to a pattern of biased policing warranting Mr. Polidoro’s being placed both on the Brady List and Do Not Call List.”

Sorrell said Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington moved swiftly to prevent Polidoro from appearing as a police witness in cases.

“She acted on this quickly,” he said.

Under rules established by the policing reform act signed into law in December, Polidoro’s disciplinary file will be sent to Boston.

Women as targets

One of the targets of Polidoro’s database searches, Sorrell found, was a woman who had entered into a sexual relationship with the officer when she was 16 and he was 22. Before coming to Lanesborough, Polidoro served with the police forces in Sheffield and Egremont.

The woman’s attorney, Timothy J. Shugrue, of Pittsfield, described that relationship in a Feb. 19, 2021, motion filed with Pittsfield District Court, in connection with a case in which she faced a charge of operating under the influence. Shugrue’s motion sought to inspect evidence and reports related to his client’s arrest — after a stop by Polidoro himself — the previous February. The attorney demanded to review texts and video or audio calls from Polidoro to the woman.

Shugrue’s motion noted that Polidoro had run her name in the state database July 7, 2020, Nov. 7, 2020, and Feb. 6, 2021 — all times, it said, when she “was not under any suspicion of any illegal activity.”

Prosecutors decided to drop the case against the woman June 25 by entering a “nolle prosequi,” in which the defendant is, in effect, acquitted of the charges.

Shugrue said the charges against his client were dismissed because of Polidoro’s behavior. He said the officer is involved centrally in other pending cases, which are coming to trial starting next month, after a long coronavirus pandemic delay. Since Polidoro has been placed on the Do Not Call list, it’s likely those prosecutions will have trouble moving forward.

“I expect that quite a few of them will be impacted by his conduct,” Shugrue told The Eagle. “I’m ready to file motions if they plan to use him as a witness.”

In an interview Sorrell conducted with Shugrue and his client, the woman said she felt that Polidoro, who was not present at the time, was obsessed with her, “at times attempting to threaten or intimidate boyfriends that she had after she parted ways,” the report said.

Sorrell said Polidoro’s involvement continued to trouble the woman, including when he was part of a recent motor vehicle stop.

“She had a meltdown when he approached the car,” the chief said. “That’s the effect this guy has had on this poor girl.”

In an interview, a representative of that woman said Polidoro initiated unwanted contact for years after their relationship ended. The Eagle agreed not to identify the woman.

“We don’t want to have any other women experience this,” the representative said.

In an interview with The Eagle, Sorrell said he believes that additional instances of harassment by Polidoro might come to light.

“We feel this is the tip of the iceberg and other people are going to come out,” the former chief said.

Tipping off suspect

Last summer, Polidoro alerted an Adams woman that police in that town were poised to serve a warrant for her arrest. He later acknowledged doing that and said it was meant to be a favor to a male friend with whom the woman was involved romantically.

“Once in custody, [the woman] made the statement to the arresting officers that she knew about the arrest warrant because a Lanesborough Police Officer told her about the warrant and that’s why she tried to get away,” Sorrell wrote. “I was able to confirm with one of the arresting officers that she did in fact make such a statement.”

The chief found that Polidoro had run a “warrants check” of the database in connection with the Adams woman.

“That put other officers in danger,” Sorrell said.

The Adams Police chief, F. Scott Kelley, emailed Sorrell about the issue March 10.

“The defendant stated that she had prior knowledge of the warrants from a Lanesboro police officer. Because a practice like this could create numerous concerns, I wanted to make you aware of this claim,” Kelley wrote.

In his April 9 interview with Sorrell, Polidoro acknowledged that he had told the Adams woman about warrants, according to the report.

Sorrell said he first became concerned about Polidoro’s use of the Criminal Justice Information System when, one morning at the end of December, he found a report sitting on a departmental fax machine. It had been generated overnight by a request from Polidoro’s mobile data terminal.

“I went back into the log and found [Polidoro] had no contact with any of those people. That’s when everything started falling together,” Sorrell said.

One of the names, he realized, was that of a person with whom Polidoro had a personal relationship, the report says. Sorrell left a message for the officer, questioning his use of the database to run a plate and search a name.

Several days later, Polidoro emailed Sorrell to say he did not know “off of the top of my head what plate that is.” And he said that a town resident had asked that he check to see if her license had been suspended.

Sorrell said in an interview that he believed Polidoro wasn’t telling the truth. When he approached the officer in the department’s locker room to ask about the query, Polidoro said he might want to speak with an attorney.

In emails that followed between the two, Sorrell told Polidoro that “we are both fully aware that the license that you ran belongs to a female [who] is your. ...” The report redacts the term for the officer’s relationship with that person.

In a reply by email, Polidoro suggested that the chief had no right to know about that relationship.

“I believe that this request for information is unnecessary, irrelevant, and retaliatory but that I will answer under protest,” the officer wrote.

After Polidoro’s conduct came to light, he was placed on administrative leave March 11, and his identification card and firearm were taken. His license to carry a firearm was suspended, Sorrell said.

Sorrell later tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain a criminal complaint against Polidoro. Because the Lanesborough department has regular contact with the Pittsfield District Court, Sorrell had to bring his case to the Eastern Hampshire District Court, where it was heard June 2 by a clerk magistrate. That court official declined, after a show-case hearing, to initiate a criminal charge against Polidoro for unlawful dissemination of Criminal Offender Record Information.

People have access to the CORI system to determine whether a person has been charged with a crime. But, its use is lawful only under certain conditions.

Attorney Kevin J. Kelley, who also represents Polidoro, said his client was treated unfairly in the investigation handled by Sorrell and is contemplating further legal action.

“What the Town of Lanesborough allowed to happen to Officer Polidoro is unacceptable, it is unfair, and it is unjust,” Kelley said in an email to The Eagle.

“Officer Polidoro executed his police duties with the utmost professionalism,” Kelley said. “It’s Officer Polidoro’s hope that this matter be resolved as expeditiously as possible to avoid any embarrassment to the town … for the manner in which they allowed Chief Sorrell to grossly harm Officer Polidoro. Their conduct is an affront to the Lanesborough taxpayer.”

Eight months of records

In his investigation, Sorrell went through eight months of database queries by Polidoro, with the goal of determining whether they were proper by cross-referencing them with the department’s log, which documents the officer’s actions and activities.

Of 25 cases he examined, the chief determined that 19 were improper, the legitimacy of four could not be determined, one was legitimate and one would “not appear” to be legitimate.

For each use of the database found by Sorrell to be groundless, the chief’s report lists the inherent violations of state law and departmental rules, including “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

That is defined this way by the department: “Officers shall not commit any specific act or acts of immoral, improper, unlawful, disorderly or intemperate conduct, whether on or off duty, which reflect(s) unfavorably upon the officer, upon officers or upon the police department.”

According to Sorrell’s report, one of the names Polidoro searched Oct. 3 was that of Cassandra Brouthers, who had been shot and killed while riding in a car on Robbins Avenue in Pittsfield on Oct. 2.

“She was not alive for Officer Brennan Polidoro to have an interaction with,” Sorrell’s report said. For that reason, there was no reason to query her in the database.

In the April interview with the officer, Sorrell went instance by instance through the database queries that the chief believed were not legitimate, pressing for details. Frequently, Polidoro answered that he didn’t know or could not remember.

One search, on July 22, 2020, involved a woman who had not been in Lanesborough that day, but to whom Polidoro had directed social media messages, the report said.

A woman who was the subject of a July 29, 2020, database search told Sorrell she had heard that the officer was interested in dating her. A woman queried in a Nov. 27, 2020, search said she had not been stopped by Lanesborough Police that day — but had been in a dating relationship with Polidoro that ended months before.

On April 22, then-Town Manager Kelli A. Robbins called Polidoro to an April 28 executive session of the Select Board. Her letter said officials would consider disciplinary action against him.

The reason, Robbins explained, was that the town had established that the officer had “used your position to log on to the state’s Criminal Justice Information System (‘CJIS’) for the purpose of accessing and obtaining the criminal justice records of females, with no legitimate law enforcement purpose.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.