Fitchburg undercover officer accused of crossing the line
Posted in the Fitchburg Forum
FITCHBURG -- What makes a good cop go bad?
When officers are working undercover, the measures they take to fit in and gain the trust of those they are observing can lead some to develop inappropriate relationships, and even become corrupted themselves, according to criminology experts.
"When your job is defined as being part of a criminal enterprise, and to gain trust you have to go into and adapt to that environment, you run the risk of actually being captured by that environment or at the very least influenced by it," says Jack Greene, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University.
In the case of recently fired Fitchburg police Lt. Joaquin Kilson, a former undercover drug officer and much-lauded member of the department and the community for his service, it has yet to become apparent what the true nature of his relationship was with Lazaro Paulino. The 36-year-old Paulino was indicted on two cocaine trafficking charges during Operation Red Wolf, a two-year, multi-agency investigation into gang activity and drug trafficking in the city that culminated in January with the arrests of 16 individuals.
Personnel charges that led to Kilson's firing include untruthfulness, improper associations and conduct unbecoming of an officer.
"Conduct unbecoming of an officer' is like 'disturbing the peace,'" Greene said. "It could be any number of things."
He said such a charge could even result from carrying on with too many sexual partners, having a gambling problem, public inebriation or poorly representing the Police Department on or off the job in some way.
Police Chief Robert DeMoura has said Kilson lied about his associations with Paulino to the FBI, and that their relationship compromised another, unrelated investigation. An internal investigation found Kilson had maintained regular social and telephone contact with Paulino, as well as stayed at his home in the Dominican Republic.
Undercover relationships are often very complicated situations in which it is difficult for someone "to maintain his own moral balance in what is an immoral culture," Greene said.
"You're often there by yourself, in this group of people suspected of having criminal leanings who may be seriously vile, sitting amidst them," he said. "You have to lie a bit, make yourself look tougher than you are, and do things you normally wouldn't do to win their acceptance."
Peter Manning, also a professor of criminology at Northeastern, said undercover officers often integrate themselves in the culture of those they are investigating.
"Officers may dress like those they are working with or working on. They may use same language, they may go to same bars, clubs, engage in the same drinking and smoking activities as those they are policing," said Manning. "The problem comes in how to maintain distance and objectivity when you see yourself mired in the activities of those who you are supposed to be policing."
Undercover officers often have to break the law themselves in these situations, and look past those around them engaging in illegal activities in order to collect evidence necessary for later prosecution, in an attempt to benefit the greater good.
An officer has to become like a "legal chameleon" in order to get inside a criminal enterprise, Greene said.
Since: Feb 10
"It's easy to be a little sloppy in the paperwork, or become involved in the work they're engaged with -- the outcomes can be quite various," he said. "Because the job involves lying and misrepresentation and pretending to be something you are not repeatedly, it's very easy to blur the lines."
When working undercover, it's important for officers to maintain an arm's length relationship with their subjects, DeMoura said. Some drug detectives work only a short time before moving on to another assignment, he said.
"You have to keep (interactions with suspects and others) professional relationships. It's a job," DeMoura said. "I think the vast majority of officers know when it's time to move on to a different department."
The longer an officer works in undercover situations, the more susceptible he or she becomes to corruption, Greene said.
When it comes to undercover work in the drug world, officers often encounter many of what Manning calls "invitational edges" into criminal activity. They are often given sums of money to engage in buys, and some may be tempted by the prospects of lying about events in order to steal that money, or to pocket other money or drugs seized in the course of enforcement, he said. They may then decide to sell those drugs, have someone else sell them to assist in making a profit, use them to pay their informants, or use them personally, he said.
In some instances, officers, undercover or not, may simply "look the other way" when it comes to the illegal activities of those who they've become close to, and in others, actually assist the drug trade.
DeMoura has remained mum about whether Kilson will face any criminal charges due to his relationship with Paulino.
If the actions of a police officer compromise an investigation, that officer could be charged with obstruction of justice, Greene said.
Officer Keith Bourne, president of the Fitchburg police officers' union, maintains that Paulino, whom he said had been selling real estate and used cars while engaging in alleged cocaine dealing, used his friendship with Kilson as a means of bolstering a reputable front that served to hide his illegal activities.
Kilson is appealing his discharge from the department with the help of the union.
Manning said it is very difficult to fire a police officer in Massachusetts, and that unions will sustain the positions of officers faced with career-threatening terminations.
"Usually in policing, people are offered an opportunity to retire or resign before any direct suspension or firing occurs, so this suggests they've viewed it as a very serious matter," Manning said. "It's a pretty serious kind of punishment. It's presumable (that to the chief, Kilson's relationship with Paulino) involves much more than friendship."
As I always say, the police operate much like the Catholic Church operates; and not unlike the large colleges operated in cases such as the Jerry Sandusky case: maintaining the image of the institution is more important than holding criminals accountable for their wrongdoings in a court of law.
The Catholic Church allowed literally hundreds of pedophiles to walk free for countless decades, all to protect the name of the Catholic Church. Large colleges looked the other way when one of their high ranking sports coaches (jerry Sundusky and others like him)were fondling underage boys, just to maintain the image of the University. And, criminal cops are allowed to retire or resign before they can tarnish the image of the mighty lawman. Worse case is typically a firing, with very little explanation to the Taxpaying Public. No one typically gets cahared with anything, no one typically goes to court and no one typically goes to jail. Again, maintaining the image of our lawman is much more important than bringing a crimanal to justice. Many times a crooked cop can just drift on to a new job as a cop elsewhere; where he can begin his criminal ways once again. Much like the Catholic Priests were free to move on to a new church and begin molesting little boys all over again.
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