MARBLEHEAD — A Marblehead police officer has resigned after he allegedly scratched a swastika into the paint of a fellow officer’s personal vehicle, Chief Robert Picariello said in a statement on Dec. 16.
The incident was swiftly condemned by the Jewish and wider community.
The former officer, Timothy Tufts, joined the department in 2016, the chief said in his statement.
“I am dismayed and deeply disturbed by this incident,” the chief said. “Today, there is no room for excuses of ignorance. The swastika is a symbol of hate and genocide, and we must speak up against acts of hate and hate speech whenever and wherever we encounter it.”
The incident occurred sometime in late June or early July of 2019, the chief said in an email. He “found out about it incidentally through another unrelated matter. The officer who owns the car made it known to us.”
Picariello, who plans to retire on July 2, 2021 after more than 13 years as chief, said he has been in touch with the Anti-Defamation League of New England to engage in training and resources for Marblehead officers. He also is promising an independent administrative review and an outside independent report “so that we can learn all of the facts of this incident and include it in our training programs.”
The Board of Selectmen also issued a statement that said: “We were deeply disappointed to learn of this incident, which is both a direct contradiction of the spirit of inclusion we hold dear in our community, and a violation of the high standards to which we hold our law enforcement officers here in Marblehead.”
“This former officer’s behavior in no way reflects the values of the department, and that is evident in the swift and decisive way Chief Picariello has responded to this incident once he became aware of it last month,” the board added.
In recent years, police have responded to several anti-Semitic incidents in town. To date, there have been no arrests for those incidents. In September, rocks covered with anti-Semitic graffiti were found at Preston Beach. In July of 2019, surveillance video recorded a person posting Holocaust denial flyers on the grounds of Temple Emanu-El. In July 2017, a slew of anti-Semitic and hate slogans was painted on the Marblehead Neck causeway. In 2016, police were summoned to an athletic field at Marblehead High where they discovered that the phrase “JEWS DID 9/11” had been raked into the infield dirt. That year, swastikas were found painted in public places, including a Marblehead basketball court.
Jackie Belf-Becker, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she did not have much to add beyond the board’s statement. When asked about the number of anti-Semitic incidents in town over the years, she said that in general in today’s society, such incidents seem to be on the rise.
“Each incident is abhorrent in its own way. I wouldn’t want to paint with a broad brush,” she said.
Chief Picariello said in his statement he became aware of the incident in mid-November and began his investigation. Tufts was placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 20 pending the investigation, which the chief said was consistent with the department’s policies and procedures.
Tufts earned $103,300 from Jan. 1, 2020 until his resignation on Dec. 16, according to Picariello. This includes regular pay of $73,000, overtime pay of $12,230, and detail pay of more than $18,000. Tufts had never been disciplined in his more than four years on the force, the chief said.
In an interview, Picariello described what he called “a thing between two officers” that led to the incident. “One [of the officers] did a harmless thing and [Tufts] reacted to that. It was an innocuous thing that started it.”
Picariello said it appeared the other officer stuck a crushed-up can under Tufts’ car’s windshield wiper. Tufts is alleged to have taken the can and used it to scratch the swastika into the other officer’s personal car, the chief said.
Neither officer involved is Jewish, and the department does not intend to seek hate crime charges against Tufts.
“It is not a hate crime,” Picariello said. “The guy [other officer] does not want this to go forward. He wants it to go away.”
In an interview, Robert Trestan, ADL New England regional director, said “One of my takeaways is, why do people always resort to the swastika to express their anger and in some cases disagreement with another person? As I understand it, neither one of these officers are Jewish. It’s a reminder that the swastika is not just a symbol directed against Jews, but it can be used in the ordinary course of a disagreement. And this causes harm.”
Trestan said he spoke with Picariello and credited him with taking action and recognizing what the impact it could have on the community.
“He deserves high praise for that leadership. It sends an important message to his department, and more importantly, to the people they serve,” Trestan said.
“I apologize to our community for this deeply disturbing and unfortunate situation,” Picariello said in his statement, “and I vow to do everything and engage every resource available to ensure that this kind of incident does not repeat itself in the future.”
Picariello said in an interview the incident was “an outlier,” but it was also behavior he could not tolerate, saying “this is not indicative of this department.”
By coincidence, the department is now completing “implicit bias” training and officers have taken “fair and impartial” policing training in the past couple of years, the chief said.
Picariello said he had a long conversation with Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El, “and I assured him and everyone that the Marblehead Police Department is inclusive.”
“Symbols and other messages of hate,” Meyer said in an email, “are always hurtful to discover, and in this case, certainly even more so having come from one sworn to serve. I have personally spoken with Chief Picariello regarding the incident, and I want to commend and thank him and his colleagues for acting with appropriate swiftness and resolve.”
“I am very proud of the response of Chief Picariello and the Marblehead Police Department to this unfortunate show of intimidation, harassment, and hatred,” said Ira Dinnes, president of Temple Sinai on Community Road, who added that the temple’s late rabbi, Jonas Goldberg, was a chaplain for the Marblehead Police Department for many years.
Helaine Hazlett, founder and cochair of the Selectmen’s Task Force Against Discrimination who also has been active with the ADL, said she was saddened by the incident. She suggested that the former officer enroll in a course on the Holocaust and genocide. “It is hard to believe that a member of our Marblehead law enforcement would choose to perform such a hateful act toward another fellow officer. He should have known better, if he didn’t, he does now,” she said.
The Salem News, drawing from Tufts’ LinkedIn profile – which was no longer available on the evening of Dec. 16 – reported that Tufts was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 while serving in the Marine Corps.
He later earned his associate’s degree in criminal justice from Bunker Hill Community College. He then went on to graduate from the Regional Police Academy in August 2016, according to the Department’s Facebook page. He underwent three months of field training before patrolling on his own by Nov. 1 of that year.
Journal staff editor Steven A. Rosenberg contributed to this article.