WILLIAMSTOWN — While discussing the nature of the Brady list to concerned town residents Monday, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said that the procedure is apolitical and does not play favorites.
“Someone on the list is one of my favorite police officers,” she said.
Williamstown has been struggling with issues of race and policing as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and allegations of past racial and sexual harassment at the Police Department. Harrington was invited to the Williamstown Select Board meeting Monday to talk about the Brady policy and how the process functions.
It is an issue for Williamstown because a town police officer is on the Berkshire County Brady list.
Harrington’s office released its Brady list in October 2020. It provides the names of police officers who should not be considered credible courtroom witnesses in criminal trails because of documented wrongdoing or misconduct. Prosecutors have an obligation to protect the constitutional rights of defendants to exculpatory evidence to ensure a fair trial, Harrington noted.
Officers are placed on the list if it has been shown that they have “misrepresented material evidence in a criminal investigation,” Harrington said. The only way they would be allowed to testify is for relatively minor issues and with approval from a supervisor.
If the case hinges on the testimony of a police officer on the Brady list, the case likely would not move forward, Harrington said.
She said that police chiefs around the county report a questionable situation with an officer to the DA’s office. A three-person panel, made up of Harrington and two deputy DAs, screen the evidence and any reports presented, and then make a determination on whether the officer in question should be on the list.
An officer has the right to appeal that decision to the same panel.
There are many jurisdictions around the U.S. that use the Brady process, she noted. Part of the rules of discovery in court is that the prosecution provide all evidence against the accused to the defense attorney — part of the constitutional right to face one’s accuser.
If there is evidence that draws into question the credibility of a prosecutor’s witness — such as a police officer — that would be relevant to the defense’s case, then disclosure is required, Harrington said.
“We are not appropriate gatekeepers of exculpatory evidence,” she said.
When an officer is put on the list, the officer and the police chief are notified, Harrington said.
The Williamstown officer on the list was named in a complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination submitted by Williamstown Police Sgt. Scott McGowan, which stated that the officer had been disciplined, but not terminated, for sexual aggression toward a female resident of the town in 2011.