A Springfield, Massachusetts narcotics detective has been placed on leave for 60 days, but not fired, after videos surfaced showing him threatening to murder two teenagers and plant drugs on them — videos which have cast doubt on the detective’s numerous drug cases.
Detective Gregg A. Bigda was caught on video on February 26 at the Palmer Police Department, where he interrogated two teenagers, who along with a third teen were suspected of stealing an undercover police car outside a pizza shop, when he made the threats, according to a report on MassLive.com.
The videos were placed under seal by a judge to avoid exposing the identities of the two teens. However, a lawyer described them in court last week. According to MassLive:
Details of the videos were discussed during arguments in Hampden Superior Court this week by defense lawyers attempting to get cases dismissed for defendants in unrelated drug cases. The attorneys contend the Palmer incident has damaged Bigda’s credibility, which now potentially taints the integrity of scores of drug investigations.
Defense lawyer Jeanne Liddy on Wednesday quoted the videos in an unsuccessful attempt to get her client’s indictment for heroin distribution dismissed.
“He was yelling and making very strong threats of physical violence,” Liddy told Hampden Superior Court Judge Tina S. Page. “Threatening to ‘crush his skull in the parking lot’ and ‘plant a kilo of cocaine in his pocket to put him away for 15 years.'”
To drive his point home, Bigda tells one suspect that he could pin the Kennedy assassination on him “and make it stick.”
“I’m not hampered by the truth because I don’t give a f—,” Bigda reportedly screams on video, which allegedly also includes sneering racial remarks leveled at the suspects.
“You probably don’t even know who your f—ing father is,” he barks at one.
This week, prosecutors allowed a man to plead guilty to heroin charges as a first-time offender because of Bigda’s involvement in the case, and Page sentenced the man to time served rather than sending him to prison, according to MassLive.
Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri said he did not fire Bigda because he believed the case would not survive a civil service hearing, and the department could be forced to rehire Bigda and give him back pay.
Instead, Bigda will be reassigned to a uniform day shift once his suspension ends.
Barbieri added: “Based on the circumstances and the information available, I decided that that a very lengthy suspension was proper based on: the incident; Officer Bigda’s acceptance of responsibility for improper behavior; and his previous lengthy employment without recent serious disciplinary history.”
Despite that last claim from the commissioner, a judge issued two restraining orders against Bigda earlier this year related to an incident during which an ex-girlfriend said the detective broke into her home at night, threatened her, and got into a “physical altercation” with her and a second incident in which the detective showed up at the woman’s home uninvited. Both restraining orders were eventually dropped, but Bigda was suspended from his job for 10 days.
In 2005, Bigda was involved in an illegal search of a UPS package that was later thrown out by a Hampden Superior Court judge.
The incident involving the teens is currently under investigation by the Hampden District Attorney’s Office.
According to a report filed by a Wilbraham police officer, one of the Springfield police officers who responded to the police cruiser theft kicked one of the teens in the face while he was on the ground and in handcuffs. The officer was not named in the report.
Detective Steven Vigneault, who filed the report about the stolen cruiser, recently resigned from the force.
However, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said that Bigda will not face charges over his threats against the teens.
The incident involving Bigda is the latest reminder that scandals related to the War on Drugs are extremely common in Massachusetts.
For instance, since 2013, the Lowell Police Department has faced four lawsuits alleging that the department used informants to plant drugs and weapons on people to frame them. The scandal led to prosecutors dismissing 17 cases and vacating two convictions, although prosecutors denied the allegations and said police did nothing wrong.
Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to overturn 24,000 drug convictions from 2003 to 2012 — about one in six drug convictions from that period. These cases were compromised by a corrupt chemist at a Massachusetts State Police crime lab named Annie Dookhan who was caught faking lab results in 2012.
Less than a year after Dookhan was caught, a chemist at a different lab, Sonja Farak, was found to have stolen drugs from the lab where she worked over the course of eight years, compromising thousands of additional cases.
And this year, an audit found that more than $400,000, thousands of pieces of drug evidence, and at least 60 firearms went missing from the Braintree Police Department’s evidence room. The officer who was in charge of the evidence room killed herself after the audit began; two of the missing firearms were later found in her home. Prosecutors have already dropped dozens of criminal cases as a result of the scandal.
Also this year, the State Police opened an investigation into thefts of cash and prescription drugs from the Lee Police Department.
Perhaps it’s time for police to use their limited resources to investigate real crimes, like murder, which often go unsolved in Springfield and elsewhere — and to get the investigations right.