Suspend A Cop for Six Months? Just Fire Him
January 27, 2017 (Fault Lines) – On September 15, 2016, Lowell, Massachusetts Police Officer Dave Pender suspected a 16-year-old student of possessing marijuana. Or, more accurately, the school officials where Pender was a School Resource Officer (SRO) suspected him. So the principal and the school security officer asked Pender to step out of the room while they conducted an administrative search.
Pender remained seated and did not leave the room, and was later accused of using unnecessary force against the handcuffed student. Following an investigation, Pender was suspended without pay for six months, although half of that suspension is apparently probated over the next two years, has to attend an anger management class, and can no longer be an SRO.
I’m sorry, but this is crap. If someone has done something that is worthy of being sent home without pay for six months, then he or she deserves to be fired. Period. Let’s look at how this incident played out.
First, Pender has 28-years with the department. That means he has been around long enough to be cynical, and also long enough to get the cushy, Monday through Friday SRO position. Pender was assigned to the Career Academy, where students with behavioral problems are assigned. This would indicate that officers assigned to that school be trained on how to deal with problematic teens who want to test their boundaries. It is not the place to assign an officer who wants to over-power any challenges to his or her authority.
Next, the kid was brought in for an administrative search and Pender was asked to leave. That’s a normal request in many schools and colleges. At any number of schools, an administrative search will not result in criminal charges, but will cause the appropriate administrative discipline for the student. Police officers are normally there just to take possession of any contraband from the school staff, and normally don’t witness the search so they can’t make an arrest.
It serves the purposes for everyone. The school gets to maintain control of its campus, the student is disciplined but doesn’t face criminal charges, and the SRO gets to help dispose of the prohibited material. It’s a real simple and elegant solution to the jail pipeline created at many schools with SROs.
But Pender didn’t leave, and when the kid got mouthy, told the school staff to leave the room. And they did leave the room, leaving Pender alone with a handcuffed student. The student alleges that Pender slapped him, choked him, and threatened him with mace. In addition, the kid had bruises around the neck, as if he had been choked, immediately texted his aunt about the incident, and sought medical treatment because he couldn’t swallow solid food.
Within five days the police department was made aware of the incident and assigned Lieutenant Greg Hudon. Hudon noted:
Due to the fact that Officer Pender ordered the room cleared, this writer is left with only two witnesses, Officer Pender and (redacted). Officer Pender cannot offer any plausible explanation as to the origin of the marks and bruises…
Hudon goes on to state:
This fact, coupled with (redacted) statements and the additional medical records and photographs and text messages to his aunt, leaves this writer to draw the following conclusion: Based on all available information, this writer finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the allegation of misconduct is sustained…
Sustained, in police internal affairs investigations means the same thing as a guilty verdict in a criminal trial. It means that the police officer committed the infraction.
So Pender was taken to the City Manager for disciplinary action, and Kevin Murphy decided on the six-month suspension, half to be served and the other half probated over two years. What that really means is that Pender has to go to an anger management class, has to get another assignment, stay home for three months, and stay out of trouble until he has 30 years of service in. It means that he got slapped on the wrist, and was then given a pat on the back and told to go back to work.
I’m sure that the fact that Pender is the vice president of the local police union had nothing to do with the decision. Instead, Murphy noted that:
I think I am a pretty good judge of character and I believe him when he said he’s sorry…
Apparently some top Lowell officials disagree, having privately said that with Pender’s personnel record, he should have been fired. That record included a twelve-month suspension without pay for sexually harassing a female Lowell police officer, and a ten-day suspension for an arrest for domestic violence.
I’m sure that the union’s December 7th vote on its confidence in the Police Superintendent had nothing to do with Murphy’s decision. What you have here is a police officer who is also a union leader who has been involved in assaultive behavior on at least three different occasions. This incident involved a handcuffed kid.
Mr. Murphy, what the hell more do you need?
 Later reduced to a six-month suspension by the State Civil Service Board.
 That officer won a $2.2 million judgment against the union and seven police officers. Pender was one of those officers. Pender was also accused of assaulting the female officer, but the jury did not find him liable for that action.
 Criminal charges were dropped at the request of Pender’s wife.