Boston Police Officer Brenda James began her career in the male-dominated, dangerous field in 1994. Her district was changing, becoming more inclusive and diverse. The police department adopted a different model of policing — “community policing” — developing partnerships and relationships with community members. Officer James was assigned to help carry out that mission. She was recognized for the work she did as a community service officer and then became a juvenile officer, a liaison between the police department and community – school officials, clergy, business-owners, social service agencies, and programs. She was involved in roundtable discussions, interventions, mediation, individual educational plans for students at risk, court advocacy for juvenile delinquents, and relationship-building with probation. She became certified to mediate and earned a masters degree in criminal justice from Boston University.
In 2010, the Boston Police Department (BPD) failed to properly clear Officer James for an injury, erroneously charging her with Absent Without Leave (AWOL) instead of injured leave in November 2011. In December 2011, Officer James had an appointment with the BPD medical unit to be cleared of injured leave after a rehabilitation/job simulation program.
On December 14, 2011, Officer James was properly cleared for full duty with no restrictions and was allowed to return to work on January 1, 2012 after First Night. Yet Officer James continued to be carried AWOL and was charged with being AWOL on December 22, 2011 after being medically cleared. (The BPD Internal Affairs Division never investigated the AWOL allegation even though they backdated charges relating to the AWOL allegation.)
Officer James returned to full duty in January 2012, as agreed to by all parties, and chose the last half shift to work on the street, primarily in a rapid response, two-person car answering high priority calls. During the next six months, Officer James and her partner had to mace, subdue and arrest a violent suspect and chase and apprehend a suspect carrying a firearm. Her performance was exemplary, and she received a commendation during the six months she worked after her return. Officer James had ample opportunity to go out injured, yet she made no attempt to after numerous scuffles with suspects.
During this time, Officer James was not given back her pay that was taken after being considered AWOL, and she did not exercise her right to file a state claim with the Attorney General’s office for violations of state wage payment laws. In May/June of 2012, Officer James approached her union representative and asked that he inquire about her missing vacation time due to the erroneous 2010 change in her injured-on-duty status (a previous and separate adverse action). The clerks complained to the captain and the union representative that Officer James went through her union representative, as she had the right to, and did not come to them directly to inquire about her missing vacation time. The captain sarcastically told her to make sure she contacted the clerks about her return date to avoid being carried AWOL because he said he was aware that Officer James did not like to contact the clerks directly.
The June 8, 2012 Incident
At about 1am, the captain came to the station and met with Officer James in his office regarding the suspension for alleged AWOL with a lieutenant present. The lieutenant told Officer James it would be a one-way conversation. The captain admitted that he did not intend to suspend Officer James, so it appeared that he did not have a clear plan of action. The captain attempted to engage her in a two-way conversation without a union representative present, violating her rights.
During the meeting, the captain decided to issue the suspension after Officer James did not engage in a two-way conversation without a union representative present. The captain ordered Officer James to tum over her badge, radio, and firearm. While she was in the process of safely and administratively removing her firearm (which had a live round in the chamber), the captain suddenly came out from behind his desk, approached her from the front, and physically took the firearm from her retention holster, after much wrangling. According to the training all Boston police officers receive, Officer James should have grabbed Russell’s hand and twisted her body to release his grip and create distance. Officer James used a great amount of restraint and control. The captain also had ample opportunity to request the gunbelt she was wearing before dangerously wrangling the loaded firearm out of the retention holster on the gunbelt.
Two police officers admitted that it was a deviation from protocol, highly dangerous, and that they never witnessed an officer physically remove another officer’s loaded firearm.
The witnessing lieutenant’s account agreed with Officer James’ account (and differed from the captain’s account) on a number of key points.
After trying to calm herself down in her car and speaking with her union rep, Officer James went to the hospital emergency room in the early morning hours after the June 8, 2012 incident.
Textbook Abuse: Retaliation
Officer James endured a series of abuses after the June 8, 2012 incident:
- Sabotaged paperwork. As required by BPD rules and regulations, Officer James filed a required incident report. She sent it to her assigned station via computer to be coded and approved. There are transcripts to verify that the captain ordered the report not be coded or approved. When a supervisor finally released the incident report, it was approved and coded “sexual assault.” The captain did not immediately file a required report. He only sent an email the morning of June 8, 2012, informing his superior officer that he suspended Officer James and omitting the physical removal of her firearm by him. He failed to send any other required reports until one year later.
- Ignoring of the incident by a higher-up. The police commissioner never took any action regarding the incident. Subsequent to Officer James’ report filed on June 15, 2012, which was later approved and coded, he contacted Officer James on her cell phone, stated that he read her report, and ordered her to take her annual drug test. He never made a single comment regarding the June 8, 2012 incident. She complied with his orders to immediately provide a hair sample for the annual drug test.
- Incorrect complaint classification. No action was taken regarding Officer James’ report. She was compelled to file a criminal charge of assault and battery against the captain to protect herself. Normally, an application for a criminal complaint by a police officer against another would be referred to the District Attorney’s office, but this complaint was erroneously filed as a civilian complaint. The Clerk-Magistrate erroneously dismissed the application by applying the wrong legal standard, claiming he did so on the grounds that there was no evidence of criminal intent, even though criminal intent is not a required element of simple assault and battery, violating Officer James’ constitutional due process rights.
- Grievance denial for ignoring medical documentation. Officer James suffered a back injury as a result of the gun removal incident. According to her training, Officer James instinctively moved to keep her “gun side” away. She provided the BPD with a medical letter stating that there was a causal relationship between the removal of her firearm and the back injury that she sustained. The BPD ignored the medical documentation provided by Officer James, so a grievance was filed, and it proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator denied the grievance, pointing to several bogus claims: previous injury, failure to report the injury within 12 hours, failure to go to the hospital for 12 hours, and claims of associating migraines with stresses other than this issue, despite her neurologist’s report. The arbitrator exceeded her authority, including presuming to make findings about medical issues. Officer James began to pursue an appeal on her own when her daughter became seriously ill.
- Failure to follow procedures. BPD rules and regulations require that a Form 1920 be filed for every internal affairs investigation. No one ever filed a Form 1920 in this case. At some point (the record is still unclear regarding the timing), an investigation into the June 8, 2012 incident and the reports filed by Officer James in connection with that incident was started, even though no Form 1920 was ever filed. The record is unclear and to this day, Officer James does not know exactly when the investigation began and when it concluded. Attempts by Officer James and her attorneys to obtain clarification and specifics were ignored by the BPD. When specifications for disciplinary action were finally issued, they were unclear.
- Limbo status. After the incident, Officer James was left in limbo with no duty status for a two-year period, which is unprecedented action. This limbo status affected her retirement, depriving her of benefits for years of service.
- Unreasonable duty status and administrative leave. Once the captain was removed from the district, Officer James requested to return to work. The doctor cleared her for full duty with no restrictions in July 2014 after a physical fitness test. But the BPD ordered Officer James to see their doctor. He delayed seeing Officer James until September 2014, then cleared her for modified duty with no explanation. He never conducted a complete fitness for duty evaluation. The BPD put Officer James on administrative leave the day after her visit with their doctor and modified duty without allowing her to work one day.
- Hair testing policy violation. In 2013, there was allegedly a violation regarding the hair testing policy. The BPD began an investigation into whether Officer James had violated the rule for providing a hair sample within a 60-day compliance window around her birth date. The investigation into a violation started in early July, even though Officer James had until the end of July to provide a hair sample. The investigation into a violation began even before a violation could have occurred. Officer James attempted to be in compliance with the rule even though she was without a badge, work status, and payroll check. She was denied the opportunity to take her hair test on July 29, 2013.
The Current Status
After Officer James filed an appeal with the Civil Service Commission over the designation of AWOL and the five-day suspension that was issued on June 8, 2012, the BPD eventually rescinded the five-day suspension, settled wages and time (overtime and details were not given back), and expunged the suspension from her record. The captain subsequently engaged in similar dangerous behavior in removing a firearm from a white male officer, though the officer was treated differently.
The Civil Service Commission ordered BPD to make Officer James whole in 2013 in her AWOL suspension case, which never happened. Officer James also appealed the Civil Service Commission’s decision regarding her termination from the BPD, and the Superior Court remanded the case back to Civil Service because the Commission had violated Officer James’ rights by not allowing her to testify on her own behalf. There will be a hearing at an independent agency with multiple witnesses. The prolongation and mishandling of this case has resulted in Officer James’ life being on hold for six years for reasons that are groundless and baseless.
During a period of many social movements including female empowerment, Officer James is left without her 21-year career for any reasonable justifications or proven just cause, her retirement years are negatively impacted, her reputation is harmed, and her faith in humanity is shattered. She is financially destitute, and due to her age and politics, is having difficulty with gaining new employment.