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Officer cleared of excessive force allegation is no longer on active duty in Egremont. He defends his record

Egremont Police Department (copy)

Police Officer Matthew O'Sullivan has not been on active duty as a part-time Egremont officer since Jan. 31, according to a schedule obtained by The Eagle. O'Sullivan, who still works part-time for the Sheffield Police Department has had a history of complaints in Egremont. He also was investigated for his role in an arrest in which a woman lost consciousness.

EGREMONT — A police officer is no longer on active duty with the Egremont department but continues to work part-time as a Sheffield officer after he was investigated for his role in a 2020 arrest in which a woman lost consciousness.

Egremont Police Department schedules obtained through a public records request show that Matthew O’Sullivan, a full-time officer, has not worked in Egremont since Jan. 31 of this year. His name also was removed from the department’s website.

O’Sullivan would not say why he is not currently on the Egremont roster.

He continues to defend his actions regarding the various complaints lodged against him, as well as the 2020 arrest in which a woman’s head struck the doorjamb or some other part of the cruiser on her way into the backseat. The incident happened during an alleged domestic violence call in which O’Sullivan and former Sheffield Officer Jacob Gonska responded.

Internal investigations cleared both officers for use of excessive force. But O’Sullivan was still suspected of having filed a false police report about the incident — a claim that he notes has not be proven and which he strongly denies.

In interviews with The Eagle on March 23 and March 28, O’Sullivan defended himself against the allegations and other complaints in his Egremont file.

“Nothing has been substantiated,” he said. “I treat everybody professionally and with respect.”

In his investigation into that arrest, Egremont Police Chief Jason LaForest had cleared O’Sullivan for use of excessive force; Gonska also was cleared other reviews. And another investigation by State Police found the evidence “inconclusive.”

Chief LaForest and Egremont Select Board member Mary Brazie declined to answer questions about why O’Sullivan is not on active duty with the department.

O’Sullivan’s record in Sheffield, where he was hired in October 2021 on a probationary period, is clean but for one complaint earlier this month from a motorist he stopped, O’Sullivan said. That complaint was discredited, he added, after Sheffield Police Chief Eric R. Munson III reviewed dashboard camera footage of the stop. Sheffield’s body-worn camera system has not yet been set up.

Sheffield Police Chief Munson could not be reached for comment. He had told the paper in December that O’Sullivan hadn’t received a single complaint at that point.

O’Sullivan pointed out that he’s even received praise from a motorist in an email to Munson, and shared it with The Eagle. The man said O’Sullivan responded to his serious car crash in January, and was “wise and helpful.”

“His calm demeanor was comforting,” wrote the motorist. “His advice was excellent.”

Defending his recordO’Sullivan’s departure from active duty came just over a month after rear dashboard camera footage of part of that 2020 arrest surfaced in a Dec. 19 article published online by The Mass Dump, an internet newsletter about police misconduct in Massachusetts.

The incident set off several investigations and accusations that O’Sullivan and Gonska had filed false police reports — a claim that never was substantiated.

State police investigators found the evidence of excessive force “inconclusive,” The Mass Dump report said. No criminal charges were brought against O’Sullivan or Gonska.

Yet the circumstances of the arrest landed both men on a list of police officers with allegations of dishonesty that could affect the credibility of their testimony in court.

When asked about the arrest footage, taken from the rear of Gonska’s cruiser, O’Sullivan said it registers only a sliver of what happened.

“That video is not [the view] through my eyes,” he said.

Before working in the Berkshires, O’Sullivan was forced to resign from the Shirley Police Department for kicking a man in the groin while placing him in a holding cell. The Mass Dump published a story about this and posted a video of that incident on Jan. 2.

When asked about it by The Eagle, O’Sullivan said that the man who he kicked had just elbowed him in the face and continued to try to assault him. He said he kicked to “create distance” between them and thought it reasonable.

“If you pause the video, you can see his assaultive behavior continues and that’s when I threw the kick,” he said. “It’s my belief that I acted within proper use of force policy.”

The Eagle previously found more complaints against O’Sullivan in his Egremont disciplinary file, including one by LaForest regarding what what LaForest said was an unnecessary pursuit that led to a crash.

O’Sullivan again said his “proactive policing” style, meant to prevent accidents and crime, puts him in a lot of contact with citizens and thus possibly yields more complaints. He also is critical of Egremont for not having dash or body-worn cameras.

“I don’t understand how you can have complaints in one department without cameras, and here you have an officer saying, ‘Give us cameras,’ yet [Sheffield] does have cameras, there’s only one complaint and that’s been discredited,” he said.

Dashboard and bodycams, O’Sullivan said, would have been helpful in clearing him of various accusations he faced in Egremont.

LaForest has said that he does plan to eventually acquire them for the Egremont department.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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