BTL: Seeing Is Believing, Springfield needs to release police video

Video footage has emerged in court proceedings that defense attorneys say shows Springfield Police Det. Gregg A. Bigda threatening two teenage suspects in an encounter last winter. According to local media reports, the lawyers who obtained the videos said they show Bigda threatening to plant a kilo of cocaine on one of the boys and crush his friend’s skull.

Even though the incident happened on Feb. 26, footage of the interrogation, which was captured by cameras in the Palmer police station, has not been released to the public, the offending officer remains on the police force, and a Department of Justice civil rights investigation only began last week.

News of the video has raised questions about whether Bigda can be a trusted member of the Springfield police. The city should release the video, clear all doubt, and let people make up their own minds about what happened that day.

Springfield is showing disrespect to its citizens by not releasing video of Bigda, a 20-year member of the police department assigned to the narcotics division. Sadly, we know how quickly dramatic police video can be released. Police departments and mayors across the nation have released footage of their officers shooting and killing unarmed people in under a few weeks.

Why is this video more sensitive than tape of people getting shot by officers? It’s not.

Officials should release the video. Until they do, mistrust over one officer’s alleged conduct can quickly infect how people feel about the entire police force — including many of the excellent officers who put themselves in harm’s way day in and day out. Given the questions that have emerged, city officials should prove that we have nothing to worry about.

Video of Bigda was captured by police cameras during an interrogation of the teens following the boys’ alleged theft of the officer’s idling undercover police car outside a Springfield pizza shop, according to Masslive. The interrogation took place at the Palmer Police Station, the town in which the boys were stopped following a chase.

In the video, Bigda is quoted as saying, “I’m not hampered by the truth because I don’t give a fuck,” and “You probably don’t even know who your fucking father is” to one of the boys, Masslive reported.

So far, only law enforcement and lawyers have seen the videotape, though several city councilors and members of the public have been clamoring for its release. In September, the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office released the video to defense attorneys in cases where Bigda is a primary witness.

The only reason anyone knows what’s on the tape at all is because defense attorneys have been using the video to discredit Bigda as an investigating officer in prior cases. Quoting from the video, lawyers have been able to cut deals for clients.

For example, repeat heroin dealer Ricardo Cruz was facing trial and a mandatory minimum sentence of 3.5 years — and as much as 10 years on each count — on three counts of heroin possession and distribution. But Bigda was a key witness for the planned October trial, and instead Cruz was sentenced to time served: 804 days in prison, Masslive reported.

In September, Bigda was put on a 60-day, unpaid suspension from the police force. Police Chief John Barbieri told Masslive that Bigda was suspended instead of being fired on the advice of the city’s law department. Bigda would likely win a civil appeal of the termination, he said, thus costing the city a bunch of money in court fees. Mayor Domenic Sarno, also citing fear of a lawsuit, has said that he supports the chief’s decision, WAMC reports.

The city’s decision is even more shocking given the fact that Springfield has been on notice. Bigda’s license to carry firearms as a police officer and citizen was revoked — and reinstated — twice this year stemming from his violations of a restraining order taken out against him by an East Longmeadow woman, Masslive reported. During the times in which Bigda wasn’t allowed to carry a firearm, he worked desk duty, the news website said.

Last week, the city asked the U.S. Department of Justice and state Attorney General to look into the February incident and how locals have handled the situation since then. The Department of Justice is investigating whether the boys’ civil rights were violated by Bigda, while the state Attorney General is looking into the civil rights question and whether local authorities properly handled the footage.

Officials also reaffirmed they would not release the video, citing the personnel and investigatory exemptions to the state Public Record laws. In letters to the mayor, state Attorney General Healey and U.S. Attorney Ortiz have also requested the city not release the footage or any records from the police department’s internal investigation of the incident while the state and federal investigations are underway.

There was no good reason to keep the tape away from the public in prior months — especially when the internet is flooded with examples of police turning over video to the public of their officers in other cases of alleged misconduct. I don’t see how it is considered private any longer.

It is far past time for the city of Springfield to release footage of Bigda’s interrogation. People need to understand what happened that night if they are to trust the police and the officials who oversee them.

Conact Palpini at editor@valleyadvocate.com.

 

Kristin Palpini

Author: Kristin Palpini

Editor of the Valley Advocate

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