PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Police Advisory and Review Board's training wheels are coming off.
The group has spent the last few months brushing up on various policies, taking ride-alongs with officers, and now they've got their first real internal affairs case to analyze. Every internal affairs case the department closes is to be put before the board within 60 days for a review.
The case brought to the committee on Tuesday was opened in March after a high school student apparently told her school resource officer that Officer Nicholas Cabral had made inappropriate comments to her at her workplace. The girl repeated the story to investigators, saying Cabral had made comments when he walked her to her car.
A few days later in the investigation, three other reports of his conduct raised eyebrows — one that he had sent a Facebook request to a different high school student following a traffic stop and that a school worker reported he had yelled at her. Then a manager at the girl's workplace brought concerns to police regarding his behavior, specifically "being a creep," according to the internal affairs report.
Police requested surveillance tape from the alleged evening and saw Cabral had not only walked her to her vehicle but got in and the two drove away from the entrance and parked behind the business for a short time and then returned. People who were interviewed about the incident repeated the same story that the girl said Cabral had kissed her and inappropriately touched her and that she was scared and crying.
Police then requested an interview with the alleged victim without her parents being present. During that interview, she also reported Cabral had touched her.
When asked, Cabral told a different set of circumstances. He told investigators that she had asked to speak with about something but didn't want to do so at the station. He admitted that he did get into the vehicle. He said she then asked why he wouldn't give her his phone number or accept her social media requests. He claimed she had a thing for him and he denied her. At the end of that conversation, he said he gave her a hug.
"During the initial investigation there was additional information gathered that it may have been more than inappropriate comments, there may have been inappropriate contact between the officer and the high school student and we became aware that there may be more than one student," Police Chief Wynn told the Police Advisory and Review Committee.
Cabral was asked about another girl who worked there and he said she had been flirtatious with him. He admitted that he "said some raunchy back." He had apparently gone to her school on multiple occasions but surveillance there shows no interaction with the alleged student. The school resource officer said he had asked for a tour.
Cabral was also accused of stopping one of the girl's sisters and asking for a phone number, though the redactions in the report make it unclear which number he allegedly asked for. Cabral denied that happened. He had stopped the vehicle but said he gave her a verbal warning for having a taillight out.
Cabral provided screenshots in an attempt to clear his name — alleging that the girls were teaming up to get him fired because he had rejected the alleged victim. The messages read things like "if u at least take me out I tell them I made it all up" and "yea we feel bad for lying but shit u shouda just gave me u numba." Cabral showed other messages — coming from three different numbers — reading messages saying the girls made up the incident.
But investigators could not confirm the numbers. All three numbers went to a voicemail service and Facebook and Google searches yielded no results. Investigators believe the numbers were through a voice over internet providers service associated with an app designed to be short-term texting with no pertinent identification numbers.
Cabral said that while he was trying to show them the "kinder, gentler side of police," he was not intending to be flirtatious. Others at the store reported him as being overly talkative and flirtatious with the young girls who worked there.
Some two weeks into the investigation, an adult court officer lodged complaints that Cabral had made inappropriate comments to her. The woman told police that he had made a suggestive comment but didn't want to pursue it further.
The investigation hadn't revealed enough to bring criminal charges but did find a "pattern of concerning behavior surrounding young women."
The internal affairs report reads that Cabral had admitted to getting into the vehicle with one girl, and admitted to being flirtatious with another. The report doubts Cabral's allegations that the girls were attempting to get him in trouble because the first girl did not initially report any kissing or touching when first interviewed and several co-workers reported that the girl was upset following the incident.
The report determined he has violated multiple rules. Wynn concurred with the findings that he broke rules of having off-duty relationships that discredit the organization, conduct unbecoming of an officer, neglecting duty by leaving the assignment, and committing a criminal act. The chief dismissed violations of immorality and utilizing a private vehicle while on duty. The chief then added charges of violations of the devotion to duty, cooperating with an investigation, complying with rules and procedures, and falsifying records.
The chief called for Cabral to be terminated. Wynn said the officer still had to go through a Civil Service hearing and a resolution had been determined — though he was unclear what the actually was — but said on Tuesday the Cabral no longer works for the department.
The Police Advisory and Review Board is now tasked with handling its own review of the case to determine if the department had acted appropriately. The case is the second one brought to the board but the first was one Wynn said typically wouldn't have been investigated. He said the complaint had come in when the committee was formed so he authorized the investigation just so the committee would have something to review.
In that case, brought to the board at the end of May, an officer was alleged to have run a woman's license plate and stopped her in what Wynn called a "fishing expedition" because of her past. In that case, an officer had reported that he noticed a woman falling asleep at the wheel at an intersection, pulled her over to check on her, and the woman believed he was looking to get her on something.
"The complainant alleges that is a fabrication and that the officer had preemptively or proactively run her plate and when her name came back, he recognized her name from previous interactions and her ancient history and that he was fishing," Wynn said.
Wynn said the key piece of the investigation is that the vehicle wasn't registered to the woman. He said the officer would not have been able to know it was her driving that vehicle.
"There is no known link in our system between that plate and the registration of that plate and the driver that would have come back," the chief said.
Wynn continued to say the officer was new to the force, didn't have much prior knowledge of the area, while the department hadn't interacted with the woman in 20 years. The woman was let go fairly quickly.
"It was unfounded pretty much as soon as we realized the car wasn't registered to her," Wynn said.
The committee specifically felt the investigation didn't quite answer the question — did officers run the plate ahead of time or not? Wynn said that isn't relevant in this case because officers have the ability to run plates at will.
"We are not going to defend ourselves for something we are entitled to do," Wynn said.
That was a notable difference in how the investigation is conducted and reported versus what the community expects. The group, some unaware that police had that authority, feel that is an information gap they can fill in. They hope to be able to provide that missing piece of information between the public and the department.
The committee had a little discussion on those cases but will soon be on their own for review. The training portion of the committee's formation has ended and in July the group is expected to elected officers and establish procedures for case reviews and executive sessions.
Now, the group is expected to start operating more independently, choosing officers and establishing its own procedures after begin guided by Wynn for these last few months.
The group is particularly charged with reviewing internal affairs reports and Wynn is required to bring all finalized cases to the board within 60 days of the resolution. So far, the board has reviewed two very different types of cases - one that led to an officer leaving employment and one that was deemed unfounded.
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