A Norfolk County grand jury indicted Stoughton Police Chief Manuel Cachopa yesterday, charging that he tried to cover up the actions of Sergeant David M. Cohen and intimidate a Canton man into dropping his complaint against Cohen.
The grand jury indicted Cachopa on three counts, charging that he attempted to intimidate Timothy A. Hills of Canton so he would drop his criminal complaint against Cohen. Cachopa is also charged with covering up Cohen's actions against Hills and using his position to induce Hills to drop the complaint.
Cohen was indicted on seven counts, including charges that he assaulted and beat Hills in April 2002, abused his position as a police officer, tried to extort money from Hills, filed a false arrest report against him, and tried to intimidate two witnesses connected to Hills's May 2002 complaint against him.
The grand jury indictments against the two police officers cap a tumultuous time in the town of Stoughton, which has been shaken since the Board of Selectmen demoted Cachopa last June. They gave no explanation at the time, but soon after, the Norfolk district attorney was asked by town officials to look into Hills's complaint. The grand jury convened last October to consider charges in the case after more people stepped forward with complaints about the Police Department.
Special prosecutor George Jabour, appointed by the Norfolk district attorney's office to investigate Hills's allegations, said he expected that both men, who are still serving on the force, would be arraigned within the next couple of weeks. ''I look forward to . . . being able to present publicly the evidence against them and put them on trial," he said.
Neither Cohen nor Cachopa could be reached for comment yesterday. Cachopa's wife, Arlene, referred questions to lawyer Daniel O'Malley.
''I can't respond until I talk with my client, and I'm going to talk with my client over the weekend," O'Malley said.
Cachopa is on vacation, said Deputy Chief Christopher Ciampa. ''This department stands behind Chief Cachopa and Sergeant Cohen as they go through this ordeal," he said. ''We are confident both of them will beat these charges and return to serve this town."
Five other officers in the department remain under investigation by the grand jury, which is looking into accusations of misconduct, harassment, and false arrest. ''It takes time for [the grand jury] to consider all the evidence," Jabour said.
Hills, who works for US Bank processing credit card payments, has said that in late April 2002 Cohen presented himself to Hills as a an attorney acting on behalf of a former business associate of Hills's and trying to collect an old debt.
Days later, when Hills paid only part of the debt, Cohen allegedly appeared in uniform at Hills's office in Stoughton and accused him of writing a bad check. Cohen allegedly handcuffed Hills and released him on the condition he would bring the money to the police station.
When Hills went to the police station to file a complaint, he learned that Cohen had filed a warrant for his arrest on charges of writing a false check. Hills was taken into custody, but was released later that day after posting a $25 bond.
Hills's former business associate, Peter Marinilli of Avon, has said that Cohen was not representing him, but happened to be the officer on duty when he called to complain about Hills's check.
Cachopa allegedly told Hills that police would drop the charges against him if he dropped the complaint he made against Cohen, according to a source close to the grand jury investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The district attorney's office later dropped the charges against Hills, citing police misconduct.
''I'm shell-shocked," Hills said upon learning of the indictments. ''Finally."
Yesterday town officials declined to comment on the indictments, but Selectman Richard Levine said the board would meet in closed session today at 1 p.m. to discuss the matter.
''I am informing the Board of Selectmen, and we will take whatever action is necessary and appropriate," said Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz.
Soon after Jabour began his probe, the town placed Cachopa, Cohen, and the five other officers on paid administrative leave. They were reinstated, and Cachopa was reinstated as chief, in November, by a new board of selectmen.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.