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Arrest of correction officer fuels police dispute

FITCHBURG -- The traffic arrest of a Worcester County correction officer as he helped transport a prisoner has sparked a war of words between the sheriff's department and Fitchburg police.

Joseph Coggans, 37, was charged Thursday with failing to stop for police, disorderly conduct, refusing to identify himself, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, assault with a dangerous weapon (gun), and resisting arrest.

A lawyer for the sheriff's department contended that police were interfering with Coggans as he performed his official duties, while Fitchburg Police Chief Edward Cronin said that officers took appropriate steps after spotting Coggans's erratic driving.

Fitchburg Officer Joanne Bairos first spotted Coggans in a sport utility vehicle Thursday afternoon, allegedly driving erratically with flashing lights.

Bairos called the police dispatcher to find out if there was an emergency in the city and was told that the SUV was going to the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction to pick up a prisoner who had been unruly.

Bairos said she was concerned about the way the SUV was driving and asked another officer to go to the courthouse to ask Coggans to wait for Bairos to arrive. Cronin said that Coggans was not cooperative.

Police Sergeant Jeffrey Howe then asked any officer who saw the SUV leave the city to notify him and he would stop the vehicle, which was escorting the county prisoner transport van.

When Howe pulled the SUV over, Cronin said, Coggans refused to cooperate, prompting several officers to report to the scene.

''I think this could have been put to rest by the correction officer by explaining his business and identifying himself," Cronin told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester.

''If someone was cutting through traffic and driving in the manner as Officer Bairos indicated in her report, there was no reason for that," he said.

Edward O'Brien, a lawyer for the sheriff's department, said Coggans was just trying to do his job.

''They made a special trip at the request of a judge because a prisoner was creating a disturbance in the jail cell," O'Brien said. ''The Fitchburg Police Department should be asked what was the purpose in stopping the police van that was carrying a prisoner."

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