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Officer fired after two-year paid leave

Date: 11/1/2013

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD – After spending two years on paid administrative leave, Capt. Daniel O’Brien was fired from the Police Department after failing to reach an agreement with the town.

O’Brien was placed on leave after an alleged incident where he taped a woman’s mouth shut after placing her in a restraint chair while she was in police custody after being arrested at the 2011 Big E. Alfred Donovan, special investigator for APD Management Inc., conducted the internal investigation into O’Brien’s conduct.

On Oct. 28, Mayor Gregory Neffinger issued a press release stating that negotiations had failed and he had sent a letter of termination to O’Brien. The agreement had been set for completion on Oct. 25, following the initial hearing on Oct. 18.

“He’s been on paid leave all this time, we felt we were negotiating in good faith,” Neffinger said, adding he was “disappointed” that an agreement couldn’t be reached.

“We were giving him every opportunity. He indicated that he was happy [with the resolution] and was going to sign it,” Neffinger continued.

When asked why the investigation took so long, while O’Brien earned $104,000 on leave, Neffinger responded, “Every single delay has been on his side, not ours.” The mayor cited O’Brien’s request for immunity as the main reason for the duration since granting the request required Police Chief Ronald Campurciani to obtain signatures from multiple state and local officials.

As part of his findings, Donovan stated, “The evidence shows that Izabella [from the 2011 Big E incident; her last name was redacted from the report for confidentiality] was highly intoxicated and that she was intoxicated to the point of incapacitation.”

In the report, two other alleged incidents are documented claiming that O’Brien placed arrestees in the chair in contrast to the department’s policy for use of the chair.

Donovan cited subsection C of the Police Department policy on Detaining Prisoners: “Any detainee who is uncontrollable due to the influence of alcohol or drugs, or is violent or otherwise self-destructive, shall, if transportation or removal to a detoxification or mental health facility is not feasible, be placed in a restraint chair, and placed at the end of the cell block area near the time clock, as deemed appropriated by the officer-in-charge. Under no circumstances shall this type of detainee be placed in a cell occupied by another person.”

Subsection E of the same policy states, “Such detainee shall be continuously monitored. The detainee’s behavior should be captured on video. The monitor shall be kept at dispatch. It is the responsibility of the officer-in charge to inform dispatch that a prisoner has been placed in a restraint chair. The camera shall be turned on, by the officer-in-charge when the prisoner has been placed in the chair.”

Donovan found that O’Brien, the officer-in-charge of the incident, did not adhere to either section of the policy.

According to a transcript released by the town, during his interview with Donovan, O’Brien stated, “Well, I haven’t had any training in the, in the restraint chair, so, um, we have no – there’s no guidelines to when and when not to use the restraint chair.”

In her statement to the police, the woman from the 2011 incident said, “After he tied down my arms and legs, I remember him forcing my head against the back of the chair, and then using a roll of red tape to secure my head to the chair; he went around a few times with the tape. He also wrapped the tape over my mouth so I couldn’t talk. At some point, while he was taping my head, I remember him saying see how you like this fat bitch and something about dying.”

She continued, “I was having difficulty breathing; my nose was stuffed up from crying, I was hyperventilating, I’m asthmatic. After he taped me up, he turned me up, he turned the chair and pushed me into the corner. I think he said something about seeing how I liked sitting there. I don’t remember ho long I was taped up, but it was quite a while, and [I was] really scared.”

Other findings documented in the report state that information regarding O’Brien’s health and military background were not included in his application to the West Springfield Police Department.

Neffinger said, “I’d like to remind people that Capt. O’Brien has never said he’s done anything wrong. The report clearly states that he lied on forms. He freely signed those forms. He bound up the woman the way he did.”

Numerous calls to O’Brien’s attorney Timothy Burke were not returned.

Attorney David Hoose, representing the woman from the alleged 2011 Big E incident, declined to comment.