Boston officer facing assault charges checks into treatment

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / February 23, 2011

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A Boston police officer who was once suspended for fighting with his girlfriend has checked himself into an addiction and mental health treatment center after officers arrested him in the alleged beating of his wife, prosecutors said yesterday.

Dennis Morson, 36, allegedly kicked in the door of his estranged wife’s apartment in Dorchester, struck her, and put his hands around her neck early Saturday, according to a police report.

He also grabbed her cellphone and threw it to the ground so she could not call police, the report stated.

Morson did not appear in Dorchester District Court for his arraignment yesterday because he was at Gosnold on Cape Cod, which has several treatment programs, prosecutors said.

Morson, who joined the force in 2004, fled the apartment after the alleged assault, which occurred just after 3 a.m., according to court documents.

Police said he turned himself in later Saturday at the Roxbury district, where he is assigned. Police booked him at another district, to avoid potential conflicts.

The court clerk entered a not guilty plea on his behalf to charges that included assault and battery and malicious destruction of property.

Judge James Coffey ordered Morson to surrender all firearms, stay away from his wife, submit to random drug and alcohol testing, and to notify the court within 24 hours of leaving Gosnold.

Morson’s lawyer, Apriel Jordan of Brockton, declined to comment.

Morson has been placed on paid administrative leave.

In October 2007, he was suspended for 30 days after police said he fought with his girlfriend. Police would not say if it was the same woman. He served five days, with the rest held in abeyance, a form of probation that provides incentive for officers to obey department rules and regulations.

“Commissioner [Edward F.] Davis takes all allegations of officer-involved domestic violence very seriously,’’ police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in an e-mail. “Discipline is determined on a case-by-case basis, as every officer is entitled to due process.’’

But, she said, all officers who are involved in domestic cases or are the subject of restraining orders must surrender their firearms pending the outcome of the investigation. Police seized his service weapon at his wife’s apartment.

An officer convicted of a domestic-related charge will be fired, Driscoll said.

In 2007, another officer, Lieutenant David Murphy, received 18 months probation following charges he assaulted his wife in Baltimore, where police accused him of punching her as the two of them sat in a pub. His wife later told the Globe that Baltimore police had made a mistake.

Murphy remains in the department, working out of the Hyde Park district.

Driscoll said he was not fired because prosecutors and a Maryland judge agreed to let him serve probation. Under the conditions, the charges of second-degree assault were expunged when he avoided trouble.

“That’s not a conviction or an admission of guilt,’’ Driscoll said. “In that particular case, the findings didn’t support a termination.’’

But legal specialists and advocates for victims of domestic violence said the department could be sending mixed messages to officers and victims.

“Obviously, that person wouldn’t go on probation unless the judge felt that there was sufficient evidence to put him on it,’’ said Robert A. Barton, a retired Superior Court judge. “So is it splitting hairs? No question about it.’’

Toni Troop — spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., which advocates for victims of rape and domestic violence — said her group “would agree that probation is an admission of guilt,’’ adding: “What is the message being sent here?’’

Troop said that Boston police generally respond appropriately when their officers are accused of domestic violence.

“We may not agree with every decision, but we often don’t have access to every detail,’’ she said. “All that we really can say is how important it is for police departments to inform both the officers as well as the public about what their policies are and to employ them consistently.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at