AP NEWS

Fired Officer Wins Ruling

May 16, 2019

BOSTON — The Civil Service Commission found last week that a Leominster police patrol officer who was fired in 2018 for insubordination, neglect and conduct unbecoming should have been suspended instead.

However, the commission ruled that his reinstatement can only be enforced if Cedric Crawford, a six-year member of the department, can successfully appeal in Superior Court a revocation of his license to carry a weapon, which was revoked by interim Chief Michael Goldman as a result of the incident in May 2018 that led to the officer’s termination.

Goldman’s decision to revoke Crawford’s license to carry was affirmed by District Court Judge Mark Noonan last September.

The incident that led to Crawford’s termination began in the early morning of May 12 when there was a report of a shoplifter at the CVS on Nelson Street.

According to the commission’s report written by Commission Chairman Christopher Bowman, Crawford responded to the area of the CVS looking for a vehicle that had been described to dispatchers by CVS employees.

Crawford, according to the report, stopped the identified vehicle and saw the driver removing items on his person and placing them in the front passenger seat.

The driver was asked to step out of the vehicle, at which time Crawford performed a pat frisk and then asked the driver if the items were from the CVS. The driver said yes. Crawford then arrested the driver and requested a tow of the vehicle.

The officer in charge that night, police Sgt. Vang Lee, was listening to the request for the tow and then asked Crawford to call him.

Lee wanted to ask Crawford, according to the report, if he had spoken to the anyone at CVS to learn if the person arrested was the shoplifting suspect.

Crawford, according to the report, questioned why that was necessary since the suspect had admitted to the shoplifting.

At that point, Crawford, with the suspect in his cruiser, drove to the CVS and asked an eyewitness if the suspect was the person who had committed the shoplifting, which was confirmed.

During the booking, Crawford wrote the incident report and returned to patrol duties.

A short time later, Lee read Crawford’s report and found it to be deficient and called Crawford back to the station to add more information to the report.

While Crawford was amending the report, Lee stressed to him the importance of including the additional information from the eyewitness. Crawford questioned adding the information given the suspect had admitted to the shoplifting.

Lee, according to the report, said “words to the effect” that he expected Crawford to speak to eyewitnesses in the future and Crawford nodded in Lee’s direction, acknowledging what was expected.

Crawford then stood up and faced Lee “nose-to-nose” and yelled at Lee, according to the report.

Lee told Crawford to step back, which he did, removed his tactical vest and as he reached the doorway, threw it against a hallway wall, according to the report.

As Crawford was walking toward a stairwell, he stepped on the vest, almost falling, and then raised his arms, turned -- then facing Lee -- walked three steps back toward Lee, picked up the vest and said he “couldn’t take this (expletive) anymore, I’m going home.”

Approximately five minutes after the incident, a loud bang came from the basement in the officers’ locker room.

Lee and another officer went down to the locker room and found Crawford sitting on a bench facing his open locker resting his head in his hands. Lee asked if Crawford was OK. Crawford responded, asking Lee why he was “badgering him.”

Lee responded he was only trying to make Crawford a better officer and he didn’t want to see him lose his job, according to the report.

Crawford began to cry and said he had “a lot of (expletive) going on,” according to the report.

Lee told Crawford to go home and then watched as he unholstered his weapon and placed on top of his locker, changed into street clothes and left the station, according to the report.

The commission found this sequence of events to be factually accurate after taking written statements and sworn testimony from all the officers who witnessed the incident.

However, it took issue with Goldman’s portrayal of the incident and language used in Mayor Dean Mazzarella’s termination letter to Crawford.

Goldman, according to the report, reviewed the incident, watched the video recording of what happened in the hallway, spoke to two officers, including Lee, but never spoke to Crawford.

Goldman then wrote an undated memo to Mazzarella about the incident that said in part: “The video is shocking. Crawford clearly commits an unwarranted violent act and appears on the verge of more violence.”

Goldman also, referring to a discussion with Lee, wrote to Mazzarella that three loud bangs were heard coming from the basement and that Lee told him it sounded like gunshots.

However, Lee, in his written statement and sworn testimony, didn’t describe the noise as three bangs or as sounding like gunshot, according to the report.

Goldman then requested a city hearing be convened to determine if Crawford should be terminated.

After the hearing, Mazzarella wrote in the termination letter to Crawford that he had “conduct unbecoming an officer in the extreme ... you left the OIC’s office without acknowledging Sgt. Lee ... (in the hallway) you turned in his direction in a very aggressive manner and it looked like you were about to physically attack him.

You showed a reckless disregard for your safety and the safety of your fellow officers in your handling of your loaded duty weapon.”

The commission did find that Crawford engaged in “substantial misconduct” by yelling at Lee, throwing his tac vest and telling Lee he was going home violated department rules regarding insubordination, neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming.

The commission, however, said the city did not show with a preponderance of evidence that Crawford left the OIC’s office without acknowledging Lee’s request to amend the report, appeared to be ready to attack Lee in the hallway or mishandle his firearm.

“Simply put, this just didn’t happen,” according to the report.

When determining what the commission deemed Crawford’s appropriate punishment for violating department rules, Chairman Bowman said he considered if favoritism or bias may have played a role in the city’s decision writing: “I can’t ignore that Mr. Crawford ... (is) one of only two African-American police officers in a seventy-member police department.”

Bowman wrote he found Lee to be an “equal opportunity stickler” but not bias.

“I do question, however,” wrote Bowman, “how the city reached its unsupported conclusion, and how it was reached, to me, is potentially troubling. I raises the real question of whether some degree of implicit bias infected the decision-making process here.”

Bowman also considered Crawford’s prior disciplinary record, which included a written warning in 2017, two training notices for deficient performance, being counseled and removed from detail list for using a cellphone while on duty, and suspended for 10 days for locking himself out of his cruiser and being insubordinate for not reporting the incident.

Looking at the evidence, the commission ruled that Crawford’s appeal of his termination was allowed in part. The appeal, however, is contingent on Crawford’s successful appeal of his LTC in Superior Court, which could take another two years.

The city has 30 days to appeal the commission’s decision.

Mazzarella said the city is assessing the decision and has yet to make a decision on whether to appeal.

Goldman and Crawford, when contacted, declined to comment.