A string of scandals has the Boston Police Department reeling, and the worst may be yet to come. An exclusive look inside the BPD’s secretive anti-corruption unit and Commissioner Ed Davis’s fight to clean up the force—whose problems run much deeper than a few bad cops.
Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis sat in a small hotel room at the Sheraton in Revere, surrounded by FBI agents and police officers assigned to the BPD’s anti-corruption unit. The room, dubbed the OP, for "operation post," was cramped and sweltering, and made only hotter by the high-tech audio and video equipment running in it. Davis, a hulking man, tugged at his blue button-down shirt, loosened his tie, and anxiously settled in. The OP was mostly quiet, save for the occasional crackle of a police radio with a transmission from the surveillance team. For eight months, its members had been following one of their own, a Boston cop named Jose Ortiz, and today, May 2, 2007, the department was going to move.
On the roof of the Sheraton, FBI sharpshooters covered an informant who was waiting for Ortiz to pull into the parking lot to take control of a cache of drugs and money. But it wasn’t just the informant the cops were concerned about. Sometimes dirty cops eat their guns when they’re captured, and everyone assembled at the hotel that afternoon wanted to see Ortiz in handcuffs, not a body bag.
"There he is," said an agent. Davis looked out the window and saw Ortiz, a 20-year BPD veteran, swagger across the parking lot. Just off working a paid detail, he was wearing a black fleece over his uniform shirt, but the navy blue pants with the light blue stripe were easily recognizable as standard department garb. Anyone passing by might have wondered what a Boston cop was doing at this Revere hotel, but not the crew manning the OP: They knew he was looking for the four kilograms of cocaine and $4,000 in large bills that were stashed in the trunk of a blue sedan.
The case against Ortiz had begun on August 30, 2006, when the cop was caught on a security tape coming into the Boston business of the informant, who the feds now call "Victim A." According to the FBI’s account of the meeting, later filed in court, Ortiz announced he worked for "Colombian people" who wanted Victim A to pay off an alleged drug debt of $265,000. I’ll kill you and your family myself, Ortiz said. He said he knew where Victim A lived, who his family was, who his friends were. Then, the FBI says, Ortiz gave Victim A his Boston Police Department business card. On the front was the phone number to his station house, District 4 in the South End. On the back he scrawled his nickname: El Flaco ("The Skinny One"). As Ortiz prepared to leave the store, he said the man should ask for him by that name when he called.
Victim A decided to report the incident to the authorities. The following day, he handed over the business card to Boston police officers in the anti-corruption unit, a small, elite group charged with investigating major crimes within the department. The cops put together a photo lineup of eight men; after Victim A immediately pointed to Ortiz, the FBI and BPD used him to set up a sting. For the next few months, Victim A would meet Ortiz at detail sites, several times pressing thousands of dollars into the hands of the cop, who always wore his BPD uniform. During one phone call recorded by the feds, Ortiz warned Victim A that if he did not pay the full amount the Colombians said they were owed, they might "become very aggressive." "[If they] can’t get their money back," Ortiz told the man in Spanish on another call, as investigators listened in, "they are going to have to resolve the problem themselves. You understand me? And that, that is what we are trying to avoid."
Not surprisingly, Victim A was nervous as he waited in the parking lot of the Sheraton, even with the sharpshooters overhead. Davis watched as the pair talked. His Spanish wasn’t good enough to make out what was being said, but he had been at enough narcotics buys to know what was about to happen. Victim A opened the trunk. Ortiz saw the drugs and cash that together were to pay off the last of Victim A’s debt, and nodded and smiled. "It was nauseating to see this guy show up in a uniform with a jacket over it to participate in what was a drug deal," Davis says. "It was sickening to see somebody who would sell his badge like that." Victim A handed Ortiz the keys to the car. Within moments the FBI SWAT team swarmed from their hidden positions and surrounded him.
"I’m a cop!" Ortiz screamed, as he was forced to his knees, his hands in the air. The FBI agents cuffed him and pushed him down onto the pavement. Ortiz tried again: "I’m a cop!" But this time, for the first time, that would not be enough to help him get off easy.
After Ortiz went down, Ed Davis joined Lieutenant Detective Frank Mancini, the arresting officer from the anti-corruption unit, in the room where Ortiz was being questioned and booked. For a minute or so, Davis glared at the disgraced cop in his BPD blues. Then he tore the badge off Ortiz’s chest, snapping, "You are no longer a Boston police officer. You don’t deserve to wear this."
But Davis now admits that Ortiz should have had his badge confiscated long before that day. Prior to his arrest, Ortiz had been suspended from the force six different times, for offenses that included swearing at a commanding officer, lying on police reports, double dipping into overtime, and stealing a sheet from a fellow officer’s citation book to write a bothersome neighbor an illegal ticket. Yet for all these violations, Ortiz was never severely punished. The most serious disciplinary action he received was for forging detail slips, for which he got a 70-day unpaid suspension. And even then he served only 20 days.
Worse still, even if everything the FBI says is true, Ortiz is far from the only strike against the BPD, which has seen its reputation sullied by a string of recent scandals: Officer Edgardo Rodriguez pleads guilty to lying to a federal grand jury and distributing steroids. Officer Paul Durkin shoots a cop buddy who tried to take his keys after a night of drinking, and is forced to resign. In January, veteran officer Michael T. Jones is arrested for allegedly robbing a Roslindale gas station at gunpoint. The next month, detective Kevin Guy, a longtime narcotics cop, is hit with a 45-day suspension after testing positive for steroids. Two officers, Windell Josey, who worked with domestic violence victims, and David Murphy, are nabbed by other police departments—one in Randolph and one in Baltimore, Maryland—for allegedly assaulting their girlfriends. At the department’s Hyde Park evidence warehouse, a facility only cops are allowed into, a probe finds that drugs from nearly 1,000 cases spanning 16 years have been stolen or improperly discarded.
Now, many law enforcement officials are bracing for the final sentencing hearing for a group of disgraced cops known in the department as "the Three Amigos." All three officers pleaded guilty to drug possession and trafficking charges. One of them, Carlos Pizarro, was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison in December. Another, Nelson Carrasquillo, was sentenced to 18 years last month. According to court documents, the suspected ringleader, Roberto Pulido, was also accused of (though never charged with) involvement in an identity fraud ring and helping to run an illegal after-hours club in Hyde Park, where strippers would perform lap dances for cops in a closed area called "the Boom-Boom Room." He is likely to receive his term in the coming months. Meanwhile, even more sordid revelations may soon emerge. Boston magazine has learned that Pulido’s 2002 shooting at the hands of a shadowy assailant will also be reviewed. And the U.S. Attorney’s Office has initiated an investigation into allegations of widespr
ead steroid abuse in the BPD.
As the outrages pile up, Ed Davis is struggling to fulfill his pledge to wipe the dirt from the department he took over in 2006. Unfortunately, in Boston, ripping a badge off a corrupt cop is the easy part. Actually getting the cop off the force is something else altogether. In part because of shoddy management, and in part because of a system that makes it exceedingly difficult to eliminate bad seeds, reform efforts start off at a serious disadvantage to entrenched dysfunction. The problems run deep, and by the looks of things, the worst may be yet to come.
Before he was promoted to captain and transferred in 2007, Frank Mancini was the commanding officer of the BPD’s anti-corruption unit for six years. While in that job, he kept a rubber rat in the office, "for atmosphere," he says. It was an appropriate prop for the secretive squad, whose duty is not to bust cops’ chops for uniform infractions or detail scams—that’s internal affairs—but to take down the real wrongdoers in their midst. (Mancini has never previously talked about the ACU on the record, and his replacement, Lieutenant Detective Richard Sexton, is not authorized to discuss the unit.)
The ACU works out of an off-site location kept secret from most of the rank and file. Its members—whose numbers vary from year to year—drive unmarked cars with plates that can’t be traced back to the BPD. For all intents, in fact, it operates as an entity separate from the BPD as it investigates the roughly 30 to 60 corruption cases that accumulate annually in its files. Because the ACU is working in a small department in a small city, when Mancini ran it he was careful to handpick officers who he thought would be up to the task of handcuffing friends or even relatives on the force. His sales pitch was that his unit’s busts did every officer a service. "If we aren’t able to watch our own shop and take down our own dirty cops," he says, "the federal government is going to come in and do it for us. It happened in Cincinnati. It happened in Pittsburgh. It happened in New Orleans. It happened in Detroit. It happened in Los Angeles. It happened with the New Jersey State Police. I don’t want the feds coming in and watching over the Boston police. We have to take care of our own house, and we have to show everybody we can do it properly."
But solving the smaller problems that can snowball into ugly scandals is more complicated than just appealing to fellow officers’ sense of duty. It calls for changing a departmental culture created, in part, by years of poor leadership. While Commissioner Paul Evans was well regarded when he took the job in 1994, he quickly fell into a notoriously cantankerous relationship with Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association president Tom Nee. The two men publicly butted heads over virtually every issue, making real reform next to impossible. Evans alienated much of the force when he acquiesced to the federal prosecution of a Brighton cop named Harry Byrne, who was charged with slapping a politically connected Harvard student in the face after, he claimed, the student spat on him. Byrne was found guilty, and served nearly six years in a federal penitentiary.
Evans’s successor, Kathleen O’Toole, had to put up with both deep budget cuts and incessant meddling by Mayor Tom Menino, who high-ranking sources say continues to have a hand in the day-to-day operation of the department. She also inherited a mess involving the BPD’s latent fingerprint unit (full of grievously ill-trained officers), which was blamed for the wrongful conviction of Stephan Cowans in connection with the 1997 shooting of a Boston cop. After a rocky debut, she drew heat from police commanders for seeming to be more concerned about maintaining good relationships with union officials than addressing the spike in violent crime. As her tenure stretched on, O’Toole took yet more flak for making herself scarce and allowing her command staff—which was itself divided by internecine feuding—to run the department. After just 27 months as top cop, she left for a police job in Ireland.
The impact of that stretch of dysfunction has been pronounced. Last summer, hoping to crack down on detail abuses like those committed by Ortiz, the BPD’s chief of patrol officers, Superintendent Dan Linskey, began to visit sites unannounced. He didn’t like what he found. In some cases, the cop on duty was not at the site at all. (Linskey called one sergeant, and was told he had left because of a "family emergency." When pressed, the sergeant admitted he had taken his son to a doctor’s appointment—but had still put in for the detail and planned to charge the department for it.) Since then, Linskey has lowered the boom on lax district commanders who have allowed this sort of thing to happen. Davis himself notes, "You let the small things go, and the big things will manifest themselves." A source close to Linskey says, "Sometimes we are our own worst enemy."
After internal affairs or the ACU identifies an egregious offender, it’s far from certain the department brass will be able to adequately punish him. "It’s not a question of whether the department wants to fire someone," Mancini said. "It’s a question of can they." BPD leaders say one of the biggest hurdles to cleaning up the force is the state’s Civil Service Commission, an independent body established in 1884 to prevent politicians from interfering in the hiring practices of public agencies, or managers from canning people unfairly. The governor-appointed commission is currently made up of three full-time members and two part-timers, with its chairman, Christopher Bowman, earning roughly $90,000 a year. Any police officer—or civil servant—who has been disciplined or fired can appeal to the commission and have a full hearing. If it decides the cop was wrongfully dismissed, it can overrule the firing unilaterally. That’s a crucial difference from the way things are done in New York, for example, where the police commissioner has the final say.
Bowman points out that the commission sides with the police agency roughly 85 percent of the time. "We don’t impede the ability of a police department to discipline a cop for just cause," he says. "We are not biased. We’re a check-and-balance on the system." Still, the Massachusetts Major Cities Chiefs, an association of top cops from across the state, lists elimination of civil service protection for police as a critical mission. History is not on the reformers’ side: Both Mitt Romney and Bill Weld launched attempts to overhaul the commission, and both failed miserably, because legislators didn’t want to anger the state’s public employee unions.
Regardless of how often the commission rules in favor of the BPD brass, the mere threat of an appeal is often a deterrent to disciplinary action. Davis cites civil service protection as preventing him from firing David Murphy after the cop was charged with punching his girlfriend in the face at a Baltimore bar. Davis weighed moving to kick Murphy off the force, knowing that if he did, Murphy almost certainly would appeal to civil service. The BPD’s legal department told Davis the fight could stretch on for years, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and most likely be "a loser," Davis says, because Murphy had agreed to probation before judgment (meaning his record won’t show a criminal conviction if he stays out of trouble during his 18-month probation). So instead, Murphy is back on the force, making him one of 11 Boston cops suspended by the department for domestic violence allegations over the past two years who got to keep their jobs.
The case of Michael LoPriore illustrates a further layer of protection for cops, no matter how badly they perform. In 2004, LoPriore was investigated for allegedly forging signatures on detail slips, defrauding taxpayers of more than $1,100. And that was two years after he got caught using a poli
ce cruiser to pick up a drunken woman outside a bar and deposit her in Charlestown without radioing in that he was transporting a civilian. Yet neither of those offenses was enough to get him fired, not after the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association got involved on his behalf. It wasn’t until LoPriore forced a 19-year-old Chinatown prostitute to have sex with him in his car (with his child’s car seat strapped in the back), that serious action was taken. During the encounter, the hooker snatched LoPriore’s badge while his pants were around his knees. She went to the FBI, who bugged her phone in the hopes that he’d call to get his badge back—which he did. This time the union stayed out of it, and LoPriore was forced to resign. But for the department, it was too late: It had already suffered another major embarrassment.
Of course, the protection afforded by both the union and the Civil Service Commission is, by its nature, after the fact. The trick is to prevent cops from breaking the law in the first place, and that comes down to basic standards. In the wake of the arrests of Ortiz and the Three Amigos, some officers have been quick to blame what they believe were affirmative-action hires. But Mancini thinks the issue is poor training, not hiring quotas. He says the key is to encourage instructors to root out risky candidates while they’re in the academy, when the department can dismiss a rookie without union or civil service interference. Such a step would involve implementing more-rigorous background checks and psychological screening while the cadets are in the academy, which instructors currently don’t have the resources to do. The NYPD, by contrast, tails questionable new recruits during their off time, in barrooms and in the neighborhoods, to look for any telltale behaviors.
Then there’s the matter of time. In response to Boston’s surge in violent crime—and the BPD’s homicide clearance rate of 35 percent between 2003 and 2007, far below the national average of 62 percent—City Hall is under political pressure to put more officers on the street. In turn, say department sources, there’s pressure on the academy to push candidates through. It’s a recipe for trouble. "The research states if you rush someone through the training process," says Mancini, "you are going to miss something."
Former Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Bob Hayden has long advocated for changes in academy training that would go further toward heading off misdeeds. "Traditionally," Hayden says, "police departments do not train their people about the temptations…. People are going to try to give them alcohol, money, drugs. There are some women who are cop groupies, who will be attracted to them because of the badge. But they don’t talk about that in the academy.
"Add that to the stress of police work, the highs and the lows of adrenaline rushes and long, dull shifts," he says, "and you have an atmosphere that makes young cops ripe to be corrupted, ready to be corrupted. By not preparing them in the academy, we almost create the situation where corruption can fester."
Furthermore, some critics say cadets aren’t trained to recognize wavering in their peers. "The police culture builds up in the academy," says Mancini. "You stick together. You don’t go outside the group. It takes a lot of guts to step forward and report corruption after that is drummed into your head."
Back in 2001, Commissioner Paul Evans walked into the District E-13 station house in Jamaica Plain for roll call and presented three awards for exemplary conduct. All three went to the same cop. According to one of the citations, which commended the officer for chasing down and apprehending a robber on Tremont Street, his actions were "indicative of the outstanding professionalism he displays no matter where or when called upon to perform his oath of office." That officer was Roberto Pulido.
Pulido, of course, would later become notorious for allegedly running a series of criminal enterprises that included selling steroids, protecting drug dealers, stealing motorists’ identities, and helping manage the Boom-Boom Room in the illegal nightclub not far from the mayor’s Hyde Park home. That all this culminated in the biggest BPD scandal in memory is well known. But now even an incident for which Pulido was lauded is getting another look.
On March 7, 2002, Pulido was on Grotto Glen Road in Jamaica Plain when, he said, he spotted a guy suspiciously eyeing a yellow Mitsubishi near the James Hennigan School. Pulido would report that he followed the man and got into a scuffle with him. Shots were fired. One missed, but two caught the officer in the torso, flattening against the bulletproof vest he had elected to wear that night (unlike in other major cities, Boston cops don’t have to wear such protection, per their union contract). Pulido was rushed to Brigham and Women’s, where the vigil that accompanies every shooting of a cop began. Mayor Menino showed up grim-faced, as did Commissioner Evans, who dubbed Pulido an "outstanding" officer.
Back at the crime scene, however, at least one of Pulido’s fellow officers was puzzled. The circumstances of the shooting were murky. Pulido said he grappled with the assailant, but that the guy wriggled free and got away. Pulido never returned fire. Despite the close combat, the cop apparently couldn’t offer much of a description beyond that of a 5-foot-9 black man in dark clothing. "Right away, it was weird," said a veteran BPD investigator who responded to the scene. "No one had a description of the perp. Pulido’s story didn’t make sense. Everyone was looking at each other like, ‘Who are we looking for?’ But who is going to dispute a cop’s story after he just got shot?"
The answer was: no one. Because far more than just being great fodder for reporters, in many ways Pulido is a near-perfect product of the kind of disease that has marred the BPD for years. There was the "blue wall of silence" that prevented the investigators from sharing any suspicions with the brass. There was the fact that early on in his law enforcement career, Pulido failed a test for cocaine, which earned him a 45-day suspension and a stint in a department-mandated drug treatment program, but didn’t result in his termination. (Other departments take a zero-tolerance approach to drug crimes, but until very recently, again per the union contract, Boston cops could fail a test and only be subject to three years of random drug testing, all without losing their jobs.) Finally, the Pulido scandal underscored the need for the reforms proposed by Bob Hayden, in which cadets would be taught to expect and resist the temptations of the job—the trifecta of money, drugs, and women that ultimately brought down the officer.
Davis concedes that wiping out corruption altogether is near impossible, but says he’s making progress. In the past year, he has issued executive orders and negotiated with union officials to make it harder for cops to keep their jobs after committing crimes. Now, officers who test positive for drugs are subject to random drug testing for the rest of their career. Shortly after Ortiz’s record of six suspensions was revealed, Davis vowed to implement a "three strike" system, in which that number of disciplinary leaves automatically results in termination. After the Murphy debacle, he got the patrolmen’s union to agree, on a case-by-case basis, to let him fire officers who are charged with domestic violence—even if they are not found guilty in court—should internal affairs be able to prove the allegations to its satisfaction.
For the most part, BPD command staff and Mayor Menino are backing Davis on the housecleaning (though there’s still an element in the department resistant to the changes—some patrol cops privately call the do-gooding f
ormer Lowell cop "Opie," as in the character from The Andy Griffith Show). It’s helped that Davis has pursued the changes with a savvy and focus that previous commissioners have lacked. He shows up at crime scenes, holds weekly command staff meetings, interacts with union officials without cajoling, and generally doesn’t grandstand, which keeps the mayor happy. The more reform-minded officers are glad to have someone finally try to tackle departmental corruption. "He took Ortiz’s badge, saying he was a disgrace to good cops," Mancini says. "I’m glad I got to see that." Davis, along with Superintendent-in-Chief Robert Dunford and internal affairs Superintendent Kenny Fong has adopted a phrase coined by former acting police Commissioner Al Goslin, who—during his brief stint running the department until Menino appointed Davis—initiated the investigation into the Three Amigos. Goslin would often say, "We can’t be afraid to kick the bag" (the implication being "even if there is shit in it").
It’s a mantra that will come in handy again soon. Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil has issued subpoenas to up to a dozen Boston police officers to appear in front of a grand jury convened to hear evidence on steroid abuse in the BPD. According to a source, three officers, one of them a homicide detective, were transferred after receiving their subpoenas. Two BPD sources, including one with direct knowledge of the investigation, confirmed the ongoing grand jury—where what went on in Pulido’s Boom-Boom Room is also likely to be reexamined. And the fact that Pulido’s sentencing, originally slated for February, has been pushed back is causing some in the department to wonder whether he is giving up other officers in return for a reduced punishment.
Such a purge is required of any large-scale reform effort, but it puts Davis in an awkward position. On one hand, rooting out corruption is what the department badly needs; on the other, the more instances that are unearthed, the further the department will fall in the public’s regard. Balancing those two factors, while keeping morale high and the mayor satisfied, is a challenge, to say the least. Sitting in a stiff-backed wooden chair in his office at police headquarters in Roxbury, Davis leans his large frame back and takes a breath. "It’s not like I came in here as a crusader," he says. But if he wasn’t before, he is now.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2008/03/busted/