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Officers suspended for talking to media about corruption

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Officers suspended for talking to media about corruption 03/24/97 MASSACHUSETTS--In early March, two police sergeants were suspended without pay for…

Officers suspended for talking to media about corruption

03/24/97

MASSACHUSETTS–In early March, two police sergeants were suspended without pay for speaking with a reporter about mismanagement, corruption and racism within the Holyoke Police Department, and for providing him with internal documents.

Sgts. Robert Wagner and Gary Bennett spoke with Valley Advocate reporter Mark Vannah, who wrote a series of articles about problems in the department. Among other things, Vannah wrote that a police officer took money seized during a 1995 drug raid. Police chief Stephen Donoghue suspended Wagner and Bennett for 13 and three days, respectively, for violating a Department policy restricting who can speak with the press, and for publicly criticizing the Department.

At a March 10 appeals hearing, which was open to the public at the officers’ request, Donoghue alleged that Wagner had violated state law by releasing to the Valley Advocate documents related to the 1995 raid. Donoghue asked the mayor to fire or demote Wagner for leaking the documents, and also referred the matter to the district attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.

Capt. Russell Paquette, who is serving as acting chief while Donoghue is away on vacation, said that the Valley Advocate acknowledged obtaining the documents from Wagner. Michael Akerson, the sergeants’ attorney, said Paquette’s testimony was unsubstantiated and noted that the city had not requested testimony from the Valley Advocate. The newspaper denied telling officials who provided them with the documents.

In response to escalating questions about the Department, city councilmember Diosdado Lopez is seeking access to civilian complaints that are filed at police headquarters. The Department maintains that the complaints are confidential.

The Holyoke Sun, another local newspaper, editorialized against the action against Wagner and Bennett, noting that the Department focused more on the officers’ “crime” of talking to the press than the substance of their allegations.

A grand jury was convened in mid-March to explore the officers’ allegations.