Report: Pittsfield Officer Used Excessive Force, Lied About Incident
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An internal affairs report contends that Pittsfield Police Officer Michael McHugh attempted to cover up an assault committed by a friend.
McHugh had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer or other person, and being a public employee making a false report on July 12.
His co-defendant is Jason LaBelle, 37, who had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf on Monday on single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, falsely reporting a crime, misleading a judge, and misleading a clerk.
The pair is accused of assaulting a 54-year-old man in Pittsfield on July 4, 2016. The victim in the assault was arrested by McHugh that night on counts of operating under the influence, disturbing the peace, and possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.
The police internal investigation report says the arrest report had false information and that LeBelle was allegedly allowed to kick the man, which was left out of the report. McHugh is also accused of drinking at the time of the incident, which is against police conduct regulations.
McHugh, who has worked for the department for 18 years, was off duty at the time. In his report, he claims LaBelle, whom he described as a friend, had contacted him shortly before 9:30 p.m. that night claiming the 54-year-old was "stalking his house" and was likely intoxicated. LaBelle then went to McHugh's house.
McHugh said the pair drove around the neighborhood looking for the man's vehicle and eventually found it in a driveway of a neighbor. McHugh said he approached the vehicle, identifying himself as an officer, and the man refused to get out of the vehicle. He said the man appeared to be reaching for something, which he felt could be a weapon.
"I had to pry his hands off of the steering wheel and eventually strike him in the midsection two or three times with my left knee in order for him to let go. Once I had his hands free, I pulled him from the vehicle and ground stabilized him, face down, on the ground," he wrote.
McHugh said he searched the vehicle and found empty beer bottles. He contacted a police sergeant and asked for patrol officers to be sent. McHugh said he then went to knock on the door of the owner of the home whose driveway the incident was occurring when he heard LaBelle and the victim yelling at one another.
McHugh said he did not see [LaBelle] get "within arm's reach" of the victim. The internal investigation report, however, contends that was not true.
"McHugh denies that [redacted] was ever near [the victim] during the arrest. However, during McHugh's recorded call to the station [redacted] can be heard in the background and [the victim] can be heard groaning and stating [redacted]," the internal investigation report reads.
"It is noteworthy that in his arrest report Ofc. McHugh wrote 'I never witnessed [redacted] get within arm's reach of [the victim].' At the time no complaint had been filed by [the victim]. There was no legitimate reason for McHugh to make this assertion."
A grand jury found that there was sufficient evidence, which includes witness interviews and video of the incident, to suggest that LaBelle was allowed to approach the victim and kick him several times.
The internal affairs report says those involved had "fabricated" the story of how the victim received his injuries. The injuries were apparently reported as being related to an earlier incident in which the victim is accused of swinging at someone, whose name was redacted in the report. But the investigation found that did not happen.
"Based on video evidence and interviews it was clearly determined that the early encounter in [redacted] driveway did not occur. It is unknown whose decision it was to bring forth this story, however, it is clear that Ofc. McHugh would stand to benefit from its use as reason for the severe injuries that [the victim] suffered," the internal investigation report reads.
The report continues to say the victim hadn't reported the encounter leading to the injuries and that the victim "certainly would have reported that and attempted to bring additional charges for it."
Based on interviews with witnesses, police say the story did not unfold the way McHugh described and that the officer had used excessive force. Further, the report found McHugh in violation of department rules and regulations of conduct unbecoming an officer, use of official position, truthfulness, duty status, cooperation with investigations, criminal conduct and falsifying records.
McHugh apparently admitted to other officers that he had "four beers" prior to the incident. The department's rules say "off-duty officers shall not consume alcoholic beverages while carrying a department issued firearm, nor shall they carry a firearm while under the influence of prescription medicine."
"Of his own admission, Ofc. McHugh had been drinking prior to the event. Ofc. McHugh decided to take possession of his duty weapon, activate himself as a police officer, and take action regarding a neighborhood disturbance. Ofc. McHugh had ample opportunity to step back and call the station to report the activities of [the victim]," the internal investigation report reads. "Instead he acted on impulse, encountering [the victim], and then forcefully removing him from the truck."
The victim brought forth the complaint on Aug. 5, 2016, looking for charges against McHugh and LaBelle. An investigation began by Lt. Michael Winston and Lt. Jeffrey Bradford and, on Sept. 11, 2016, the investigators determined that the arrest report was questionable. A few days before that, Chief Michael Wynn authorized a hold on the internal affairs investigation and proceeded with a criminal investigation.
Lt. Mark Trapani and Lt. Michael Grady launched the criminal investigation. That led to a grand jury indictment of both LaBelle and McHugh. During that investigation, the internal affairs report states that McHugh was untruthful during two interviews with the detective bureau and provided limited information about cell phone calls he was being questioned about.
McHugh has been on paid administrative leave since August 2016, when the internal affairs investigation began, pending the outcome of the Civil Service process.
"Whenever the Pittsfield Police Department becomes aware of alleged misconduct by any of our members, we take those allegations very seriously. Complete and thorough investigations are conducted and when warranted, referrals are made to the appropriate criminal justice partners. Service as a police officer requires a high degree of public trust, and police officers, justifiably, are held to a higher standard," Chief Wynn had written in a prepared statement about the investigation two weeks ago.
McHugh has been involved in other off-duty incidents in the past. In 2009, he was knocked unconscious following a brawl outside of a city bar and was stabbed in 2011 following an altercation relating to a traffic issue.
Pittsfield Police Officer Facing Charges for Off-Duty Incident
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Pittsfield Police officer was arraigned Wednesday for charges stemming from an off-duty incident that occurred on July 4, 2016.
Officer Michael McHugh, 42, an 18-year veteran of the department,had not-guilty please entered on his behalf on single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer or other person, and being a public employee making a false report.
He is accused of assaulting a 54-year-old man in Pittsfield on Indendence Day last year. It is also alleged that he generated a false report about the assault on July 6, 2016.
The investigation was conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department.
Superior Court Judge John Agostini released McHugh on personal recognizance on the condition that he have no contact with the alleged victim.
McHugh has been under investigation by Internal Affairs since August 2016 because allegations related to the above incident.
Subsequently, the investigation was reassigned to the Detective Bureau to conduct a criminal investigation. The criminal investigation resulted in the charges for which McHugh has been arraigned. The Internal Affairs investigation has been referred to the Appointing Authority under Civil Service requirements.
McHugh, who joined the force in 1999, remains on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the required Civil Service processes.
"Whenever the Pittsfield Police Department becomes aware of alleged misconduct by any of our members, we take those allegations very seriously. Complete and thorough investigations are conducted and when warranted, referrals are made to the appropriate criminal justice partners. Service as a police officer requires a high degree of public trust, and police officers, justifiably, are held to a higher standard," said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.
Pittsfield Police: No Cause For Alarm About Missing Teen Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In the past few day, the Police Department has posted on Facebook numerous requests for information regarding local missing teenagers. In the last 10 days, there have been eight juveniles reported as missing or runaway.
That, of course, triggered alarm among many fearing there was some type of outbreak of abductions or a trend. But, on Thursday, the Police Department said that isn't true.
The department had used Facebook to gather leads on several missing teens. Seeing success, it kept using Facebook to get the word out in hopes to find the other missing juveniles.
"The decision to make the recent posts was made by the investigating detectives in an effort to generate leads and based on recent success. For example, one of the missing teens was located with 24 hours of our Facebook post," wrote Capt. Jeffrey Bradford.
"The social media post reached 46,157 people and was shared 1,228 times. While the circumstances of these cases cannot be released, the information gathered by our department does not point to a specific public safety risk. Although we are always concerned when a juvenile's whereabouts is not known by their parent or legal guardian, and our detectives treat these cases seriously, the recent number of reports is not unusual or out of the ordinary for our community."
Of the eight reported missing, which police say is a normal number of reports, six have already been found and two reported on Wednesday remain missing. The department has since deleted posts regarding the missing teens who were found.
"The purpose of this press release is to inform the media and public that our department has not received any information that these teens have been victimized or that the individual reports are connected," Bradford wrote.
The department also clarified its terminology when saying a juvenile is "missing" or is a "runaway." Missing is a term used to describe individuals who have not been in contact with family or friends for an unusual amount of time and runaway is a juvenile who said he or she had no intent to return to parents or legal guardians.
"In many cases, it is not clear which category best describes a specific juveniles situation. As a result of this the words 'missing' and 'runaway' are commonly used together," Bradford wrote.
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Pittsfield Man Charged With Firearms Violations
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A city teen was arrested early Friday on firearms charges after dispatchers received multiple reports of shots fired in the area of Francis and Danforth avenues.
Pittsfield Police patrol officers, detectives, and anti-crime units responded to the area and encountered two individuals, one of whom was found to be in possession of a handgun.
Jason Sefton, 18, was arrested and charged with carrying a loaded firearm without a license and possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card. He was arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court early Friday afternoon.
No injuries were reported, and there is no known threat to the safety of the general public as a result of this incident.
Detectives are investigating reports that a vehicle, believed to be involved in the incident, fled the area prior to the arrival of Officers. A full investigation is being conducted by the Pittsfield Police Detective Bureau.
Anyone who may have witnessed, or who may have information about this incident, is asked to contact the Pittsfield Police Department Detective Bureau at 413-448- 9705. Information can also be provided anonymously via the Detective Bureau, the Drug Tips hotline at 413-448-9708, or by texting PITTIP plus your message to TIP411 (847411).
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