SPRINGFIELD – Policeman Jeffrey M. Asher‘sa shot almost a year after being filmed beating suspect with flashlight may be nothing more than a paper tiger, state retirement official said .
Asher got a state disability pension on Wednesday – a day before Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet sacked him on the recommendation of a municipal civilian review board.
Barbara Phillips, attorney for the state’s Public Employees Retirement Administration Commission, said Asher’s ousting made no sense in terms of her retirement plan.
“It doesn’t matter that he was fired,” Phillips said on Friday. Phillips, however, said Asher could lose her pension if convicted of a criminal offense.
Asher, a 17-year-old police veteran, was charged by Holyoke District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly beating a drug suspect Melvin jones iii during a roadside check on November 27, 2009. The incident was videotaped and made public in January. Asher, 39, went on stress leave when the film surfaced and stayed there while pursuing disability retirement.
Three other officers were also suspended by Fitchet this week following the Jones incident, although no one else faces criminal charges. The specific reasons for the disciplinary action were not cited by the commissioner and will not be made public until a review by the legal department, Fitchet said on Friday.
Kevin B. Coyle, a police union attorney representing one of the suspended police officers, patroller Michael Sedergren, said he would appeal his client’s suspension.
“We’re disappointed with the decision because we don’t think (the suspension) was justified. The evidence didn’t support it,” Coyle said. “I think this council was created to find these officers guilty, and they did.”
He said union officials plan to protest the decision on Monday.
The investigation into the officers’ actions has drawn close scrutiny from civil rights groups and US Department of Justice officials, as Jones is black and the officers are white. Jones ‘attorney and civil rights activists questioned why Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett never called a grand jury to examine the officers’ conduct.
“I had hoped that the district attorney would have acted more quickly in this case, but that did not happen. However, Mr. Asher will still have to answer for his actions in criminal proceedings,” the member said. NAACP, Maurice C. Powe, Springfield lawyer and chair of legal remedies for the local.
Bennett said he tried to work cooperatively with Jones and his lawyer early in the process until Jones was reluctant to participate in some investigative hearings. It was Jones who brought the criminal charges against Asher as part of a show cause process in district court.
Police officials will not discuss Asher’s reported illness that served as the basis for his disability claim, citing confidentiality concerns, but have said he was a veteran of the First Gulf War.
A city retirement council voted unanimously to grant his retirement on September 1, after a panel of doctors backed his petition, members said.
The five-member council is made up of Municipal Auditor Mark J. Ianello, Haskel O. Kennedy Jr., appointed by Sarno, Philip J. Mantoni, and two members elected by active and retired municipal employees, Gerald L. Michaelian, a retired town firefighter; and Robert P. Moynihan, Springfield Police Lieutenant.
Police said Jones, 29, seized an officer’s gun during his arrest. But, a grand jury rejected these allegations. Jones, who had a long criminal record, was charged with possession of cocaine and resisting arrest; this case is pending.
Only Asher was tried by the review board for using excessive force after a lengthy investigation, Fitchet said.
However, Patroller Sedergren and Lieutenant John M. Bobianski were suspended for 45 days; Officer Theodore Truiolo has been suspended for 15 years. All were present when Jones was arrested.
The suspensions, announced Thursday, were immediate and referred to working days, not consecutive days.
The five-member Civil Review Panel, criticized by Coyle, was created by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno in the wake of the Jones controversy.
The advisory committee interviewed witnesses and deliberated behind closed doors for days before forwarding its recommendations to Fitchet.
Sarno bristled at the suggestion that the panel was created to mock the four.
“This is absurd. I have always been and continue to be a supporter of our public safety officials. The council has acted with integrity and fairness to all parties involved,” he said.
Fitchet said he reviewed the video and Jones’ car (where he could be seen lying on the hood as he was hit by the flashlight), as well as all witness statements before analyzing the disciplined.
“I already knew the case very well… I did not operate in a vacuum,” said Fitchet.
Coyle said lawyers for leaders and union officials will hold a press conference to denounce the process and Fitchet’s decisions on Monday.
Police sergeant. John M. Delaney, a Fitchet associate, said if they had been taken unilaterally, the commissioner’s decisions would not have been radically different from the board’s recommendations.
Council members declined to comment.
Asher has previously been involved in two high-profile cases where police violence has been alleged. He was suspended for kicking another black suspect while the man was handcuffed and on the ground during an arrest in the 1990s.
Asher, however, has never faced criminal charges.
Jones independently requested criminal charges when Bennett made no attempt to indict anyone other than himself. A clerical magistrate in Holyoke District Court issued two criminal charges earlier this month against Asher, but dismissed the charges against the other three.
Sedergren had been fired by former police commissioner Edward Flynn, but was reinstated after appealing.
Delaney said neither Bobianski nor Truiolo had a negative disciplinary history.
Asher is due to be brought to justice on November 17.
Editor-in-chief George Graham contributed to this report