Trooper barred from airport duty
Orders abruptly changed for officer disciplined for improper conduct
Massachusetts State Trooper James Michael Vines was on patrol when he parked his cruiser on Boston’s Tobin Bridge, stepped inside a cramped tollbooth, and asked the startled toll collector for a kiss.
“I was literally in shock,’’ said the toll collector, adding that she felt trapped as the armed, uniformed officer hovered over her in November 2005 as traffic streamed by. “I said, ‘I really think you should leave.’ ’’
She is one of three women who filed complaints with the State Police in the past decade accusing Vines of sexually inappropriate behavior.
In one case, he was cleared. In the two other instances, including the one in the tollbooth, he admitted to acting improperly and was punished.
Yesterday afternoon, after a 30-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer, State Police told the 47-year-old Vines he could return to work today at Logan International Airport, where one of the incidents occurred and where two of his victims work.
Then, in an abrupt reversal after inquiries from the Globe, the State Police announced late yesterday that the decision to return Vines to the airport had been rescinded and he would be transferred, effective today, to Troop H in South Boston.
The former toll collector, who was recently transferred to a job inside the airport, said she was relieved that Vines will not return to work there, but does not believe State Police treat sexual harassment as seriously as they should.
“It’s like the archdiocese; they keep moving him around,’’ she said. “As far as I’m concerned, he should be behind a desk, answering a phone without a gun, where he’s not involved with dealing with the public, especially women.’’
David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, said, “We are cognizant that we can not just move department members who have committed transgressions around the state without addressing those transgressions, and we are trying to do that with Trooper Vines.’’
Vines was suspended last month after a 58-year-old restaurant manager at Logan airport complained that he made lewd remarks to her in December, then sat in the food court for hours staring at her after she rebuffed his advances.
“I think he should be fired,’’ the woman said. “I get nervous that he carries a gun.’’
Neither she nor the other victim wanted to be identified for fear of reprisal.
Needham attorney Timothy M. Burke, who represents Vines, said last night that he will appeal the trooper’s transfer from the airport.
Burke said Vines denied making lewd comments to the restaurant manager, but admitted to unbecoming conduct and agreed to serve the 30-day suspension as part of a compromise that allowed him to return to the airport.
During a reinstatement hearing yesterday, State Police told Vines he could return to Troop F at the airport, but must abide by a “stay away’’ order that prohibits him from having contact with the restaurant manager.
The restaurant manager and the former toll collector told the Globe that State Police internal affairs investigators reinterviewed them yesterday about their accusations against Vines and their fears about encountering him if he returned to the airport.
After those interviews, Colonel Marian J. McGovern, who heads the State Police, and her command staff, decided to transfer Vines, Procopio said.
“We fully expect we may be challenged on this move, but we will fight the challenge because the transfer is the right thing to do based on the information we now have,’’ Procopio said.
He said Vines will still have to abide by an order that requires him to stay away from the restaurant manager and the former toll collector.
Vines, a married father of two, joined the Metropolitan District Commission police in 1983 and became a trooper when that agency merged with the State Police nine years later. He has been assigned to Logan Airport since 2005 and earned more than $129,500 last year.
In 2001, a motorist filed a complaint with State Police alleging that Vines stopped her for speeding on the Massachusetts Turnpike, told her she was cute, and tossed an envelope into her car with his name and pager number on it.
Vines said his actions were misconstrued, and he was cleared of any wrongdoing after the woman refused to cooperate with the investigation, according to police reports.
The toll collector filed a complaint after Vines came into the booth in late 2005. She said she had no relationship with him and was frightened by the encounter.
“I was kind of shaking, trapped in a booth with a state trooper standing behind me and traffic coming,’’ she said. “When he ever said, ‘How about a kiss?’ I kind of was just in shock.’’
Seven months after the incident, Vines admitted to violating department rules by engaging in unbecoming conduct and neglect of duty. He lost three vacation days and was ordered to take remedial sexual harassment training.
The 43-year-old woman said State Police told her Vines would be banned from working on the Tobin Bridge, but she came face-to-face with him in May 2009 when he was working a detail there.
After officials of the Massachusetts Port Authority complained, State Police said the agreement to ban Vines from the bridge was informal, but agreed to abide by it in the future, according to police reports.
While reviewing the case, State Police discovered that Vines had failed to take the required sexual harassment training. He completed the training in June 2009, three years after it was ordered, State Police said.
The restaurant manager who filed the most recent complaint against Vines said she met him last fall when he would come into the food court while in uniform and ask her for free chicken samples.
She said Vines saw her coming out of a bank at a terminal carrying a heavy bag filled with coins in November and gave her a ride in his cruiser to the terminal where she worked. She said he was respectful.
The following month, the woman said, Vines offered her a ride from the bank again, only this time he was in casual clothes, driving his own car. As they drove through the terminal, she said Vines called her sexy and beautiful, then told her to look at his pants, and indicated that she had aroused him.
“I was afraid,’’ said the woman, who waited a month to report the incident. “I didn’t want any trouble. I didn’t want him to be upset and come in and kill me. He has a gun.’’
The woman said she ignored Vines, but he would sit in the food court staring at her. She filed her complaint with State Police in January.
Massport officials “asked that he be removed from the airport,’’ said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for Massport.
Initially, State Police asked Vines to admit to conduct unbecoming an officer and sexual harassment, and accept a 120-day suspension, a three-year transfer from the airport and counseling.
But last month, Vines agreed to the lesser punishment and admitted only to unbecoming conduct.
He also agreed to have counseling. Procopio said Vines will be under strict supervision and could face termination if he violates conditions of his reinstatement.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.