A public records battle is brewing in Massachusetts between the state’s ACLU regional chapter and a coalition of law enforcement agencies who have formed a private corporation and are now claiming they are exempt from public records laws.
The North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or “NEMLEC,” is a 501(c)(3) corporation formed by 58 city police and sheriff’s departments in Middlesex and Essex County, Massachusetts. Each of the member departments has committed to devote 10 percent of its resources to NEMLEC when needed, pays annual dues, and in return can call in NEMLEC’s resources when requested.
In December, NEMLEC filed a motion to dismiss the ACLU of Massachusetts’ public records request, claiming it is a private corporation not subject to the state’s Public Records Law, and does not need to provide documents, such as their SWAT team policies and procedures and how many raids they have executed or for what purpose.
As Radley Balko reported in the Washington Post, approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to an “LEC,” or law enforcement council, and LECs oversee police activities and deploy municipal cops and SWAT teams.
To recap, a corporation created and funded by public police agencies whose board is made up of police chiefs from member police departments, is arguing that it is exempt from public records law, even though it deploys public police officers and SWAT teams with the power to detain, arrest, threaten, and kill. The ACLU has reported that NEMLEC also owns its own BearCat armored vehicle which it has used 26 times, mostly for drug busts, a $700,000 state of the art mobile command center, and has even applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain a drone license.
According to the Newbury Port News,
In asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit… NEMLEC said it is immune from the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Law because it is not among the types of entities covered by the law. The law names only entities created by the state and its political subdivisions, such as cities and towns, NEMLEC said.
‘Clearly, NEMLEC is not an entity described in any of these categories,’ the agency said.
‘That claim is wrong,” the Civil Liberties Union responded in its motion asking the Suffolk Superior Court to keep the suit alive. “Controlled by an executive board of police chiefs and substantially funded by taxpayer dollars, NEMLEC possesses equipment and conducts operations that are lawful only when possessed or conducted by public entities. The police officers who participate in NEMLEC operations do so under the color of law, with the full privileges and immunities of a law enforcement agency.”
The ACLUM initiated suit back in June to force NEMLEC to release its records in June. To date, PINAC has not found any record of the court’s response to NEMLEC’s motion to dismiss.
Balko, who is the authority on police militarization, noted that Massachusetts has had a long history of SWAT team abuse.
- In 1988, Boston Det. Sherman Griffiths was killed in a botched drug raid later revealed to have been conducted based on information from an informant a subsequent investigation revealed that the police had simply made up.
- Six years later, the Rev. Accelyne Williams died of a heart attack during a mistaken drug raid on his home. The Boston Globe found that three of the officers involved in that raid had been accused in a 1989 civil rights suit of using fictional informants to obtain warrants for drug raids. In testimony for that suit, one witness testified that after realizing they’d just raided the wrong home, a Boston police officer shrugged, apologized and said, “This happens all the time.” The city settled with the plaintiffs.
- In 1996, the Fitchburg SWAT team was already facing a lawsuit for harassing a group of loiterers when it burned down an apartment complex during a botched drug raid. The SWAT team subsequently faced a number of other allegations of recklessness and misconduct.
- In January 2011, a SWAT team raided the Framingham, Mass., home of 68-year-old Eurie Stamps at around midnight on a drug warrant. Oddly, it had already arrested the subject of the warrant — Stamps’s 20-year-old stepson — outside the house. But because he lived in Stamps’s home, the team went ahead with the raid anyway. When the team encountered Stamps, it instructed him to lie on the floor. He complied. According to the police account, as one officer then moved toward Stamps to check for weapons, he lost his balance and fell. As he fell, his weapon discharged, sending a bullet directly into Stamps’s chest, killing him.