Sgt. Sean Murphy Retires from Massachusetts State Police

Murphy, the tactical photographer who released dramatic photos of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev manhunt, retires after 25 years with the force.

Three and a half months after releasing the dramatic behind-the-scenes photos he took during the manhunt for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sgt. Sean Murphy has retired from the Massachusetts State Police.

As part of a negotiated agreement, Murphy has also signed off on five disciplinary charges that were brought against him for the unauthorized release of the photos: violation of rules; unbecoming conduct; unsatisfactory performance; insubordination; and dissemination of information.

Under the agreement, Murphy waived his right to contest the charges before a trial board; was docked five of the vacation days he’d accrued; and received an honorable discharge. “I think it’s fair,” he told me this morning. “It could have been much worse.” His retirement, which comes after 25 years with the State Police, is effective Nov. 1.

When I asked him whether he’d been forced into the action, he replied: “My lawyer put it this way: ‘One can only form their own conclusions.’ I didn’t have to retire, but I realize and understand that I’ll never photograph again for the Mass State Police. I could work the midnight desk sergeant shift in Athol, but I have 25 years and I can retire.”

State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed that Murphy retired last week. “The process took its course, and Sgt. Murphy went through the disciplinary process,” Procopio said. “He chose to retire.” Procopio said that the marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed will always be a part of Massachusetts State Police history, and that “Sean’s release of the photographs will always be a footnote in it. I don’t think there’s much more I want to say about it.”

A tactical photographer with the State Police, Murphy made international news on July 18 when he gave Boston magazine the images he captured of the manhunt, including those of a bloody Tsarnaev at last surrendering, arms up, forehead aglow with the red laser beads of sniper rifles.

Murphy released the photos because he was furious about a Rolling Stone cover that he felt depicted Tsarnaev in a glamorous light. He told me at the time that his photos countered that portrayal. “What Rolling Stone did was wrong,” he said. “This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber.”

Just hours after the photos were published, two State Police lieutenants and a sergeant showed up at Murphy’s home and confiscated his gun, badge, cameras, computer, cellphone, and other equipment. He was placed on restricted duty while his case was investigated, and had to meet with a psychiatrist for a mental-health assessment. “I literally sat on his couch,” Murphy told me. “I spoke with him for over two hours. And eventually he found me fit for duty.”

Though Murphy found some of the language in the State Police charges against him “stinging,” he said he had no problem with the punishment he received. “I know what I did was wrong,” he said. “I understood there’d be repercussions. Really, the discipline could have been much worse.” He did bristle, though, at the suggestion that he had in any way released evidence that could be used in the case against Tsarnaev. (He was not charged with releasing evidence.) During the manhunt, he told me, “I was in no way, shape, or form in the capacity of a crime scene investigator. These images weren’t part of a case. They weren’t evidence. They were never entered or given a number. If it was evidence, you could never release it. I was there as a member of media relations for headquarters. I documented day to day what we did in operations.” In fact, he said, some of the very images he released are now “in a display case in the lobby of the Mass State Police headquarters.”

In August, Murphy was transferred to the Athol barracks to work the midnight shift. The people in the central Massachusetts town responded by putting signs of support in their lawns, placing a banner along Route 2, and sending cookies, flowers, and letters to the barracks. “All the people in Athol stood up for me,” Murphy said this morning. All along, though, he knew he would never actually work there. He’d already begun contemplating retirement, and he was still on leave for an injury he suffered while off-duty. But because he was prohibited from speaking about his case during the investigation, he said he couldn’t tell anyone in Athol. To show his appreciation, he said, Murphy has taken out ads in the Athol Daily News to run on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

I asked Murphy whether he had any regrets about releasing the photos. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “If I did not do this I would regret it every day. I’ve had a great 25 years. I am proud to have served with the men and women of the Mass State Police.”