It’s not often a citizen’s complaint results in a fired officer. Even more rarely does it result in a criminal investigation and prosecution. But a woman known only as “Debbie” hit the accountability jackpot, as Matt Rocheleau reports for the Boston Globe. And it all started with nothing more than a state trooper being an asshole.
The woman was driving through the Ted Williams Tunnel on her way to Logan Airport on a weeknight three years ago when a Massachusetts State Police trooper popped out of nowhere in front of her car, arms flailing, gesturing to pull over.
“Do you not speak English?” the trooper yelled after she rolled down the window.
An Asian-American with a medical degree from Harvard, the woman spoke four languages fluently.
“Sir? What should I do?” the woman recounted in a complaint she later filed.
Again and again, the white trooper yelled, “Don’t you speak English?” she wrote, adding that several times he put his hands on his hips against his gun holster.
Debbie was given a ticket for driving 10 mph over the speed limit by another trooper at the scene. She filed a complaint with the State Police about the trooper, only to be greeted with the dismissive disdain so many law enforcement agencies direct at complainants.
Two days later, she received the first of two calls from a State Police investigator, according to an e-mail she wrote to an attorney she had consulted, and shared with the Globe. The investigator “seemed particularly bothered by my reporting racial discrimination,” Debbie wrote to the attorney. “He stated repeatedly that he did not feel that what I reported sounded racist to him and that he found my labeling it as such ‘inflammatory.’ ”
This wasn’t the only investigator Debbie spoke to. Another investigator seemed completely uninterested in her story about a bigoted cop. This investigator was far more interested in when the incident had taken place. Debbie’s ticket had been tossed when she challenged it. The clerk magistrate saw the date and time were incorrect and dismissed it. That’s when things started to get really interesting.
First, the State Police actually opened an internal affairs investigation into Debbie’s claim of verbal abuse. This was upheld and the trooper who yelled at her during the traffic stop retired shortly thereafter. The other trooper at the scene — the one who wrote the ticket with the wrong date and time — was also under investigation.
As it turned out, the trooper whose name was on Debbie’s ticket played it fast and loose with important details like time and date. It wasn’t because the trooper, Eric Chin, wasn’t detail-oriented. It was because Trooper Chin was frequently trying to do tomorrow’s work today — the sort of thing that might have been considered inspiring if it wasn’t tied to criminal activity.
In court records filed in July, state prosecutors noted that Chin had written eight tickets on the day Debbie was pulled over and post-dated them to make it appear he worked the following day. Other records indicate he worked only a small portion of his shift on the following day.
Troopers charged in the overtime scheme used various methods to conceal their absences from shifts, according to court documents, including changing dates on copies of citations they submitted or writing entirely bogus tickets and failing to file copies to process the violation.
Chin pled guilty to an embezzlement charge in 2018. He was fired by the State Trooper’s and forfeited his pension benefits. Trooper Eric Chin was a bad apple. But he wasn’t alone. His unit was a barrel that held several rancid apples just like him, each one more anomalous than the next.
The findings prompted additional investigations into Chin’s colleagues at Troop E, and the case widened from there, eventually ensnaring about one-third of the unit. Troop E, which primarily patrolled the turnpike, was disbanded in spring 2018, with several troopers eventually brought up on charges.
Maybe former Trooper Chin feels the other officer, Michael Casamassima, is to blame for his downfall. After all, if Trooper Casamassima hadn’t repeatedly asked if Debbie spoke English during the traffic stop, she wouldn’t have filed the complaint that led to the discovery of Troop E’s collective fraud. But the worst law enforcement officers tend to gravitate towards each other. There’s safety in numbers. No one wants to break rank and bring the whole scheme crashing down, especially when they’re equally complicit in the fraud being perpetrated.
If there’s a moral to this story, maybe it’s to always complain when you feel you’ve been mistreated by public servants. If they’re willing to make bigoted assumptions out loud in public, there’s a good chance they’re doing worse things away from the public eye.