By Brian McGrory, Globe Staff | August 27, 2004
When the MBTA brass announced last spring that four of its police officers had been indefinitely suspended, you would have thought the entire Commonwealth had been miraculously spared some unspeakable evil by the heroic actions of vigilant state officials.
Those officials spoke to the news media about unspecified "allegations of criminal conduct" by the four dangerous cops. They talked of "egregious violations." They hinted at a continuing investigation that would expose more rogues within the ranks.
Flash ahead a few months to see what those brutes in blue had actually done, and, yes, it is nothing short of shocking. Take the case of MBTA police Lieutenant Nancy O'Loughlin, the highest-ranking officer charged.
Did she savagely beat someone in her custody, you might ask? Did she accept bribes? Steal drugs from the evidence locker?
No, no, and no. She apparently did something far worse, in the eyes of the MBTA brass, accusations, their lawyer said, that are "of the most serious nature." In short, she had the audacity to complain about her boss to a colleague.
That's right, folks: She griped about the boss.
You see, MBTA Police Chief Joe Carter was seeing a surge in violent crime in the transit system. Violent assaults were up 20 percent in 2003 from the year before, and simple assaults 15 percent. So Carter settled on a somewhat novel crime-fighting strategy: He assigned one of his deputies to listen to hours upon hours of recorded calls between cops to see if anyone was saying anything bad about him.
And they were, the meanies. Imagine that, saying something naughty about your boss. Who would dare do such a thing? What kind of sick mind would commit this atrocity?
O'Loughlin, for one, and Carter wants her to regret it. He assigned the deputy chief of investigative services to press the case against her. He hired a lawyer to push it through disciplinary hearings. He sought her firing, though he is now settling for a double demotion. She returned to work as a patrol officer this week.
Again, all this is for what? Apparently, this: "It's great when your command staff won't even show up to a murder," O'Loughlin said in one recorded call to a colleague a few nights after a high school freshman was stabbed to death at Dudley Station. In another, she said, "I just called to see if there is any command staff around tonight, or are they all, you know, so worried about their 15th swearing in that they can't worry that some kid got stabbed." In yet another, she said, "They should be [expletive] ashamed of themselves."
They're not. Carter, in a telephone call yesterday, said O'Loughlin's complaints about him are "not the foundation of the case." But from her disciplinary hearing, it's tough to tell what is. The hearing transcript was nearly comedic in its combination of overstatement and lack of substance. "She was involved in conduct that was unprofessional and unbecoming of someone of her rank," Carter said, adding that his job is to change the culture of an agency in need of a makeover.
I have always admired Carter, a talented former Boston Police Department commander. But in this case, he needs to get a grip. Inarguably the state's foremost antigraffiti specialist, O'Loughlin. two decades on the force, has a reputation for being tough as nails, and she's won the commendations, the attendance awards, and respect to back it up.
"She's like a bulldog," said the Rev. Shaun Harrison, a Boston anticrime activist. "Wherever the trouble was, she'd be in there."
Said Boston City Councilor Maura Hennigan, who worked with her to fight graffiti: "I can't tell you how terrific and professional she was."
O'Loughlin is still trying to win her rank back through arbitration or a state hearing, and she's filed a defamation suit against the T in federal court. Meantime, Carter might want to visit a plastic surgeon. He's going to need some thicker skin to do that job.
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is [email protected]
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