When will State Police scandals end?

On Beacon Hill, no interest in oversight hearings

Another day, another State Police scandal.

The most recent incident surfaced when the Boston Herald‘s Howie Carr was tipped off that trooper Andrew Patterson allegedly exposed himself while harassing a couple at Gillette Stadium during a concert earlier this summer. And kids happened to be around.

The couple says Patterson was masturbating, then tried to grind the woman he was next to while recording it on his cell phone. The woman’s boyfriend tried to knock the cellphone out of his hand, earning himself a punch in the face from the trooper. The boyfriend threw a chair at Patterson, after which Patterson’s buddy and fellow trooper Stephen Thomson displayed his badge and told the boyfriend he was “in big trouble now,” according to a police report.

Patterson, 32, was charged Thursday with lewd and lascivious conduct, and is on paid leave. He denies the allegations. State Police officials will hold a hearing to discuss his employment status today and will conduct an internal investigation. Patterson earned $149,764 last year.

The Patterson case is just the latest in a long string of incidents that read like a cross between a soap opera and The Departed. Former state trooper Matthew Hickey is facing assault charges, accused of shattering a woman’s tibia outside a Dorchester bar in 2018. Then there’s Matthew Sheehan, a trooper accused of writing racist rants on a message board, and separately charged with assault and battery on a Cape Verdean man during a highway incident. The Herald has the rest of the cringe-worthy laundry list.

Gov. Charlie Baker continues to stand behind State Police Col. Kerry Gilpin, who has yet to address the public on the scandals. While Baker called the allegations against Patterson “gross and disturbing,” he backed Gilpin for taking the necessary steps with troopers who he said “violated their oath.” 

“I do think at the end of the day we all get judged by the work that we do,” Baker said. “She is the one who expanded the investigation into Troop E. She is the one who abolished Troop E.

Baker was referring to the 46 troopers who were accused of collecting overtime pay for hours they never worked in a unit that was later disbanded by Gilpin. Gilpin herself came to power after a colonel retired after ordering a trooper to scrub statements from an arrest report involving a judge’s daughter. 

On the accountability front, investigations into traffic citations were conducted by the state police and and referred to the state Attorney General’s Office and the US Attorney’s Office for potential criminal prosecution. Then federal investigations revealed state troopers were writing bogus traffic citations and destroying copies of said citations, which is illegal under state law. A former payroll supervisor also admitted to stealing from the agency.

Even as the bad news keeps coming, it’s crickets up at the State House, where legislators have yet to announce any real moves to investigate or provide any oversight of the State Police. The Baker administration is also taking a hands-off approach, letting the State Police deal with their own issues internally, while the feds do the clean-up.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge told the Globe in September he’d be interested in oversight hearings, but nothing has come of that. Speaker Robert DeLeo said in the same piece that some of the measures included in a state budget over a year ago, including the creation of an independent auditing unit, would help restore accountability down the road. 

Other states may have some answers. In Pennsylvania, for example, elected officials announced police reform legislation last year, aimed mostly at local police departments, but with provisions that could be applied to a statewide police force. One bill suggested the creation of a statewide database to track allegations of misconduct against individual officers. Another would create an independent law enforcement oversight board that would have the power to investigate complaints and take disciplinary action against officers.