Incidents of drinking and driving by GB police symptom of deeper problem, sources say

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By Friday, Aug 26 News  31 Comments
Heather Bellow
The Great Barrington Police Department headquarters on south Main Street.

Great Barrington — Several sources close to members of both the Great Barrington (GBPD) and Sheffield Police Departments (SPD) have told the Edge in a face-to-face interview that the partying habits — especially the drinking and driving habits — of some Great Barrington officers are out of control. The sources say they were relieved to learn that Sheffield officer Brennan Polidoro logged his stop of GBPD off-duty officer Daniel Bartini, and they see Polidoro’s action as a courageous stand against this behavior.

The sources, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals and initially communicated with the Edge via encrypted emails and anonymous phone calls, said it would have been unlikely for Polidoro, faced with the prospect of arresting another police officer, to make such a decision on his own.

At a Sheffield Police Department 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: Sergeant Ryan Kryziak, Officer Brennan Polidoro, and Chief Eric Munson III.

 

Indeed, the incident log for the Bartini stop says Polidoro, 25, “notified” Sheffield Police badge numbers “441 and 444.” Though Sheffield Police Chief Eric Munson III has told the Edge several times that he can no longer comment on the incident, Munson did say that 441 is his badge number, and 444 is Sergeant Ryan Kryziak’s.

Bartini’s subsequent release spared him the usual procedure of taking a breathalyzer and field sobriety test, which might have led to his arrest.

The incident came not long after Bartini, according to GBPD logs, made an early August arrest for drunk driving at Cumberland Farms on Main Street, the only OUI arrest at GBPD since the beginning of the month.

The sources said they had also sent encrypted emails to GBPD Chief William Walsh and Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin documenting a pattern of excessive and frequent drinking — often followed by driving — that they say has other officers horrified and embarrassed for the department, and which those other officers feel is undermining their work and role in the community. Neither Walsh nor Tabakin have responded to those emails.

Police Chief William Walsh

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh in the control room at police headquarters in 2015. Photo: Heather Bellow

“If it was not for the tragic loss of Officer Ryan Storti several months ago, we would probably still be sidelined and just watching the very same behavior that ended Ryan’s life continue,” one email to the Edge said. “We would watch, we most certainly would pass judgment, we would form opinions, we would be curious…as to why policemen deem it ok, and even more so, HOW they deem it socially acceptable, to consume alcohol in the public eye at bars, restaurants, the VFW, events, etc., and then get behind the wheel of their cars and drive off.

“Senior Officers and a Sergeant were participating in the events leading up to the incident …allowed it to transpire. And most importantly that ranking members and senior officers allowed [Bartini] to drive…”

Bartini was stopped last Saturday at around 1:35 a.m. after Polidoro saw his northbound car “straddling” the center line and making other erratic moves in Sheffield on Route 7.

The stop was initiated in Sheffield “before Berkshire GMC,” according to the log, and Bartini’s car “failed to come to a complete stop until in GB in front of Route 7 Grill.”

In the log Polidoro reported that Bartini’s eyes were “bloodshot” and his speech impaired, and said that both Bartini and his passenger were “intoxicated.”

The log says Polidoro notified Munson and Kryziak, and subsequently, “Bartini was advised to call for a ride.”

According to the log, Bartini then called friend and fellow officer Timothy Ullrich, who sources say was on duty. The log says that Ullrich came and picked up Bartini and his passenger and drove them home. Bartini left his car in the former Route 7 Grill parking lot.

“Brennan [Polidoro] is getting hammered for filing the report,” one source said. “He was trying to take a stand with that.”

Newspaper and Facebook comment feeds have criticized Polidoro over continuing news reports that make it appear he made the decision to allow Bartini to slide out of “professional courtesy,” a source said.

Sheffield Police Department. Photo: Heather Bellow

Sheffield Police Department. Photo: Heather Bellow

And sources question why officers with higher rank from either department did not come out to this motor vehicle stop.

“Polidoro is being crucified,” said another source. “This kid stops this guy and is getting destroyed in the media.”

“Brennan’s a ‘put my foot down guy’,” the source added. “He didn’t have to do anything [at the stop].”

Sources told the Edge the evening began Friday, August 19, after Bartini and handful of GPBD officers — including one ranking officer — went to the Egremont Country Club for a golf tournament fundraiser for the Sheffield Volunteer Fire Department. Sources say some then moved on to the VFW, and some left for another officer’s house in Ashley Falls, where the partying continued.

In the log Polidoro wrote that Bartini told him he was “coming from a residence in Ashley Falls,” and that he “had a couple of beers.”

Even a post-funeral gathering at the VFW for Officer Ryan Storti, who last May died when he crashed into a tree after leaving the Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox, saw plenty of drinking among officers, the sources say.

“The drinking and driving is insane,” one source said, adding that other officers feel they are all being tarnished by this “unlawful behavior.”

The sources said some of this partying is flaunted on social media, as well, and that this behavior by the participants is well known in the community. “Word travels fast, very fast,” the sources wrote in an email.

Both the GBPD, SPD, and the towns of Great Barrington and Sheffield are no longer making comments after Munson, for instance, said in interviews with another newspaper immediately after the incident that what happened with Bartini is common practice.

In an email to the Edge, Town Manager Tabakin said: “At my direction, Chief Walsh is actively investigating the incident and will be issuing a full report, after which, I will review the facts and information and determine the appropriate administrative action.”

Tabakin further said the investigation process “reflects that it is being taken seriously by the Town, including the Selectboard, Town Manager and Police Chief.”

One source said both the drinking and driving, and the professional courtesy, “goes on [in police departments] countywide.”

It’s also a statewide problem. A 2014 Boston Globe article reported that in reviewing instances of off-duty police charged with drunk driving, the majority “kept their jobs, sometimes after a short suspension.”

The article also said the tally of those charged is probably low given the practice of professional courtesy. And in these cases, “Massachusetts police departments have launched internal reviews at least four times in the last three years after learning that an officer or former officer was accused of drunken driving but was not arrested.”

The double standard was evident in 2015 when Belchertown Police Chief Francis Fox was pulled over by a Granby officer for driving on the wrong side of the road. The Granby officer did not give Fox a breathalyzer test, nor was Fox arrested.

The sources all said they came forward both to support Polidoro for logging the incident and because of the hypocrisy on the part of officers doing what they arrest others for doing. They also said they are appalled at how damaging the problem is to the GBPD’s image.

“It’s just wrong all around,” said one.


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31 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Dana says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    Nice work Heather.

  3. TM says:

    This is so shocking. The fact that this goes on with seeming regularity is so surprising to me. I had no idea that Officer Polidoro’s actions are seen as betrayal by most officers. As the general public, we think it wasn’t enough, but as a police officer it is seen as too much. This is very disheartening, the police are so acustomed to operating above the law that simply logging drunken driving by another officer is seen as betrayal by most. I imagine that Officer Polidors saw too much blatant disregard for the safety of citizens he has sworn to protect, too much tarnish brought to the uniform he wears with pride and too much dangerous drunk driving by police officers who think they are above the law. I applaud his actions, thank goodness he logged the stop. If not it would just be another covered up illegal action by one police officer for another. Perpetuating this dangerous activity further. The part of this that scares me most is that Officer Bartini is still on the job. He wasn’t suspended and likely will not be suspended or fired. I wonder was his BAC checked before his next shift? Was he sober before he strapped on his gun? What happens if he decides to get drunk and get even with whoever, this 22 year old has a badge and gun and police force ready to cover up anything he does. Will ha take action against a citizen? Maybe someone he thinks is to blame? The fact that he remind in uniform is indicative that he will not be fired. We all know that the investigation by the Chiefs will result in no real change. No sweeping reform. So what happens next? What happens on the next cover up? Will there be a citizen killed or maimed and no log made? What do we do as a town when the police force fails us? When the town administrators do nothing? We know that they will not make any real changes, so who do we call? Capeless will do nothing. He would never jeopardize his cozy relationship with the GBPD. What do the citizens do with a police force so corrupt that it’s officers are “crucifying” one of there own who had seen too much illegal behavior and couldn’t take any more? I personally think it’s time to move, I know it will be business as usual for the PD and the town.

    1. Carl Stewart says:

      TM…and I understand why you are unwilling to use your name…let’s not go overboard on this incident. The fact that Officer Bartini’s stop was handled in a manner that differed from what most motorists would experience does not mean that the police department “would be ready to cover up anything he does.” You are not suggesting, are you, that if Bartini had been caught on video robbing a bank that the police department would have covered it up? If you think that, on what evidence do you base your supposition? My guess is that Polidoro was faced with a very difficult decision; had he done a field sobriety test and/or a breathalyzer and found that Bartini was over the blood-alcohol limit…which does not, by the way, equate with being drunk…it might have meant that Bartini would have lost his job. That would have been a heavy psychological burden for Polidoro to carry around. Why not look for a middle ground, such as a suspension, perhaps 30 days without pay, for Bartini and the announcement by both the Sheffield and Great Barrington police chiefs that henceforth there will be a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving by police officers, whether they are off-duty or not?

      1. TM says:

        I’m pretty sure I’m entitled to my opinion. I have read many of your posts and you certainly are well informed and educated on many matters. I respect your opinion, but I don’t share it. If you live in GB and know anyone in the restaurant business, you have heard the rumors about how much alcohol related activity goes on with our PD. Certain bars are havens for over the top alcohol consumption and subsequent driving. There are rumors of police coming to aid of friends passed out behind the wheel etc. No logs on those events. As for Polidoro I am totally impressed by his actions. He stood up for what he thinks is an out of control situation. As I wrote, it must have been tough decision and I’m sure he knew that there would be negative repercussions in many aspects. It takes courage to make a choice like he did. He’s obviously a man of conviction. Bartini has been a problematic officer and has no regard for the people of GB or the law. His actions prove that he not only doesn’t obey the law, but he doesn’t respect it. I don’t think these are good attributes for someone who’s occupation is to enforce the law. After all the whole point of this article is that there is a pervasive culture of alcoholism within the department. There’s no circumstance that I can see in which he should keep his job. We will never know what his condition was at the time of the stop, but I don’t imagine the Officer Polidoro put his neck on the line because Officer Bartini was not a threat to other motorists and himself. If he seemed just fine why would he have brought all this grief upon himself? Just to make his own life a misery? Seems like an odd motivation,no? I don’t know what the GBPD is willing to cover up and that’s the problem. Where do they draw the line, I will never know. Its too hard to know when they are infuriated by one officer taking a small stand that will in the end result in a slap on the wrist of another. It seems they may do anything? How could I know? What they deem ok is not known to me, the only way it could be known to the townspeople would be an independent investigation by a third party. That will never happen. I know that allowing drunk driving isn’t ok with me and it is ok with them. So obviously my values are very different than theirs. This is pretty shocking when you consider that these guys see what happens when drunk driving goes awry. I don’t know how far the reach of professional courtesy goes. Which laws do you think they don’t cover up? Which officers do you think are not part of the culture of alcoholism? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out the hard way. How should we figure out what the department deems OK internally? Wait for another event? Thank goodness Officer Bartini didn’t meet another car coming head on when he was straddling the center line. I guess next time there’s a log made by another officer the citizens of the town will get another clue as to what laws the PD cares to enforce internally and what laws it doesn’t? The question becomes how much favoritism, corruption, and professional courtesy is ok with you? Personally I think that the police should abide by the laws they enforce because only abiding by some isn’t fair and its hard to know what is ok and what isn’t. What laws do you think are ok to let slide? The only way to be sure that this behavior stops is to clean house. Its time for a change, but we all know nothing will change. So what can we do? I can move and that is what I plan to do. I don’t say my name because I am wholeheartedly afraid of retribution. Thank you for the reply, I enjoy being challenged to further explain my position.

  4. NICK STANTON says:

    Thank you for a good, factual and unbiased article on a difficult topic.

  5. Martin Bresler says:

    Is it not a fair and relevant question to ask whether the officers who were driving while apparently drunk were also carrying firearms? If so, that would only increase the danger to others who might encounter those officers.

  6. Tom says:

    I would like to know why he called his superiors in The first place does anybody know how many arrest this officer makes I don’t see him calling his superiors for any others he should have just given him the breathalyzer and arrested him like any other normal citizen. Chief Munson can say whatever he wants about common practice but that’s BS it should be public record why doesn’t someone go through and look at all the traffic stops made in Sheffield in the past year and see how many arrests were made I guarantee it’s more than 50%

  7. Robert Patterson says:

    Great article on a not so great topic. Someone in the Department had to take a stand! I stand with Mr. Polidoro!

  8. Beenthere says:

    Seems to me that the person giving up this information knows an awefull lot about the Police Department, possibly someone inside. If they are taking a stand, then why do it with encrypted emails? Why are they concerned about retaliation? Is it because this source is one of them or does the same thing on his own time? Seems to me that if there is a source that is so close to the situation it just becomes more of a leadership problem. No leadership leads to this time of recurring behavior. Lack of leadership allows the force to act as they feel they should or shouldn’t act. Good leadership would be addressing the issue at hand even after a loss of a brother officer no matter how they fell. Good leadership would be addressing the day to day activities or lack there of, “because these Officers are tainted by a select few”. This all should be corrected by the leadership in the department. Problem is, there is no leadership with the current command structure, other than the most current commanding Officer that was just promoted and unfortunately he hasn’t had the time to address or correct the issue. Unfortunately the information given via encrypted emails may be correct again there is no evidence other than the word of this Officer. Is there an axe to grind? Is there a reason the information was given out in the first place, I mean, who is to say that some of the people present didn’t participate fully in the so called “partying” that continued at a private residence. Maybe some of the people present allowed others to continue with the “partying” knowing they would be the DD? So many questions, so many variables without any proof seems to be unfair. If the source is so concerned about the behavior of the GBPD Officers why not address it with the leadership? Oh, that would be impossible!

    1. Mark Nicholson says:

      I heard that the newly appointed leiutenant or whtaever he is at the GBPD is one of the biggest offendors of drunken driving. I’m sure hell be brushing it all udner the rug with his buddies in no time.

      1. Ed Abrahams says:

        Mark Nicholson,

        The GBPD doesn’t have lieutenants, which is good, because that means you didn’t just accuse someone of doing something wrong with no evidence, based on hearsay.

        Please be careful. Everyone, please be careful. We live in a small town and we are neighbors. When the first article came out, people rushed to condemn the Sheffield officer for not making an arrest. Then the second article came out and people rushed to call that same officer a hero for reporting the incident.

        Slow down. Please slow down. Two departments are investigating what happened. Heather Bellow is an amazing reporter, but reporters are not omniscient gods. They gather facts as best they can with limited time and resources. We’ve already seen a shift from the first story to this one.

        Please let the police captains, overseen by civilian authority, do their job before rushing to a judgement you may regret and which may damage real people, neighbors, in ways you can’t take back. Please slow down.

      2. Patrick Fennell says:

        Ed, make sure this investigation doesn’t slide under the rug either. This is too important to cover-up like other policies the SB has kept from the public. Lives are at stake as well as jobs and trust.

  9. Watchful says:

    Good job, Heather. You are also the courageous one, along with Officer Polidoro. You are setting a great example. While we usually give “the authorities the benefit of the doubt”, keeping quiet in a small community often allows more damage to be done than presenting the facts. I applaud people who are willing to speak up. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Dont “slow down,” hurry up and get to the bottom of this! We have the community at stake, not just a few jobs.

  10. Danny Klein says:

    First rate journalism. Thank you, Ms. Bellow.

  11. Ellen Lahr says:

    This is a leadership issue. The buck stops at the top. Once drunk driving or other crimes by cops are more or less ignored or softly punished it will continue. To the comments of Carl and Ed, an officer DIED in the spring because if this conduct. Someone else might also have died if a tree had not stopped his car. It is a tragedy that Ryan Storti, a great young man died and we have yet to learn the details behind that incident at the Heritage in Lenox. I agree with Ed that knee jerk outrage begs more questions but Carl, cops are apparently engaging in criminal behavior that has a huge risk of killing or injuring others. It’s one of the few crimes that is a crime because of what MIGHT happen if you drive drunk. Cops can’t be doing this. Period. Polidoro did the right thing. Time for Walsh to step up before someone gets killed.

    As I am often with Edge articles of this nature I am always skeptical of anonymous sourcing and therefore I am thinking about who’s speaking, how many are speaking, what’s their affiliation, etc, and whether the Edge knows the ID of those sources writing encrypted emails. However this is a good start on a complex issue Likely involving many police departments.

    1. Heather Bellow says:

      Thank you for this, Ellen. Yes, I met face-to -face with the sources so their identity is not in question. I told them I wouldn’t write a story with out seeing them and their IDs. All this verification took almost a week. It was a matter of building trust.

      1. Ellen Lahr says:

        Good news Heather. I get the feeling there is a lot more here than meets the eye or the written page. Thanks for this info.

  12. Leonard Quart says:

    Wonderful reporting!

  13. George Grumbach says:

    The whole issue of drunk driving approaches the US mania about guns. One reads every day about people who have had their licenses suspended repeatedly but still drink and drive, with no license if they have none. And yet they stay on The road, injuring and killing themselves and others. In Europe, drunk drivers go to jail, even if it is a first offense. So designated drivers who don’t drink and taxis are the norm. Here, there should be no room for more than zero tolerance for driving under the influence, given how dangerous it is. A police culture of leniency is unacceptable, and where it is extended to those who are supposed to enforce the law, it is doubly so.

  14. Mark Nicholson says:

    Mr Abrams. There might not be lieutentants but there isn’t captains either. Aren’t you there boss? You should not be commenting pubicallay at all. Our selectman are just as currupt!!

    1. MICHELE MILLER says:

      Your spelling needs work.

  15. Susan Thompson Barrett says:

    Rather than seeing this as a police versus civilian issue, I suggest we consider that there is an issue looking for a solution in our rural community. Our off duty police officers are similar to other “off duty” folks in the Southern Berkshires. Finding sober transportation home from a restaurant or bar late at night is an issue for all community members who choose to drink alcohol. I have been told, although I cannot say I know it as a fact, that car insurance policies may cover the cost of a taxi home for a drinking customer. If a few South Berkshire citizens teamed together, could they set up an Uber type system for either designated drivers, taxis, or sober friends who could be called on and paid for this service?

  16. DS says:

    How about we don’t throw officer Storti’s name into this until the facts of his death actually come out. If not for be a decent human being then atleast for the sake of friends and family that are still dealing with it.

    1. Ds says:

      Maybe bc a lot of people don’t know he had medical condition of falling asleep at night out of no where. And I know everyone bat was with him that night and said he only had a drink or 2. Can’t always listen to what stupid papers say until all the facts come out

  17. Nordichigh says:

    I’ve never understood why anyone would want to be a local cop? The pay is like $35,000 whereas starting pay with the Massachusetts State Police is twice that and you have a much more interesting job with a huge jurisdiction and are basically free and on your own driving around all day through many towns. Within 10 years you can be making 100k.

  18. Jim Johnston says:

    Nice to see that the Edge completely fails to police their comment section. People making unbased accusations of GB Cops shooting people and doing drugs. So much for lively discussions.

    1. Heather Bellow says:

      Hi Jim-the commenter in question was posting one after the other. Sorry to not have caught it sooner. We removed the offending comments that attack the police. Thank you for your comments.

  19. MK says:

    An Officer pulled over for drunk driving, less than a mile from where Moira Fenno Banks Dobson was killed by a drunk driver in 2012. Shame on everyone.

  20. Heather Bellow says:

    We just removed a series of inappropriate comments, caught a bit too late. We will continue to watch comments as they come in on this story, and warn readers not to post comments that attack other readers, or make unconfirmed statements about police behavior, locally or nationally.

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Friday, Feb 23 - Mrs. Zavattaro enjoyed cooking and spending time with her friends and family over a cup of coffee.