Woman Complains About Trooper's Behavior, Ends Up Getting A Whole Bunch Of Cops Fired For Timecard Fraud

from the start-small,-think-big dept

It’s not often a citizen’s complaint results in a fired officer. Even more rarely does it result in a criminal investigation and prosecution. But a woman known only as “Debbie” hit the accountability jackpot, as Matt Rocheleau reports for the Boston Globe. And it all started with nothing more than a state trooper being an asshole.

The woman was driving through the Ted Williams Tunnel on her way to Logan Airport on a weeknight three years ago when a Massachusetts State Police trooper popped out of nowhere in front of her car, arms flailing, gesturing to pull over.

“Do you not speak English?” the trooper yelled after she rolled down the window.

An Asian-American with a medical degree from Harvard, the woman spoke four languages fluently.

“Sir? What should I do?” the woman recounted in a complaint she later filed.

Again and again, the white trooper yelled, “Don’t you speak English?” she wrote, adding that several times he put his hands on his hips against his gun holster.

Debbie was given a ticket for driving 10 mph over the speed limit by another trooper at the scene. She filed a complaint with the State Police about the trooper, only to be greeted with the dismissive disdain so many law enforcement agencies direct at complainants.

Two days later, she received the first of two calls from a State Police investigator, according to an e-mail she wrote to an attorney she had consulted, and shared with the Globe. The investigator “seemed particularly bothered by my reporting racial discrimination,” Debbie wrote to the attorney. “He stated repeatedly that he did not feel that what I reported sounded racist to him and that he found my labeling it as such ‘inflammatory.’ ”

This wasn’t the only investigator Debbie spoke to. Another investigator seemed completely uninterested in her story about a bigoted cop. This investigator was far more interested in when the incident had taken place. Debbie’s ticket had been tossed when she challenged it. The clerk magistrate saw the date and time were incorrect and dismissed it. That’s when things started to get really interesting.

First, the State Police actually opened an internal affairs investigation into Debbie’s claim of verbal abuse. This was upheld and the trooper who yelled at her during the traffic stop retired shortly thereafter. The other trooper at the scene — the one who wrote the ticket with the wrong date and time — was also under investigation.

As it turned out, the trooper whose name was on Debbie’s ticket played it fast and loose with important details like time and date. It wasn’t because the trooper, Eric Chin, wasn’t detail-oriented. It was because Trooper Chin was frequently trying to do tomorrow’s work today — the sort of thing that might have been considered inspiring if it wasn’t tied to criminal activity.

In court records filed in July, state prosecutors noted that Chin had written eight tickets on the day Debbie was pulled over and post-dated them to make it appear he worked the following day. Other records indicate he worked only a small portion of his shift on the following day.

Troopers charged in the overtime scheme used various methods to conceal their absences from shifts, according to court documents, including changing dates on copies of citations they submitted or writing entirely bogus tickets and failing to file copies to process the violation.

Chin pled guilty to an embezzlement charge in 2018. He was fired by the State Trooper’s and forfeited his pension benefits. Trooper Eric Chin was a bad apple. But he wasn’t alone. His unit was a barrel that held several rancid apples just like him, each one more anomalous than the next.

The findings prompted additional investigations into Chin’s colleagues at Troop E, and the case widened from there, eventually ensnaring about one-third of the unit. Troop E, which primarily patrolled the turnpike, was disbanded in spring 2018, with several troopers eventually brought up on charges.

Maybe former Trooper Chin feels the other officer, Michael Casamassima, is to blame for his downfall. After all, if Trooper Casamassima hadn’t repeatedly asked if Debbie spoke English during the traffic stop, she wouldn’t have filed the complaint that led to the discovery of Troop E’s collective fraud. But the worst law enforcement officers tend to gravitate towards each other. There’s safety in numbers. No one wants to break rank and bring the whole scheme crashing down, especially when they’re equally complicit in the fraud being perpetrated.

If there’s a moral to this story, maybe it’s to always complain when you feel you’ve been mistreated by public servants. If they’re willing to make bigoted assumptions out loud in public, there’s a good chance they’re doing worse things away from the public eye.

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Comments on “Woman Complains About Trooper's Behavior, Ends Up Getting A Whole Bunch Of Cops Fired For Timecard Fraud”

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54 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting… I’m still not quite sure where I fall on the racial discrimination thing; the problem was more with the overall behavior, and was likely dependent not just on apparent race but also gender.

But things like that are often really good tells for other slime at the bottom of the apple barrel. Sometimes, however, they’re entirely innocent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t really feel good about seeing things like this on a site I trust “I have really had problems with trusting news in general lately because opinion has creeped in so far and now it’s getting hard to tell when people who call themselves journalist just come off as haters with agendas”
I’ll have to see a pattern of consistency with this guy beyond bad conduct like that to think he has those feelings.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

I’m still not quite sure where I fall on the racial discrimination thing

Ask yourself this: If “Debbie” were White instead of Asian American, do you think that officer would have said “do you not speak English” to her right off the bat, then kept repeating the question?

The likelihood that he would’ve said it the first time isn’t precisely low, sure. But that he kept asking her about her ability to speak English leads me to believe the likelihood of that officer being a racist prick is high.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem with stuff like "do you not speak English" is that it’s offensive and belittling, but worse so if the speaker is of different apparent ethnicity than the targeted person (it would be my guess that a white person harrassed in that manner by a black one would be more likely to file a complaint than any other combination but of course I have no data to back up that hunch). So even when stipulating that the officer in question uses this routine on everyone, it’s racist since its net effect is not neutral.

An officer calling both males and females "pussy" likewise cannot claim not being sexist just because they are using it on both male and female targets: it is received differently.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

An officer calling both males and females "pussy" likewise cannot claim not being sexist just because they are using it on both male and female targets: it is received differently.

I’m curious: Why does the opinion of the comment-hearer carry more weight than the opinion of the comment-maker?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

There’s a ‘reasonable person’ standard that has to be applied here. If someone says "hey, have a nice day", a reasonable person would not be able to claim that they were offended, but reasonable people would agree that asking a visible minority if they can speak English repeatedly could be. In the courts, it’s going to be up to judge’s discretion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Your standard seems logical to me, and as I said elsewhere, I believe that the cop in this case was being racist. However, that’s not the standard that is being proposed by other commenters in this thread, nor in another thread below. Their standard is based on how the comment was received, in which case someone could take offense at "have a nice day" and be completely justified, because only their interpretation is relevant… and that’s an entirely unreasonable position.

Crookshanks (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ask yourself this: If “Debbie” were White instead of Asian American, do you think that officer would have said “do you not speak English” to her right off the bat, then kept repeating the question?

He’d likely have found some other way to be a dickhead if he had pulled over a white person. I’m a white guy in my late 30s and here’s a story from my late 20s:

One day I pass a Canadian Pacific Railroad Officer on the Interstate. He’s doing 55 in a 55, but the State Troopers and local Sheriff always treated this section of highway as a de-facto 65, they’d leave you alone until you exceeded 70mph, so without even thinking about it I passed him. He pulls me over — keep in mind, he’s a railroad cop, he has statewide jurisdiction but this really isn’t his job — and proceeds to scream at and belittle me. I won’t repeat what he said, but it was clear to me that he was trying to provoke me into responding in a way that would justify the use of force against me.

I keep my mouth shut, except to ask if I’m free to leave, which pisses him off even more, and eventually he gets tired of screaming and issues me a citation, 63 in a 55, with a snide comment along the lines of, "You wouldn’t be in this mess if you had respect." What mess buddy? A speeding ticket? You didn’t exactly bag a felon here. It was an old school ticket, incidentally, on carbon paper, I’d never seen one of those before because virtually every police unit in New York State is equipped a terminal printer and computer that uploads the ticket directly to Albany.

Ultimately the asshat forgets to file the required supporting deposition within the allotted time (30 days from my non-guilty plea by mail) and the Judge kicks the ticket at the first court appearance. Boy was this turd pissed, I’d never even seen an officer show up to the first appearance, that’s just your chance to talk to the DA, not an actual trial with testimony, but this guy shows up and proceeds to go off on the Judge when it’s kicked on procedural grounds. The Judge lets him rant for a minute or two and cuts him off with, "Why are you here? You don’t do traffic enforcement. If you did you would known to file the deposition in a timely manner."

I’m not saying the cop in this story wasn’t a racist, he may well have been, but he also could have just been a "RESPECT MUH AUTHORITAH" asshole like the dickhead that pulled me over, who latched onto the first thing he saw. The dude that got me dropped snide comments about my 13.1/26.2 stickers, because I guess being a runner is somehow offensive? Who knows. It was all because I had the balls to pass him, no more and no less, I disrespected him in his mind and he wasn’t going to let that go. People like this have no business carrying a firearm in public, much less having arrest powers.

Shufflepants (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"I’m not saying the cop in this story wasn’t a racist, he may well have been, but he also could have just been a "RESPECT MUH AUTHORITAH" asshole like the dickhead that pulled me over, who latched onto the first thing he saw."

It seems there a lot of overlap between racists and "RESPECT MUH AUTHORITAH" assholes. Probably because they both come from the same supposition, that they feel that they are inherently better than some other class of people.

Crookshanks (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

True, they’re not mutually exclusive.

I just find it hard to believe a white person would have had a substantially different outcome.

Like I said, one of the things "my" cop bitched about were my 13.1/26.2 bumper stickers, "You don’t look like a runner." Uhh, okay buddy, I didn’t know you were in the business of judging bumper stickers. Or do you think I stole the car? Side note, I’m in better shape than you, Mr. Beer Gut. (No, I didn’t say that, but I sure thought it)

I think he was just pissed the fuck off and latched onto anything and everything he saw. I also got shit for:

  1. Not having my license updated with my new address (not a legal requirement in NYS, you update it with DMV so it’s in the database, which I did, but you don’t have to pay for a new physical license if you don’t want to, you can legally pencil in the new address on a sticker DMV provides you)
  2. Having my laptop bag in the front seat as opposed to the trunk. Didn’t know this was a law (spoiler alert: It’s not)
  3. Using my cell phone (calling the boss to tell him I’m going to be late) when he went back to his car. (New York’s hands free law has a specific exemption for a vehicle not in motion)
  4. Not telling him I had a pistol license, guess he found that out when he ran my license. There’s no legal requirement to disclose in New York State, even if you’re carrying, which I wasn’t, pistol was at home in the safe.
  5. Having "open containers" in the car. (empty bottles in the backseat I was planning on returning that day for deposit, most of which weren’t even beer bottles, but rather water bottles)
  6. Having a "foreign flag" on my car (Union Jack sticker; I’d visited the UK that year)

….. and a bunch of other shit I’m forgetting about. He was just trying to provoke me into arguing, trying to escalate the encounter, which is kind of the exact opposite of what he should be doing.

He’s lucky he pulled that stunt with young/broke/scared me, rather than mature/smart/not-broke me, because if that happened today I have the financial resources to retain a lawyer, the dash cam/microphone to record the encounter, and enough of a chip on my shoulder that I would have made it my personal mission to get his ass fired.

In my experience cops are either complete assholes or totally chill approachable human beings. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground in that profession. I’ve met a lot more cool ones than bad ones, I just wish the cool ones would clean their own house rather than force the rest of us to do it for them. 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Another way to look at this is that the guy is not overtly racist, but has plenty of unexamined racist cultural baggage. Plenty of people have this problem. Its when they start defending their bullshit instead of realizing, "wow that shit was wrong (and so are my authoritarian power and control issues)" that, gee whiz surprise, they get called racist by people outside the initial experience.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"It seems there a lot of overlap between racists and "RESPECT MUH AUTHORITAH" assholes. Probably because they both come from the same supposition, that they feel that they are inherently better than some other class of people."

Unfortunately, that belief is also backed up by legislation that directly asserts that they ARE better than anyone who chose a different career. For example, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights which most states have passed. They think they’re entitled to additional rights and privileges just due to their chosen career, and the legislature agrees and passes laws to defend that belief.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Re: RESPECT MUH AUTHORITEE

The initial question was racist – why assume someone driving a nice (I assume, for medical specialist) car in the USA no matter what they look like, probably speaks passable English. He asked her if she speaks English, she replies with "What do you want me to do?" He being the asshole, repeats the question over and over because she’s not answering it. He wants to run the narrative, not let some smart **** (smarter than him) skip to the next step in the conversation and actually get something over with. Basically, it’s "we’re not proceeding past the first question until you answer it" instead of taking her response as proof that – wait for it – she speaks English. AUTHORITEE.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem with that is you are making an assumption that this officer did not reasonably think she did not speak English.

We have a partial account of the story. Would your opinion on this change if he had yelled several instructions prior to her opening her window, she had the radio loud, and she did not hear him? Once the window opens, had she not followed instructions and looked confused, asking if she speaks English might be reasonable.

His continued behavior seems to be a problem, and I assume the investigation came up with enough evidence to conclude there was a problem with his behavior, but making a blanket statement that a police officer (or anyone for that matter) cannot ask if someone speaks a particular language is crazy to me. You would then have to forgive officers for speaking instructions in any language and, when not followed, assume a suspect is resisting arrest – if the officer cannot inquire as to whether a suspect understands instructions, I think you have a much worse situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The racism is in the assumption that somebody with an Asian appearance cannot speak English.

In the absence of other evidence, we’re only assuming the officer had this assumption. Maybe he’s an ass to everyone, channeling Sam Jackson’s Pulp Fiction character to anyone who doesn’t do exactly what he wants immediately.

SpammersAreScum (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Notice trooper's repeat of the question

The article quotes the driver as responding to the trooper in (presumably fluent) English, and then the trooper repeats the question. It’s hard to know what he what he was "thinking" at that point.

Also notice that his partner, the one actually writing the ticket, is "Eric Chin". I’m going to go out on a limb and assume also Asian-American. Make of that what you will.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Your own racism is preventing you from recognizing that whites are also victims of racism. Racism knows no color and has no bounds. Everyone is affected.

Your blatantly obvious racism renders your opinion of less value than someone who has not demonstrated racist leanings, regardless of their skin color. I suggest you spend some time in self-reflection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Let’s let the women that experienced it tell you what it was.

Given the description of the situation, I would conclude that the cop was being racist. I don’t need to be told that.

But since you brought it up, why is the opinion of the "women that experienced it" the determining factor to you? If she said "I don’t feel the cop was racist," does that mean that I can’t disagree with her?

Especially if you’re white, your opinion on the matter is fairly useless to anyone but yourself.

Making a blanket judgment based on someone’s skin color? That sounds pretty racist to me.

JoeCool (profile) says:

All rotten

The findings prompted additional investigations into Chin’s colleagues at Troop E, and the case widened from there, eventually ensnaring about one-third of the unit.

If ONE THIRD of a unit is brazenly doing something illegal, the other two thirds know all about it. It’s not one person in a crowd, it’s a significant fraction of a small group.

tom (profile) says:

If Officer Casamassima was of retirement age, very likely he had enough hearing loss that he wasn’t hearing a lot of what she was saying. If she had an accent and the normal higher pitch that most women do, even if her English was perfect, he might well only hear enough to register it as some incomprehensible gibberish. Still not an excuse to yell at her. And one would think that after that many years on the job, he would have attended a few seminars on "How to deal with folks you can’t understand." Maybe there should be a further investigation into the overall training the Troopers receive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

""If Officer Casamassima was of retirement age, very likely he had enough hearing loss that he wasn’t hearing a lot of what she was saying."

That would be a serious handicap for a police officer, and grounds for at least moving them to a desk job."

Or maybe getting them a hearing aid?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

At first I started wondering, how would that scenario even be remotely plausible, deploying a cop who’s hard of hearing AND has a hair-trigger temper?

Then I remember that these are the police forces whose ground forces are run by trigger-happy amoebae who’d piss themselves watching a game of Call of Duty and then I die a little on the inside…

Crookshanks (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stunned

Well, with any luck they committed fraud in a way (through the mail and/or telephone/internet) that gives the Feds jurisdiction.

We had a local corrections officer beat the shit out of a handcuffed inmate a number of years ago. The local authorities had videotape of him doing this and let him simply resign, no prosecution, even though it cost the county $62,500 to settle the lawsuit brought by the inmate.

When the local paper broke the story the Feds got involved and indicted him for violating the inmate’s civil rights. He got six months at Club Fed, which seems light, but probably about right for a few punches, plus the felony conviction that will deny him the right to own a firearm or work in law enforcement for the rest of his life.

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