The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that Boston Police had the right to demote a police detective because of errors he made in two cases - including a violent Mission Hill attack and robbery in which he failed to interview suspect Edwin Alemany before Alemany went on to kidnap and murder Amy Lord just a few months later.
The court did agree that former Det. Jerome Hall-Brewster was deprived of a hearing before his demotion to patrolman, in violation of his constitutional rights, but said the evidence against him was so overwhelming that the department would have demoted him even with the hearing. As recompense, the court awarded him $1. Hall-Brewster had sued to try to get reinstated as a detective and to get back pay for the time between his 2013 demotion and now.
At then Commissioner Ed Davis's order, Hall-Brewster was demoted for his actions in two cases. In one, he failed to try to get the surveillance video from the Mission Hill 7-Eleven that might have shown a person being mugged outside in 2011 - by the time another BPD officer went to retrieve it, the segment from that incident had been taped over - some five hours before that officer arrived.
But it was an attack on Sept. 28, 2012, on Parker Hill Avenue, that became public because of what the suspect in the case did a few months later. A woman who was choked from behind and robbed gave police a wallet that she had somehow wound up with during the struggle that contained an ID card belonging to Edwin Alemany. According to the court summary of the case, Hall-Brewster checked Alemany's criminal record and discovered prior convictions - which meant his DNA would be in a national database to which DNA from the wallet and blood found at the scene could be checked - and went to the address on the ID card, but did not find Alemany there.
Over the next several days, Hall-Brewster "went by the area" of the address, but again did not spot Alemany. And, the court continues:
Hall-Brewster did not interview the witness who found the victim after the assault, follow up with the victim again, investigate whether the perpetrator had tried to use the victim's stolen credit cards, or look for Alemany at the other potential addresses provided to him. Had Hall-Brewster interviewed Alemany immediately after the incident, he could have examined him for injuries, questioned him concerning his whereabouts, and asked him why his wallet was at the scene of the incident.
On October 2, 2012, Cullity [Hall-Brewster's supervisor] told Hall-Brewster to go back to Alemany's listed address and use all available resources needed, including overtime, to find Alemany. Hall-Brewster, however, decided not to speak with Alemany until he gathered the results from the DNA tests "for fear of tipping off how little proof the police had of the perpetrator's identity and exposing the victim to retaliation if he confirmed that Mr. Alemany was a suspect." Hall-Brewster and his supervisors still assumed that they lacked probable cause to arrest Alemany. No one vetted this assumption with the district attorney.
Meanwhile, Hall-Brewster was also ignoring e-mailed questions from the BPD technician assigned to testing the DNA samples. Eventually, his supervisor answered the questions, but the technician only submitted DNA samples to the national database from one of the items - a bottle - the inconclusive results for which did not come back until June, 2013 - the month before Lord's murder.
After Lord's murder, Davis asked BPD internal affairs to look into whether Hall-Brewster could have done more to arrest Alemany for the Parker Hill Avenue attack. In an interview, Hall-Brewster gave several reasons for not pursuing the case more aggressively, including the pressure of other cases and the lack of enough evidence to make a case, but also for fear of tipping his hand or even exposing the victim to Alemany.
The commissioner was not persuaded that Hall-Brewster had reason to ignore Cullity's directive to "find Mr. Alemany." Hall-Brewster could have found Alemany's whereabouts by talking to Alemany's apartment complex manager, searching the "motor vehicle and gang unit databases," or by "perform[ing] a warrant check." Ultimately, the commissioner believed that it was more important to have interviewed Alemany than wait for the reasons given by Hall-Brewster. While reviewing the Parker Hill investigation, the commissioner also learned of the complaint against Hall-Brewster arising out of the Mission Hill incident.
The court rejected Hall-Brewster's argument that he was scapegoated for political reasons due to the enormous publicity the Lord case got.
The decision to remove Hall-Brewster's detective rating was supported by substantial evidence.
The court also ruled that BPD violated Hall-Brewster's rights to a hearing before his demotion and by failing to inform him he was being demoted not just for the Alemany case but for the earlier robbery outside the 7-Eleven.
But because of the evidence against him, the court concluded that Hall-Brewster was not entitled to reinstatment as a detective.
And citing decisions by both federal and Massachusetts courts, the court determined that:
Where a public employee's termination is justified, the employee is entitled only to nominal damages because the employee would have been terminated even if the required hearing had been held. ...
Treating State and Federal due process protections identically here, Hall-Brewster is entitled to nominal damages only, not to exceed one dollar.
In 2015, a Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted Alemany of first-degree murder for Lord's death, which means a sentence of life without parole.