Springfield Whistleblower Suit Is Bad News For Gregg Bigda
January 31, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Last November, Fault Lines covered Detective Gregg Bigda’s nightmarish treatment of three teenagers who allegedly stole an undercover narcotics car for a joy ride. A new lawsuit brought by a former Springfield, Massachusetts police detective might reveal the motivations for Bigda’s conduct. If the suit’s allegations are true, Bigda was habitually drunk on the job and Springfield Police regularly covered it up.
Steven Vigneault, who resigned from the Springfield Police Department, names Police Commissioner John Barbieri, Detective Bigda, Patrolman’s Union President Joseph Gentile, union lawyer Kevin Coyle, and the police union in his complaint. It’s a breach of contract suit with the added component of seeking whistleblower status.
In a complaint filed Tuesday afternoon in Hampden Superior Court, Vigneault argues higher-ups protected Bigda despite his alleged volatility.
“Plaintiff was often told ‘you didn’t see anything; that never happened. Keep your f—ing mouth shut,” by commanding officers regarding Bigda’s on-the-job behavior, according to the lawsuit. “At times, plaintiff feared for his own job and safety due to the camaraderie in ‘Bigda’s’ tight-knit group.”
Vigneault sounds like the kind of guy you want working for a police department. He’s got battle experience, having served overseas in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Reservist. He’d previously worked at the county jail, so he ostensibly had some knowledge of how people operated at their worst. When Vigneault joined the Springfield narcotics unit, he never imagined he’d have to work with a guy who needed food to “sober up” in the event the pair had to go on a night call.
It was one such evening, according to the lawsuit, when Vigneault noticed Gregg Bigda was drinking rum at his desk. Knowing his partner needed some semblance of sobriety should they get called into the field, Vigneault made a run to a pizza joint in Palmer, Massachusetts. Three teens saw Vigneault leave his vehicle idling while the cop ran into Primo’s Pizza to get Bigda some food, made their move, and somehow Gregg Bigda got involved.
Detective Bigda’s acts, specifically kicking a handcuffed teen on the ground, initially drew criticism towards Vigneault because the Wilbraham patrolman who saw the incident couldn’t specifically identify the misbehaving cop. Since it was Vigneault’s vehicle, Springfield police assumed it was Vigneault until they learned of the “Bigda videos” that led prosecutors to decline calling Detective Bigda as a witness in narcotics cases.
If you think Vigneault won points for attempting to keep his partner sober and functioning, welcome to Fault Lines. According to the Vigneault’s complaint, he got a “cold shoulder” for his efforts and a verbal warning for leaving his vehicle unattended. As far as Bigda was concerned, the entire department was to keep their mouth shut.
[Vigneault] contends commanding officers encouraged all to maintain a “code of silence as to the events of Feb 26 and Feb. 27 and the investigation thereafter to protect Defendant Bigda.”
“Plaintiff felt uncomfortable and feared for his own job due to the implicit pressure from Defendant Barbieri’s office downward as to the Bigda matter,” [the Complaint] adds.
The one component that doesn’t stick in all this is Vigneault’s request for protection under Massachusetts’ Whistleblower laws. He’s no longer an employee of the Springfield Police Department. Since his resignation last year, there’s nothing for him to ostensibly fear as far as “retaliation” is concerned from his former employer.
Perhaps the concern for “retaliation” isn’t so much about Steven Vigneault, but his girlfriend, Officer Gail Gethins. The two began a relationship after Gethins broke up with Officer Bigda over a year ago. This didn’t sit will with Bigda, who barged into Gethins’ residence twice one night in March of 2016, allegedly inebriated and carrying his “off-duty” handgun.
In texts and voicemail messages, Bigda disparaged the two and threatened to end Vigneault’s career, the complaint states…The audio recording features a heavily slurring Bigda telling Gethins:
“Hey, whore! Nice to meet ya! I’ll take care of all of you people … in the future.”
Bigda also threatened to “ruin Vigneault’s career” in another message.
Gethins received a restraining order against Bigda, which was later dropped when he promised to seek “treatment.” Bigda’s criminal charges for the break in mysteriously disappeared at the same time. If Steven Vigneault is to be believed, it’s because everybody loved Gregg Bigda and hated Vigneault and Gethins.
The complaint states the two received little to no support within the police department. Vigneault said Ayala ordered him to transfer out of his unit while Bigda was allowed to keep a desk job. It also says Deputy Police Chief Mark Anthony told Vigneault he had “pissed a lot of people off” and instructed Vigneault to take a week off after presenting him with a transfer order.
There’s three sides to every story in a civil suit of this nature: the plaintiff’s, the defendant’s, and the truth. The story of Steven Vigneault and the Springfield Police Department could be one of internal corruption and a department willing to turn a blind eye to rampant misconduct from a veteran narcotics detective. It could also be one man attempting to lash out over a lover’s quarrel and a lost job. Regardless of how this story turns out, something’s rotten in Springfield, and Gregg Bigda is eye of the odious storm.