The Harvard University Police Department had the fifth-most “sustained complaints” of 273 Massachusetts law enforcement agencies, according to a newly released state database of police disciplinary records over nearly 40 years.
The data only includes “sustained” disciplinary records — allegations with sufficient evidence to establish a policy violation — and excludes “not sustained” and “unfounded” complaints against officers, as well as those for which they were “exonerated.”
HUPD received a total of 77 complaints – the highest among all Massachusetts college campuses — levied against 30 officers, according to the database. Of those 30 HUPD officers, 13 received three or more complaints, ranging from dishonesty and failure to adhere to procedure to termination for a crime.
The database, which was released by the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission last Tuesday, details disciplinary records for law enforcement agencies across the state from December 1984 through January 2023 — a total of 3,413 records of 2,165 officers accused of misconduct.
The commission oversees police licensing and reform and was established by the Massachusetts legislature in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd as a reform to promote “justice, equity, and accountability” in policing.
Out of the 273 law enforcement agencies with reported sustained complaints, HUPD ranks fifth — after the Massachusetts State Police, Springfield Police Department, Boston Police Department, and New Bedford Police Department.
The majority of complaints against HUPD officers were related to motor vehicle operation, such as officer Peter J. Chierus, who received six sustained complaints of “motor vehicle accident, unsafe operation, or damage.”
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an email Monday that 62 percent of disciplinary complaints from the department’s review involved police vehicle accidents or unsafe operation of a motor vehicle.
But the database also details several more serious complaints against HUPD officers.
According to the database, current HUPD sergeant Jack O’Kane was suspended in 2018 for approving a search that was “deemed unlawful.” With 8 total complaints between 1999 and 2019, O’Kane is among the 12 Massachusetts police officers with the most sustained complaints in the database.
The database also shows that O’Kane was terminated in 2001 after his fourth complaint for profanity and unprofessional comments, but he was later reinstated through union arbitration.
Another current HUPD officer, Josiah Christian, was suspended twice: first in 2015 for sending an “explicit text to a female colleague,” which prompted a Title IX investigation, and again in 2019 for physically assaulting another officer after being called a homophobic slur. In 2021, an arbitrator ruled that Christian was excessively punished by the department.
As a part of changes made to HUPD’s public dashboard in June, HUPD already reports information on personnel complaints from 2020 to 2022. The dashboard shows that there were 18 personnel complaints between 2020 and 2022, and seven of these complaints were sustained.
—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @ryandoannguyen.
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