Boston Herald

Misfits Dumped into Cop ID Unit

By Maggie Mulvihill and Franci Richardson
Thursday, May 6, 2004

     The Boston Police Identification Unit has for decades been a ``dumping ground'' for troubled cops who were responsible for handling critical evidence used to put suspected rapists and killers behind bars, according to police sources and department records.

     Some police officers deemed unfit for street duty were regularly exiled by former commissioners Paul F. Evans and Francis ``Mickey'' Roache to the eight-member unit, police sources said.

     ``It's the land of misfit toys,'' said one high-ranking officer who called the unit a ``dumping ground for people the commissioner didn't like.''

      Some members of the unit are facing scrutiny in a criminal probe by Attorney General Tom Reilly. The unit has never been certified and has been manned by some officers who have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, theft and general incompetence, according to department officials.

     For decades, the ID unit was housed in Back Bay station's unventilated basement. It's now on the first floor of police headquarters.

     ``It was in a cinderblock, windowless room and that is why no one wanted to work there. There wasn't any ventilation,'' said one police official, explaining how those sent to the ID unit viewed it as punishment duty.

     ``Evans used it. Roache used it. Historically it has been done that way,'' the official said.

     The handling of fingerprint evidence - among other tasks carried out by those in the ID unit - is crucial to the successful prosecution of defendants. Questions about the ID unit surfaced during a Herald/Fox 25 investigation into the wrongful convictions of 22 innocent men over the last 22 years.

     Among those who have been ``reassigned'' to the ID unit after embarrassing public incidents:

  • Sgt. Thomas R. Matheson who failed to report the seizure of $10,000 from a suspected drug dealer during a 1988 Dorchester raid.  
     Matheson, a 14-year-veteran of the drug unit, was suspended for two weeks without pay, stripped of his detective rating and assigned to the ID unit in 1991. He retired two years ago, a department spokeswoman said.  
  • Sgt. Daniel Dovidio began serving a 45-day suspension in 2001 after an internal investigation showed he allowed officers to lie in their reports about the 1995 beating of Sgt. Michael Cox.
  • Sgt. Detective Leonard W. Marquardt, who for years was the direct supervisor in Area E-5 of two veteran detectives later imprisoned for stealing at least $250,000 in cash and other property from suspected drug dealers.
     Walter F. Robinson Jr. and Kenneth Acerra both served three years in prison following their 1997 guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Boston.

     After their pleas, Marquardt resigned from the department, a police spokeswoman confirmed.

     In 1972, Marquardt was suspended for six months after charges that he beat a suspect who stabbed another officer were sustained.

     In 1989, Marquardt and another detective were ordered by a federal jury to pay $25,000 in punitive damages to Michael Needham after finding the officers guilty of falsely arresting Needham in a 1979 confrontation in a Jamaica Plain tavern.
  • Officer Thomas Traynor, who was sent to the ID unit from Area A-1 in December 1996 after a federal drug informant claimed he drank beer with Traynor and his partner in their cruiser outside a downtown after-hours police club just before he got into a fatal accident on Route 128. Both officers were on-duty.
     The convicted drug dealer, Ramin Mojabi, pleaded guilty to motor vehicle homicide in February, 1998 and was sentenced to seven- to 12-years in prison for the death of 25-year-old Juan Chavez, killed on his way to work at 6:40 a.m.

     A year before Evans transferred him to ID, Traynor beat the second of two drunk driving arrests, records show. He retired in 2000, a police spokeswoman said.

     Other BPD employees who worked in the ID unit were fired for stealing, including Whitney ``Wade'' Williams, a civilian worker, who was fired in 1995 from his clerk's post after eight years with the ID unit.

     That came after police discovered he used weapons, ammunition and BPD gear such as caps and windbreakers with the department logo to pull off armed robberies.

     Technicians in the ID unit - including officer Dennis LeBlanc - are now part of a probe by Reilly's office into how they used another person's fingerprint to convict Stephan Cowans' of the shooting of a Boston cop in 1997.

     LeBlanc, who was first assigned to the ID unit in 1985, was suspended for 10 days in 1992 after he was caught pantless and drunk while off-duty on the banks of the Charles River, police sources confirmed.

     Cowans was freed from prison in January after 6years behind bars following his wrongful conviction for shooting Sgt. Detective Gregory Gallagher in the buttocks with Gallagher's own gun.

     LeBlanc, a key witness at trial, testified the fingerprint belonged to Cowans.

     Newly appointed BPD Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole said she is revamping the entire ID unit, including moving to have it certified, and adding three officers and more supervisors. She asked Reilly to investigate the ID unit immediately after Cowans was exonerated.

     ``There have been some very competent people who have worked in that unit as well, so I'd hate to paint with a broad brush,'' said O'Toole.

     ``I can say this. On my watch, the ID section will not be a dumping ground. No unit in this department should be used as a dumping ground. If we have disciplinary problems we need to address them head on and deal with them without transferring a problem from one unit to another.''

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