MARBLEHEAD – It does not appear the investigation report into the incident in which a former Marblehead police officer allegedly scratched a swastika into the paint of a fellow officer’s vehicle sometime in the summer of 2019 will be ready by the time the present police chief retires July 2.
Some town officials speculate the report could be coming soon. The investigation has gone on for about six months so far.
Meanwhile, some Marblehead residents are frustrated by the pace of the investigation. The Marblehead Racial Justice Team and other residents have written selectmen seeking answers about the incident, why it took so long to become known, and ways to improve the department’s training and community policing.
Resident Megan Sweeney, cofounder of the PowerUP coalition in town, said in an email last week: “It is incomprehensible why the investigation has not been completed/results released. Our community has been left wondering and worrying for too long. Our police department reputation damaged whilst a shadow of white supremacy looms overhead.”
The former officer, Timothy Tufts, resigned “as a result of this incident,” Chief Robert Picariello said in his initial statement on the incident on Dec. 16, 2020.
“I expect the report to be ready soon but I don’t have a definitive timeframe as of now,” Town Administrator Jason Silva said in an email. “I’ve made it a point not to be involved in or direct the investigation in any way to ensure a true independent review. We also made sure to be clear that the investigation should follow the facts and take the time needed to do it properly.”
“This said,” Silva added, “we are awaiting the report and its findings and once complete it will be presented to the Board of Selectmen.”
“I don’t really know anything,” said longtime Board of Selectmen member Jackie Belf-Becker on June 17. “I expect it to come soon, but I don’t have any information on it.”
A company called LEADS, Law Enforcement Applications and Development Strategies, which is run by Winthrop Police Chief and attorney Terence Delehanty, was hired to conduct the investigation into the incident, with the town’s labor counsel overseeing the process. The town, the chief said recently, has paid nothing to date for the review, but signed a contract for the cost to be $9,000.
“As you know I have turned all control of the investigation over to Town Counsel so I really don’t have any contact with anyone about the report,” Picariello said in an email on June 17.
When Picariello publicly acknowledged the incident on Dec. 16, he said he became aware of it in mid-November though it allegedly took place more than a year earlier. Upon learning of the incident, the chief began to gather facts and Tufts, who had served in the department since March 2016, was placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 20 prior to his Dec. 16 resignation.
“I am dismayed and deeply disturbed by this incident,” Picariello said in his December statement. “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.”
Picariello also contacted Anti-Defamation League New England and said he would commission “an independent administrative review and retain an outside investigator” to find out the facts and learn from the incident.
With Picariello’s retirement after having served as chief for more than 13 years and 36 1/2 years on the force, the town has hired 25-year veteran Salem police officer, Captain Dennis King, to lead the Marblehead Police Department. King recently earned his law degree from the Massachusetts School of Law, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Sweeney, of the PowerUP coalition, also noted that hate crimes continue to be reported in town.
In the latest, police investigated three incidents of graffiti at the start of May that turned up in Crocker Park, under the Village Street bridge, and on the boardwalk of the Ware Pond conservation area. The graffiti included both antisemitic and racist language. No suspects have been identified in connection with these incidents, though police think they could be related.
“Our new chief will be forced to begin under the shadow of past failings,” Sweeney said. “Although we are encouraged that 1) the makeup of leadership has changed and 2) incumbents have lately indicated that they share PowerUP’s goal to create a welcoming, inclusive community – releasing the report would have been a first step in trust building. A step that would signal that they are seeking substantive change, not continuing with performative gestures.”