SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

June 18, 2013

Police scandal ends with a sense of injustice

The dismissal of charges against former Hamilton police Chief Walter Cullen last week was a sad end to a sordid chapter in the town’s history.

Cullen — the man who bears ultimate responsibility for the police training scandal that rocked the community five years ago — pretty much walked off scot-free. In fact, he didn’t even have to show up in court when his charges were officially dismissed on Thursday, a process that took less than a minute.

Thanks to a sympathetic judge who treated him more leniently than other defendants with more tangential roles, the former chief was able to admit to felony charges of fraud and larceny — crimes committed while he was serving as police chief — and still keep collecting his $81,000-a-year, taxpayer-subsidized pension. It took some legal contortions on Judge Timothy Feeley’s part, but the only penalty Cullen had to pay was a fine of $25,000. Now, with his period of unsupervised probation completed, he has a clean record.

In the context of the cost to the town, and to other individuals caught up in the scandal in which the chief and other officers falsified training records to obtain EMT recertifications, the penalty was meaningless.

Nine police officers paid a similar amount in fines and suspensions, but none of them was the man in charge, the leader who set the tone for the department — a leader who decided not only to condone but to participate in a fraud that put the public’s safety at risk.

Two other defendants who erred in trying to protect Cullen during the investigation now have felony convictions.

As for the town, it lost its ambulance license, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees and, perhaps most importantly, lost trust in its police force.

A new chief has slowly rebuilt the police force and earned the town’s respect.

But the case ended last week with the sense that justice was not served.

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