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Minority police group cites race in disciplinary actions

The Murphy case raises questions

Email|Print| Text size + By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / January 11, 2008

Six months after Boston Police Lieutenant David Murphy pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend at the time in a Baltimore bar, Commissioner Edward F. Davis suspended him for five days.

The president of the organization representing the state's minority police officers said the punishment was light compared to what others, particularly minority group officers, have received in similar cases.

Angela Williams-Mitchell, a Boston police officer and leader of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said other officers have served longer suspensions and have had to wait years before officials decided their fate.

"There is a big difference in the punishment that goes out to certain officers," Williams-Mitchell said. "I do definitely see that there is great disparity in the department and how they are treated."

Murphy, who is white, was sentenced to 18 months of probation through a plea agreement with Baltimore prosecutors last May.

Harold Lichten, Murphy's police union lawyer, said there was no pressure on Davis to mete out the five-day suspension.

"It was the department who came and offered that deal to Murphy," he said. "I have no idea why they offered that deal."

In November, Davis offered Murphy a 30-day suspension, only five of which he had to serve. The rest would be held in abeyance, a form of probation that provides incentive for officers not to violate department rules and regulations.

Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, declined to comment directly on Williams-Mitchell's allegations.

"Discipline is determined based upon the merits of the case and what is in the best interest of the community," she said in a statement. "Cases are all moved as expeditiously as due process allows."

Williams-Mitchell cited the case of Larry C. Hobson, a black sergeant who was accused of striking his wife in 2003 and later had the case dismissed in Dorchester District Court. He refused the department's suspension settlement because he did not want to admit guilt, said his lawyer, Leah Barrault.

Last May, he was ordered to serve a 30-day suspension, according to the department. Barrault, who said the suspension is for 45 days, said Hobson is appealing the sentence.

Other minority officers have received lighter punishments.

Last October, Officer Dennis Morson, who is black, was suspended for five days, with 25 days of probation, after he was accused of physically fighting a former girlfriend, police documents show.

But Williams-Mitchell said officers are punished more severely when they fight the charges. "You could be a Caucasian male and still experience this," she said.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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