GB Police drunk driving investigation complete; ‘no comment’ on officer status

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By Thursday, Sep 22 News  13 Comments
Upon the advice of counsel there will be no public explanation of what disciplinary measures -- if any -- have been taken against Great Barrington Police Officer Daniel Bartini who was pulled over by Sheffield police for allegedly driving drunk on August 20.

Great Barrington — Four weeks after an off-duty Great Barrington Police Department (GBPD) officer was pulled over by a Sheffield Police Officer for allegedly drinking and driving, the town says its investigation into the incident is done, and on the advice of attorneys, will not comment on whether disciplinary measures were taken against the officer.

In a statement read over the phone Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin Thursday (September 22) told the Edge that “privacy and union rules” prevent her from commenting on what consequences GBPD Officer Daniel Bartini might face, if any.

Bartini, 24, was not given sobriety tests nor cited, and was picked up and driven home by another GBPD officer.

Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin. Photo: Heather Bellow

Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin. Photo: Heather Bellow

Tabakin, noting that this has been a “troubling time” for her and GBPD Chief William Walsh, said she was advised by the town’s newly hired legal counsel to keep quiet. The Boston-based firm Deutsch, Williams, Brooks, Derensis & Holland was hired earlier this month “to work for the town on police issues.”

“The town takes all allegations of misconduct very seriously, including the operation of a motor vehicle under the influence,” she said.

Tabakin said there had been a “thorough and complete investigation and consultation with labor relations counsel.”

Bartini is officially a part-time officer, but works full-time due to department staffing needs. It is unclear what, if anything, has changed.

“The issue of driving under the influence is very serious,” Tabakin said, “and citizens rightfully expect police officers to be held to high standards…and have trust in public officials.”

Tabakin said the entire police department would undergo a 2-hour mandatory alcohol awareness seminar in the next few weeks.

Also, she said the town and its attorneys had reviewed all policies about police officer behavior, particularly “pertaining to off-duty behavior, and what is the definition of behavior unbecoming of an officer.”

She further said new drafts of these policies had been rewritten, and are awaiting attorney approval, and that the GBPD’s policy is to “only pull over vehicles when there is a violation of a rule,” or another critical reason. Drunk drivers are required to undergo sobriety testing, and there is “no policy that permits a driver too impaired to drive to seek a ride home,” after being pulled over.

At an awards ceremony in 2014, from left: Sergeant Ryan Kryziak, Officer Brennan Polidoro, and Chief Eric Munson III.

At an awards ceremony in 2014, from left: Sheffield Police Department Sergeant Ryan Kryziak, Officer Brennan Polidoro, and Chief Eric Munson III.

Sheffield Officer Brennan Polidoro stopped Bartini in the early hours of Saturday, August 20, and reported that Bartini and his passenger were “intoxicated.” Bartini had spent the evening with other officers at the Great Barrington VFW after a golf tournament, and some officers went to a home in Ashley Falls later that evening. Polidoro logged the stop and called the department for guidance. After notifying SPD Sergeant Ryan Kryziak and Chief Eric Munson III that he had stopped an off-duty officer, Polidoro allowed Bartini to call an on-duty GBPD officer for a ride home.

Officer Polidoro wrote the following in his log: “Vehicle straddling center line, drifting between marked lanes, and driving on center and white fog lines.” Polidoro said, while he stopped Bartini before the Berkshire GMC dealership, he didn’t come to a complete stop until he had crossed the town line into Great Barrington in front of the former Route 7 Grill property. “Operator…emitting a strong odor of alcoholic beverage, bloodshot glassy eyes, and thick tongued speech. Bartini stating he is coming from a residence in Ashley Falls and had a couple beers. Sobriety in question…”

Polidoro wrote that Bartini’s passenger “was also intoxicated.”

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh.

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh. Photo: Heather Bellow

Tabakin had also recently declined to answer questions about whether Bartini had been on temporary suspension until the investigation was complete. GBPD Chief William Walsh has also declined public comment throughout the investigation.

The incident sparked outrage in South Berkshire County over what appeared to be an act of “professional courtesy” by Polidoro, who was subsequently attacked in newspapers and social media for letting Bartini off the hook. According to confidential sources close to both police departments, Polidoro was likely instructed to do so by his supervisors, whom he had contacted after stopping Bartini.

Immediately after, public relations efforts by the Sheffield Police Department went awry, silencing both towns and police departments for a time after Munson told another newspaper that the Bartini incident was not professional courtesy, and that it is common for his officers not to arrest impaired drivers and allow them to call for a ride.

More indignation was stoked after The Edge had a face-to-face meeting with those sources who said alcohol use — and drinking and driving — was a rampant problem among a handful of officers, including one ranking officer, within the GBPD. The sources described other officers as feeling tarnished by the GBPD’s reputation in this regard and praised Polidoro for doing his job properly and without hypocrisy.

The sources began contacting the Edge with encrypted emails that had also been sent to Tabakin and Walsh. Neither responded to the emails and those allegations of a drinking culture within the department, which the sources said they were inspired to reveal after the death last May of 22-year-old GBPD Officer Ryan Storti, who crashed the car he was driving into a tree after a night of drinking at the Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox.

The Town of Sheffield had also begun an internal investigation, according to town administrator Rhonda LaBombard. “We’re hoping to take a look at exactly what happened that night,” she said.

“We certainly don’t think our officer did anything wrong,” said Sheffield Selectboard Chair Nadine Hawver. “It is important…to take the opportunity to review procedures and policies when an issue occurs.”


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13 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Patrick Fennell says:

    Would we expect anything less from such a non-transparent town? So much for trusting the town or police department.

  2. David says:

    Well, THIS certainly smells bad.

  3. MICHELE MILLER says:

    All over this country it turns out that police unions have an inordinate amount of power which protects officers from suffering consequences of their actions and protects even those who kill innocent people. See the days news.

  4. Carol Diehl says:

    “The issue of driving under the influence is very serious,” Tabakin said, “and citizens rightfully expect police officers to be held to high standards…and have trust in public officials.” How can we have “trust” in public officials if they are shielding us from what’s going on? And the solution, that the force will be taking a 2-hour alcohol awareness seminar is ludicrous. As if they already don’t know that alcohol will make you drunk and, um, maybe you shouldn’t drive under its influence.

  5. Christopher Blair says:

    Last I knew the divide was “labor” and “management”, aka union and company. In this case aren’t the citizens the company? Don’t we pay the wages and offer the opportunity for employment. Did our agents/representatives miss something? Respectfully inquiring.

    1. Christopher Blair says:

      I would also say, that we here in south county probably do not want to see a regularly occurring sobriety checkpoint, as is very common in adjacent states on July 4th, Labor Day and possibly other holidays, to be implemented here. The drinking-driving problems of the population is something that requires deep thought and careful consideration. What might the drinking threshold be? I guess there is a legal number than can be used to measure. Yet, what’s the social metric?

  6. Mickey Friiedman says:

    First off, many thanks to Heather Bellow for doing a remarkable job of channeling her inner Franz Kafka and Lewis Carroll and offering us an incredible look at the world we call home – a world where we pay the salaries of just about everyone involved here, all of whom seem to be able to do whatever they please without telling us what we need to know about what they’re doing and not doing. Including the law firm – and our second law firm because in these troubled times, one law firm isn’t enough – and the law firm we’re paying is being paid to keep us in the dark. While the one person best serving the public interest, our public interest, is Officer Brennan Polidoro, who has brought some light to bear here, is paid by the citizens of Sheffield. This is, as MasterCard so often reminds us, priceless. Now the only thing we need to make this story complete is to pay our new public relations firm a bunch of money to issue a press release explaining that no one in Town Hall is going to tell us anything useful. That’s got to be worth a hundred bucks.

    1. Mickey Friedman says:

      I hope the Edge isn’t going to bill me for the extra “i” you’ve added to my last name. I’m on a limited budget but if I bought an extra letter, it would have been a consonant, like maybe an additional “n” to make me a Friedmann …

  7. David Harris says:

    Interesting that these privacy protections don’t extend to cover citizens of this incipient police state.

  8. Pete says:

    If the town releases private information before any legal proceedings take place, they would most likely be in violation of the union contract and be violating the officer’s rights.. This may be disagreeable to the general public but, release of this information could result in a law suit and costly Union grievance. The powers that be are exercising prudence and protecting the town’s financial resources, while honoring the union contract and officer’s rights. In view of what has been reported, it is difficult to be sympathetic, but in view of potential legal issues, the town has to keep this private until some conclusion is reached.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      So at the next public Town Meeting we should reject teh entire police budget, that way no more secrets. Let the cops get their own rides home from parties, why should the taxpayers pay for them. Remember Bartini got a ride home from an on-duty cop in a town purchased police cruiser.

  9. Lannon says:

    This is such absolute BS. These are public servants and Great Barrington deserves to know. Shameful.

  10. Janice Storti says:

    It was easy to ascertain from the beginning of this shameful story what the outcome would be. It is particularly painful for me as I have come to respect the police force in Great Barrington with the leadership of Chief Walsh. I was proud of their service. Since this has all been “swept under the proverbial rug,” I no longer have the same feelings. This is unfair to the majority of officers who watch over our town, some of whom I know and admire, but it is such a “slap in the face” to the people to be held to different standards. No one is entitled to be above the law, least of all one who serves. It is the right of the people to know if there is any punishment, regardless of whether he was breathalyzed, being leveled on the offending officer. Because of this episode, the entire culture of our police department is now under scrutiny. Immediate action could have prevented this.

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