The mayor of Chicopee, Massachusetts has ordered an independent investigation into how cases of misconduct have been addressed inside the city’s police department. Mayor Michael Bissonnette announced the probe at the same time he appointed a new police chief.
Mayor Bissonnette said he ordered the investigation of the police department’s internal affairs operations because of concerns about how discipline has been handled in the past. He revealed that five police officers who took and distributed cellphone pictures of a murder scene where a 20- year -old woman was stabbed to death received only letters of reprimand for their conduct.
Bissonnette said there were two other troubling cases he’d become aware of. Both involved the possible misuse of firearms by police officers. In one case, a police officer allegedly pointed a loaded gun at a fellow officer, but no disciplinary action was taken.
As mayor, Bissonnette, under state civil service laws has the final authority to appoint, promote, and discipline members of the police department. But during his eight years as mayor, only one case involving punishment for a police officer was referred to him.
Bissonnette said John Pucci, a former federal prosecutor, has been hired to investigate the police department’s internal affairs operations and will report back to the mayor in 90 days.
Separate investigations are also being planned into the finances and overall operations of the police department, according to Bissonnette, who said he would disclose more details about these later this week.
Bissonnette said he ordered the investigations so that newly appointed police chief Thomas Charette can start with a clean slate.
Charette, who joined the Chicopee Police Department in 1992, has been interim police chief since last July. He succeeds John Ferraro, who retired last June after 20 years as police chief. Ferraro could not be reached for comment about the investigation.
The new chief, Charette, said he encouraged Mayor Bissonnette to appoint an independent investigator.
Charette said he was shocked and embarrassed when he learned that police officers had taken and distributed cellphone photos taken inside the apartment where 20- year- old Amanda Plasse was found murdered in August 2011. She died of multiple stab wounds. No arrests have been made.
Mayor Bissonnette said he was concerned the police misconduct, which was discovered about six months later, might jeopardize the prosecution of the case if an arrest is made. He said all the photos had been recovered and none were put on the internet.
The mayor also announced the appointment of Jeffrey Neece as the new head of the department of public works. Neece holds the same job now with the town of Southwick.