FRAMINGHAM — A State Police sergeant has been placed on restricted duty while an internal investigation is conducted of his unauthorized release of dramatic photos of the capture of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in April in Watertown.
Sergeant Sean P. Murphy essentially will be on desk duty while the agency’s internal affairs unit probes his actions, officials said.
State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said after a hearing on Murphy’s status at State Police headquarters this morning that he held Murphy in “high regard” and considered him a “man of character” and a “man of honor.”
However, Alben said, the integrity of the Marathon bombing probe and every criminal investigation needed to be maintained.
“We cannot afford to let pretrial publicity in any way impede this prosecution or any others that we’re involved in,” Alben said. “And no one should be making decisions unilaterally about what information” should be released, he said.
Alben said a range of sanctions could be brought against Murphy, but he said he didn’t think it likely Murphy would be terminated. “That is not a realistic option,” he said.
Murphy, a tactical photographer who is a 25-year veteran of the force, has said he released the photos — which, among other things, show a wounded and disheveled Tsarnaev surrendering with the red dot from the laser sight of a police gun on his forehead — as a response to Rolling Stone magazine’s controversial decision to put an attractive self-portrait of Tsarnaev on its cover.
Federal prosecutors handling the Marathon bombing case said last week that the leak of the State Police photos was “completely unacceptable.” But an array of backers have given Murphy enthusiastic support.
“Throughout this process, he has shown the characteristics that I hope to someday model myself after. If I could be one-fourth of the man he is now, I’ll be more than happy with my life. I will support him 100 percent. I couldn’t be prouder of him,” said Connor Murphy, 19, the sergeant’s son, after the hearing. The father, who is not allowed to speak during the investigation, stood by his son’s side.
Leonard Kesten, Murphy’s attorney, emphasized that Murphy did not sell the pictures and that he had released them with his name attached, rather than anonymously.
Alben said, “We are not in the business of taking issue with commercial publications or offering information that refutes what’s published out there.”
At the same time, Alben emphasized that “because we have to put in place a disciplinary process and deal with some violations here doesn’t mean we have any less empathy, concern, or sympathy” for the families of those killed in the bombings, and those injured.
The internal investigation will seek to determine whether Murphy violated rules, regulations, or policies, State Police said.
As he arrived this morning at the hearing, Murphy was asked how he was feeling.
“Great,’’ he said.
Asked how he felt about the public support he has received, he said, “Life is good.”
Tsarnaev, 20, and his older brother, Tamerlan, allegedly planted the twin bombs that exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others. The terror attacks, which turned a colorful scene of athletic celebration into bloody chaos, rocked the the nation, raising questions about how the Tsarnaevs had become radicalized and whether the attacks could have been prevented by law enforcement and security agencies.
The Tsarnaevs also allegedly killed an MIT police officer before a confrontation in the early morning hours of April 19 in Watertown in which Tamerlan was killed when he was shot by police and run over by his brother. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s desperate escape by car won him a brief reprieve, but he was captured later the same day hiding under the plastic cover of a boat stored in a Watertown back yard.
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