Public information requests reveal town’s behind-the-scenes response to police controversy
In June, DigBoston published an article, “Restorative Ruckus,” about Arlington Police Department Lieutenant Richard (Rick) Pedrini, whose controversial writings in a statewide police newsletter have caused a significant schism in the town north of Cambridge. As journalist Laura Kiesel reported:
Pedrini’s Sentinel columns took aim at Black Lives Matter, undocumented immigrants, and those with substance abuse disorders and their supporters. … As a result of his words, Pedrini—whose history with the department includes documented allegations of abusive behavior—was put on paid leave by the APD for five months, after claiming his columns were “tongue-in-cheek political satire,” according to WBUR.
In February, the town announced it would have him enter a so-called restorative justice program, a decision that was seemingly made without any attempt to consult the groups directly targeted by his rhetoric. Then in late March, the news hit that Pedrini completed the whirlwind restoration process and would be returning to the force with some disciplinary measures in place, though the nature of said measures is unclear.
Kiesel, who was harassed as a result of her work on the article, also wrote that “while the reinstated lieutenant has a right to free speech, it seems reasonable to expect that a police department leader should be held to a higher standard than a civilian—given that his job is to protect and serve all residents.” The only problem was that when we published her article nearly two months ago, the town of Arlington was still processing public information requests we had asked for in relation to the Pedrini ordeal.
Like in any donnybrook, there are countless angles and competing arguments in play. The documents that we obtained provide a much deeper insight into why certain decisions were made regarding developments including Pedrini’s employment and the town’s use of the restorative justice (RJ) process, which is traditionally designed as “a system that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the larger community.” Correspondence secured by the Dig shows:
- Town officials began bracing for the impact of Pedrini’s writings after being asked about them by MassLive reporter Dan Glaun last October. “It was only a matter of time,” Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine wrote then-APD Chief Fred Ryan. “I feel like I’m going to have to disavow his remarks, at least to the citizen that wrote to us. The political stuff is what it is, but the violence line is troubling and potentially crosses a line into a question regarding his fitness for duty.”
- Certain members of the Arlington Human Rights Commission (AHRC) felt pressured by town officials to participate in the restorative justice process, before it ultimately voted to withdraw from the process in March. Newly released emails show AHRC co-chair Naomi Greenfield explicitly attempting to distance the commission from the process earlier than that, though.
“We know this is an awful situation,” former AHRC co-chair Naomi Greenfield wrote Town Manager Chapdelaine, “but we’re worried we’ve made it worse and that the goodwill and trust we’ve worked so hard as a Commission to develop in town has been squandered just by being associated with the RJ process in this case.”
- Town officials have not even been forthcoming with each other about the exact course of Pedrini’s RJ program. In one case, Chapdelaine wrote to a Select Board member, “Actually, there is a portion of the RJ agreement that requires further public engagement for both Rick and the APD. RJ agreements are supposed to be confidential, so we were careful with what we shared.”
- Town officials did not appear to seriously contemplate input from residents or local experts who warned that its was not an “appropriate use of restorative justice,” and in one case requested: “Please consider that participating in an illegitimate process, which the Human Rights Commission’s co-opted use of restorative justice is, legitimates the misuse of this concept.”
One of those experts on restorative justice was Fred Ryan, who served as the Arlington Police chief for about 20 years until retiring last December while Pedrini was suspended and the determination for his case was pending. Ryan was experimenting with RJ since before it became a national buzz phrase. In 2015, he spoke at a crowded community forum about race and class in Arlington. The Arlington Advocate noted, “Ryan also underlined the value of restorative justice programs that repair the harm criminal acts create for communities and relationships.”
Shortly after Pedrini’s suspension last November, Ryan emailed Chapdelaine under the subject “restorative justice for Pedrini?”: “One critical element of restorative justice is remorse and a willingness to accept responsibility for your actions, and the harm caused by your actions. I don’t think [Pedrini] is in that mindset and, although he might be willing to put on a show to save his hide, his views on our community values are in writing and not likely to change in any meaningful way.”
Chapdelaine, who would later tell the media and public that he had no questions about Pedrini’s remorse, wrote back, “I fear that you’re right about that.”
Though no longer in the chief position by the time the town decided to use RJ as the course of action for Pedrini, this year Ryan emailed the town manager again while the process was underway:
I have no doubt that Rick is a decent human being and there is no evidence that I’m aware of that his practice of policing mirrored his writings. That said, I have a couple of very serious concerns.
Rick’s [Massachusetts Police Association] work has become a distraction to his duties at APD and the culture of the MPA is not reflective of the culture of the Town of Arlington nor the APD. That is not likely to change anytime in our lifetime. The last time I attended one of their meetings they gave a standing ovation in response to an announcement of a fatal police shooting. As an element of any credible restorative contract I think that he needs to step away from the MPA. …
Failure to address these issues will have a long-term adverse impact on the credibility of the APD.
(Despite Ryan’s input, Pedrini is still listed as an executive board member of MPA, which produces the Sentinel.)
A joint email from AHRC co-chairs Naomi Greenfield and David Swanson (who both recently resigned from their positions) expressed similar feelings. In a Feb 24 note to Chapdelaine she wrote:
The emails and Facebook messages we have been receiving … many of them are devastating. There is anger about the decision, the process, fear about Pedrini and the APD in general. And there are expressions of loss of faith, disgust and distrust in the Town and the AHRC.
We understand and agree with all of those feelings. It’s particularly upsetting for us to hear people’s anger at the AHRC, especially since we were not directly involved in the decision making process. We feel it’s important that we as a Commission make it clear to the community that we ultimately did not have a decision making role in this process.
We were brought in after the decision to move ahead with RJ was already made; we were asked to participate after the process had already begun and a contract had already been made. If we had been asked to vote as a Commission on this path, the vote would almost definitely have failed dramatically. From what we have heard, it doesn’t seem any Commissioners felt better about the decision after hearing from [Erin Freeborn, the director of the Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ)—the group contracted by the town to facilitate the process] and [Acting APD Chief Julie Flaherty] on Wednesday. Many felt worse.
Not everyone was questioning the process. Some, like Assistant Town Manager Jim Feeney, were focused on the public’s perception of events. In a March 28 email to Chapdelaine and others, Feeney made suggestions regarding the town’s statement about Pedrini’s path to redemption and reinstatement:
I am of the opinion the comment about termination and its potential for being overturned could be construed as undermining the sincerity of our belief in the restorative justice process, and our determination this was the right and just thing to do. Almost sells it as a fearful back-up plan, when in fact, if termination was truly believed to be the appropriate and just punishment, we would have pursued it and defended it to the best of our ability.
In his version of why the town made certain decisions, Chapdelaine wrote to one resident, “I hope you will accept me assuring you that we are proceeding in a manner that protects the Town’s legal and financial interests while pursuing this matter.” In response to such sentiments, many of the emails obtained for this story show frightened and frustrated members of the public expressing dismay with the use of RJ in this particular case, with some pleading for members of local government to work toward healing the community, and not just the reputation of the Arlington Police Department.
There is no place for Officer Pedrini in Arlington or in any police force. The most fitting solution is that he is fired. Using the restorative justice circle for this situation reflects poorly on Arlington and tells our community that we will not stand up for them. There is no way for Officer Pedrini to redeem himself and to regain our trust.
I understand that it is much easier to slide the [Lieutenant] back into your system with a slap on the wrist than to terminate him, but to take the easier path in this case is to seriously erode the trust of the community in the Town’s and the Police department’s values. You and the Town Manager and the Select board should understand that trust is built very slowly but can be lost in a second.
In response to these concerns and the Dig’s piece in June, several Arlington residents organized a petition, open to all Bay State residents, that address their town’s leadership and asks that Pedrini be placed back on desk duty, his case be reevaluated, and, in the interim, that the town implement a police civilian review board, as well as more rigorous anti-bias training at the APD. So far, the petition has approximately 500 signatures and over a dozen advocacy organizations and faith groups endorsing it, including the Cambridge chapter of Black Lives Matter, the Disability Policy Consortium, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.