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So long, Steve Sargent!
Subhead: Also: Go vote today please!
First of all today is Primary Day for the Worcester municipal elections! Please go vote. If you’re unsure where, you can look it up on the city website. Quick and easy. I put up a full guide on this election last week. If that’s too long a read here’s all you need to know, really: Vote Jenny Pacillo in D1, Rob Bilotta in D2, Katia Norford and/or Luis Ojeda in D4, Etel Haxhiaj in D5, Nelly Medina in School Committee DE.
The bulk of this day’s post focuses on the “Friday news dump” last week that Police Chief Steven Sargent “retired” and the bad guy from the Avatar movies was named as his temporary replacement.
First, though, there’s a new episode of the Worcester Sucks Pour Hour! We interview Rob Bilotta, our pick for District 2, and before that we riff a little bit on our now retired chief. Speaking of, the Worcestery Council Theater 3,000 crew will be streaming the election results tonight. Join us on Twitch! Around 7-7:30 p.m.
As always please consider a pad subscription so I can keep this little local journalism engine humming.
Now to the main event!
P.S. Scroll to the very end of this post if you want to read something fun about Jay Givan and Red Metro Worcester :-)
So long, Steve!
The idea of a Friday news dump—especially before a long weekend like Labor Day Weekend—is you try and stop something from being a multi-day story by putting it out there right before everyone stops thinking about work for a couple days. Well, it’s been a couple days since the city announced Chief Sargent’s “retirement” on Friday and I regret to inform everyone this is still a very significant story. We should not be forgetting about it. As I’ll demonstrate, the “retirement” line is cartoonish and only cartoon people should swallow it. Exhibit A:
Well-deserved, says Toomey!
Exhibit B: Mayor Joe Petty’s statement.
The most egregious line in my opinion: “It is due to Chief Sargent’s influence that Worcester has emerged as an ideal of safety among American cities.” We should remember that Worcester is one of only a handful of cities which have been investigated by the Department of Justice for the abuses of their police departments! That investigation is still happening! “An ideal of safety,” Joe says. Please.
In a lengthy statement released at 1:06 p.m. Friday, the city framed this “retirement” as a sort of natural “time to hang it up” moment for the man.
Throughout his career, Chief Sargent embraced many challenging assignments in nearly every division of the department including Patrol, Detective Bureau, Gang Unit, and Vice, which provided him with the opportunity to enhance his knowledge and skills in law enforcement principles, practices, and techniques.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the City that I grew up in and raised a family in,” said Sargent. “To the residents of Worcester, I appreciate all of your support over the years and enjoyed working in partnership as we improved public safety and addressed quality of life issues together.”
“I want to thank the men and women, both civilian and sworn of the Worcester Police Department, for your hard work and dedication. I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the most committed, courageous, talented, and selfless men and women I have ever known.”
They also praised him for implementing surveillance technologies which have been deeply unpopular in the community.
Chief Sargent embraced new technology to assist with policing strategies. Under his leadership, the department expanded its use of ShotSpotter (gunshot detection system), implemented a Body Camera Program, created a Drone Program, and adopted ShotSpotter Connect (crime forecasting system).
Though the release does not mention this significant fact, the retirement was effective immediately. As soon as the statement went out, Sargent was out the door. Retirements do not often “take effect immediately.”
The last line of the release: “An interim Police Chief will be announced at a later time.”
Cut to 5:01 p.m., same day. The city releases a second statement: “City Manager Batista Appoints Paul B. Saucier Interim Police Chief.”
Typically, a “later time” does not mean four hours later on the same day. Usually, a retirement does not take effect immediately. In an ideal world, you’d like to announce the retirement of an official and said official’s replacement in the same breath. This all suggests a certain turmoil on the third floor of city hall. Retirements are not typically the source of turmoil. They are not abrupt. Resignations, however... those can be abrupt. Firings too. Firings can be very abrupt.
Without any extra context, we see in the way these releases went out that this was nowhere near your average retirement. This was something else. Putting these releases in the proper context makes it all the more spurious that Sargent “retired.”
Let’s look back on the days, weeks, months, years leading up to this retirment and see if it was really a “retirement” or more of a “resignation.” Perhaps even a “resignation under fire.” Perhaps even he was just “fired.”
Less than a day before the city put out its “retirement” announcement, the Telegram published a story headlined “City manager: Investigation of Worcester police chief will be reported to state.” The story was posted on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7:02 p.m. I’m no math wiz but that’s about 20 hours before the city made the announcement. In the story, Chief Sargent does not look great, nor does City Manager Eric Batista.
In the Friday statement, Batista ladeled out effusive praise for Sargent.
“I want to thank Chief Sargent for his dedicated years of service to the City. I value the relationship we established between the department and my administration to the serve the (sic) community.”
In the Thursday story, however, the relationship read a little different!
City Manager Eric D. Batista acknowledged Thursday that a 2021 investigation of Police Chief Steven M. Sargent should have been reported to the state’s recently created police oversight board, and said the city is in the process of reporting it.
Batista, who became acting city manager in June 2022 and permanent city manager the following November, said on Thursday that he wasn’t aware of the investigation until a public records request for the resulting report was filed this spring. The investigation was conducted under the tenure of prior City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.
“When I became aware of (the investigation), we took the necessary steps to make sure this was reported,” Batista told the Telegram & Gazette in an interview.
This is saying yes, there was wrongdoing here. But not my wrongdoing! This is the chief and the former city manager, not me! There’s good reason to believe it’s a lie that Batista didn’t know about this, as Walter Crockett lays out in a Facebook post I found quite instructive. It’s also Batista publicly throwing Augustus under the bus. Ed Augustus was the person who got Batista the job and is now a powerful state official. Not sure how that one’s gunna work out for Batista.
So what is it that the city did an “oopsies” on and forgot to report? Well, that story came out on Aug. 17—fifteen days before the Chief’s “retirement.” The city forgot to report an investigation wich the Telegram published under the headline “Worcester cop threatens to sue over alleged harassment by police chief.”
This story, which let’s not forget came out two weeks before Sargent’s apparent decision to “retire,” paints the man in quite a bad light. According to this officer’s lawyer, Sargent had been engaged in a pattern of “overt and brazen retaliatory conduct.”
The officer, Robert J. Belsito of the court liaison unit, alleges that Sargent drove his department-issued vehicle “recklessly” at his cruiser April 15, and that the chief is retaliating against him despite an ongoing investigation into Sargent’s conduct.
Sargent, Burke alleged, drove his department-issued vehicle past Belsito’s cruiser at high speed, then rolled his passenger window down while the two were at a traffic light.
Asked for more detail on the allegation, Burke sent the T&G a letter in which he alleged Sargent followed Belsito out of the police station while Belsito was en route to a paid detail.
Burke wrote that Belsito stated “Good morning, chief,” but Sargent “became angry and accused Officer Belsito of ‘not wanting to shake his hand today.’ ”
“Officer Belsito responded by stating, ‘What are you talking about, what is wrong with you, leave me alone,’ ” Burke wrote, and drove straight onto Summer Street.
This was only one of many such instances detailed in this story!
Records obtained by The Telegram & Gazette show the allegations — which include a charge that Sargent is considering removing the department’s court liaison positions as retribution — come three years after an outside investigation found that Sargent had engaged in a “campaign of reprisal” against Belsito following a perceived lack of respect.
“The evidence shows that the police chief, who has all the authority, has engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior towards Officer Belsito,” an investigator with the Worcester law firm Mirick O’Connell concluded in a 2021 probe.
In a 35-page investigation the Telegram acquired through a public records request, investigators found that Sargent had called Officer Belsito’s superiors in the New Hampshire Airforce National Guard “for the sole purpose of putting him in a bad light.” The investigation suggests it may have been illegal for Sargent to do so. The Telegram’s Brad Petrishen (the reporter of all of these stories, pretty much) asked the city for comment on all this, including the legal issue. Batista didn’t respond. Nothing on this tidbit either: “Burke alleged in the letter that after the April 15 incident, Belsito was “unjustifiably” placed on paid administrative leave and had his license to carry suspended.” And it didn’t appear a pattern of bullying that Sargent reserved for Belsito.
Mitchell’s findings were based in part on conversations she had with a handful of police officers whose names were redacted from the report.
Multiple officers told Mitchell it appeared that Belsito was on the chief’s bad side, with one saying it was “not atypical for the chief to torment someone he does not like.”
All this in one story! Again, some two weeks before the chief “retired.” The investigators urged the city manager to discipline Sargent, which Batista apparently didn’t.
“The City of Worcester’s decision to condone Chief Sargent’s actions and refusal to place him on administrative leave despite the clear unlawful nature makes the City complicit in his unlawful conduct and has significantly added to the negative emotional impact that Officer Belsito continue (sic) to suffer today,” he wrote in his July 24 letter.
Burke ended the letter by telling a city law department employee to contact him “if you wish to discuss this matter in more detail prior to the filing of Officer Belsito’s complaint.”
When someone is publicly called out this way for behavior that should get him fired, and then in several weeks he retires? That’s not a retirement. I refuse to believe that.
As it says in the story, there had been investigation into Sargent’s behavior all the way back to at least 2021. I mean for christ sake, the man tried to disband Belsito’s whole division to spite him, as we learned in another Telegram story from Aug. 25, just a few days before the retirement.
Police Chief Steven M. Sargent, who is being accused of harassment by an officer in the department’s court liaison unit, recently ordered a “contingency plan” for what elimination of that unit would look like, but ultimately rejected the idea, the Telegram & Gazette has learned.
The only reason he didn’t, it looks like, is his underlings said it’d be too messy.
“Pursuant to your directive to develop contingency plans for the elimination of the Court Liaison Office and transfer of the lieutenant and all police officers assigned there, I respectfully submit the following,” Deputy Chief Edward J. McGinn wrote to Sargent in a July 14 internal police document the T&G obtained.
The six-page memo, titled “Feasibility of Elimination of the Court Liaison Unit,” listed numerous reasons why eliminating the unit would be difficult, including requiring widespread retraining and increasing the possibility of costly errors or fraud.
With so much scandal swirling, of a pointedly personal nature, it’s cartoonish to think this was a man quietly stepping aside after some 37 years of “dedicated service,” as the city put it in their release.
But put this “retirement” in an even wider context, and the personal scandal seems a banality. The years under Sargent were not good years for the WPD. I mean, I’d estimate that more than half the time I spend on Worcester Sucks is spent on the WPD and its obvious pattern of abusive behavior and misuse of power. Let’s play the hits.
Nov. 16, 2022: The Feds take aim at the Worcester Police Department: And not a second too soon. Of course, we should put the Department of Justice investigation at the top of the list. Last November, the Department of Justice launched an inquiry into whether the WPD “engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force or engages in discriminatory policing based on race or sex.” The investigation will likely take years, but the outcomes of these investigations are more or less the same. If investigators are looking for a “pattern” of “excessive force” or “discriminatory policing” in the WPD, all they reall have to do is google it.
Take, for instance, the massive, 44-plaintiff class action lawsuit filed against the department in June. I went through this particular lawsuit, in which Sargent is named personally, in great detail: If the cops weren’t there, something bad could have happened. As far as Sargent is concerned, this should be a much larger chink in the armor than any sort of petty retaliatory moves on fellow officers. Hours after Sargent kneeled with protestors in downtown Worcester on that fateful day, his officers went objectively feral on those same demonstrators. There was no discipline at all. Sargent, as well as the rest of the political establishment, praised the officers for “tremendous restraint.” It is grotesque. Perhaps more than anything else that happened under Sargent’s tenure, this is the worst. But it’s far from the only thing.
The Worcester Police Deparment gets sued and loses said lawsuits on what seems like a weekly basis.
The latest suit came on Aug. 15. Marilene Rodriguez is suing several officers, including Sargent, for racial profiling during a traffic stop.
There’s the whole Natale Cosenza lawsuit, in which a court sided against the police department in the matter of an 8-year prison sentence on a wrongful conviction based on fabricated evidence. The latest on that is that the city hasn’t paid any of the money they owe Cosenza.
Then there’s the remarkably similar wrongful conviction lawsuit filed in April by Dana Gaul. His wife spoke in front of City Council about the egregious actions of the police department and they ignored her as is tradition. My post on that: "My husband would have still been in jail today" : A post in three parts
Then there’s the T.J. Juty case. The man, who’s Black, alleges Worcester cops stopped him more than 70 times.
And on and on. These stories are a constant in Worcester. There is no end and there is precious little interrogation of why they keep happening.
Neal McNamara wrote over at the Patch, on May 10 2021, “Worcester Has Paid $4M To Settle Police Suits Since 2010.”
The payouts across the 27 settlements range from as low as $8,000 up into the millions. There are also more than a dozen lawsuits against Worcester police that haven't been settled yet. The most recent was filed in February by Sylvester Agyeah, who claims Worcester officers wrongly arrested him and used racist language.
Then of course there’s the $1.5 million payout to Worcester police officers who alleged racism in the department.
And while all that was happening, Sargent’s department and the city on the whole was fighting the Telegram over internal disciplinary records which should be public. A suit they lost, of course.
Then there’s all the high speed car chases which violated department police and ended disasterously with no attempt by the chief to discipline anyone involved.
Realistically, Sargent should have been “retired” back in 2020, when he said on record multiple times that he’s never seen any racism in the Worcester Police Department. A reading series on that: Oct 20, 2020: Oh, that’s not racism, Chief?: A court case details a whole lot of racism in the Worcester Police Department; Aug 25 2020: He really went and said that: Worcester Police Chief Steven Sargent let it all hang out at the Board of Health meeting yesterday.
Then there’s all the surveillance state stuff... the drones and how they lied to the City Council about how they plan to use them on the unhoused, the body cameras and how the most notoriously violent and shady type of cops won’t be made to wear them, the Shotspotter Connect artificial intelligence thing, the fact Shotspotter neatly outlines the WPD’s containment zone around the city’s poor and diverse neighborhoods.
The WPD under Sargent has been a frightening mess. It won’t be any different under Batista’s choice for an “interim” replacement: Paul Saucier.
Saucier had a moment in the spotlight back during the drone debate. He and Sargent contradicted each other and lied to the City Council several times, as I detailed in this one. Not a great start. And then there’s Saucier’s background. From the city’s statement on his appointment:
Saucier, 57, is a 29-year veteran of the department, serving most recently as Deputy Chief of Police Bureau of Investigative Services. Prior to that he served as Deputy Chief of the Police Operations Division. Saucier has also worked in the department’s Detective Bureau, Gang Unit, VICE Squad, and SWAT Team divisions.
These are the sort of plain clothes units which are more often than not the subject of DOJ investigations! This is the type of policing that HBO made a whole show illustrating the pitfalls. We’re walking into a rake here. The likelyhood of Saucier being personally named in DOJ findings, given the divisions he’s worked on, are high. Very high. This is not the kind of appointment that signals a will to transition away from the problems plaguing the WPD. In fact it goes a long way toward showing those problems are all well and good. The city manager does not seem to care, at least. He replaced Sargent with another Sargent.
Odds and ends
Thank you for reading! As always please consider throwing me a few bucks a month to keep this thing moving!
Don’t forget to vote today!! Pretty please!
And keep your calendar’s marked for Saturday, Sept. 17! Some buds are putting on a nice event for Katie at Redemption Rock, 5-8:30 p.m.
My heart goes out to the family of Harris Wolobah, a 14-year-old Worcester high schooler who died recently, apparently as a result of the “One Chip Challenge” in which people eat one extremely spicy corn chip produced by the company Paqui. The “2023 chip” includes Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper peppers, I guess. I don’t know what to make of this, honestly. It’s very sad, though. The family needs help. Here’s their GoFundMe page.
Apparently there’s something serious going on at 1 Exchange Place, resulting in the eviction of several tenants. I got this in my inbox from one of the tenants:
Tenants have been unable to enter the building without an escort from property management since August 18th, 2023 after flooding caused by a heavy rain storm damaged the underground transformer that supplies power to the building. Without electricity to power important structures such as the fire alarms, the Fire Department and City Inspector deemed the structure unsafe to operate in. After several weeks without regular access to their businesses and a unspecified amount of time to a resolution, a determination has been made by the property owners that it is best for the tenants to find new locations from which to operate.
Businesses that have been ousted from the building include: Live Action Escapes; an escape room company that opened in 1 Exchange Place in 2016 will be moving to their new location at 415 Main Street Worcester. The future of Michael’s Cigar Bar; a popular drinking spot that opened in 2009 and the law offices of Aloise & Wilcox, P.C., Ball & Sargent P.C. and others are currently unknown. What’s going on at 1 Exchange Place?
Red Metro Worcester has struck again!! They really got me this time. On a serious note, it seems like they’ve been stalking some City Councilors. Though I’m sure the guy behind this absolutely vile “outlet” would prefer to stay anonymous, there’s a certain line you cross where that luxury is no longer afforded you. He crossed it a long time ago. You don’t get to post hateful stuff like this or show up at people’s houses and expect anyone to respect your anything, let alone your privacy!
So let me make this clear:The Red Metro Worcester guy’s name is Jay Givan and he lives in West Boylston. Everything published on Red Metro Worcester is attributed directly to West Boylston resident John H. Givan Jr., address 107 Pierce St, West Boylston, MA, 01583!! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone number: 508-981-2579. He’s the secretary of the West Boystlon Republican Town Committee (of course)! Which... Wow! Would you look at all that publicly available information...
That’s a lot of easy-to-find info for someone who’s trying to be anonymous!
Ok, until next time.