Tisbury Police Officer Mark Santon had to go. He was a liar, willing to make up stories that protected his own hide, but exposed others to criminal prosecution.
Sadly, it took Tisbury selectmen an additional six months and some other Officer Santon nonsense to come to their senses and terminate his employment.
The town won’t say exactly what led to the 25-year veteran’s most recent discipline, but it undoubtedly had to do with him providing bogus information to arrest a New York man for operating under the influence of alcohol. The charge against that man was dismissed in Edgartown District Court the day before Officer Santon was fired.
Officer Santon’s missteps are now part of an ongoing investigation into Laura Marshard, an assistant district attorney with Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s office. Ms. Marshard has already been found guilty of misconduct by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers.
Despite all the bravado from Mr. O’Keefe that there would be an appeal of that ruling, the Board of Bar Overseers did not receive one within the 20-day window. We’re told by Mr. O’Keefe’s office that the two sides are continuing to “discuss the matter.”
What will it take for Mr. O’Keefe to wake up? His employee didn’t tell the defense at the rape trial of Carlos Stevenson that Officer Santon was on paid leave and part of an internal investigation. Mr. O’Keefe claims Officer Santon’s attorney did know, but offers no real evidence. Even if you’re reluctant to believe the unnamed sources of The Times who say she didn’t know, there is damning evidence to show she didn’t. Given the chance to impeach Officer Santon, the DA’s star witness in the rape case against her client, defense attorney Janice Bassil did not. (In case you forget, Ms. Bassil worked side by side with attorney Jay Carney to defend Mr. O’Keefe before a federal grand jury.)
Carlos Stevenson was ultimately acquitted by a jury because Officer Santon’s investigation proved so weak, a case that likely never should have been prosecuted based on the shaky evidence gathered by a man who makes things up.
Which brings us to another stumble by the district attorney’s office. Last week, as Aaron Bezahler was to be arraigned on a manslaughter charge for allegedly supplying the fentanyl that killed Antone Silvia, Mr. O’Keefe’s office filed a nolle prosequi, citing a lack of evidence linking the man to the fatal overdose.
The official word is that the DA’s office didn’t believe the evidence supported the charge, but that contradicts the conclusion that a clerk magistrate came to, looking at the same evidence. Court records show the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force created a timeline that showed Mr. Silvia stopped communicating with friends and family and didn’t show up to meet a friend within hours of purchasing drugs from Mr. Bezahler. Mr. Silvia thought he was purchasing heroin, according to text messages between him and Mr. Bezahler that are part of the court record, but his autopsy showed he overdosed on fentanyl.
Mr. Bezahler was charged with possession of a Class A drug with intent to distribute and conspiracy to violate the drug laws from that investigation, but police questioned him about the death. Here’s how the exchange went:
“I’m getting blamed for someone’s [expletive] death,” he is quoted as telling the officer.
“Well, at the end of the day you got to take a little bit of responsibility,” the officer is quoted as saying.
“Yes. You’re right,” Mr. Bezahler replied.
Circumstantial? Probably. But we’ve seen this district attorney’s go after people with less.
That’s better evidence than Mr. O’Keefe’s office had when his office went full tilt against Mr. Stevenson. In that case, they had a botched investigation by a cop who was a known liar. And still they proceeded with it, even after a Dukes County Superior Court judge tossed out the case in 2015 because Officer Santon provided the testimony before a grand jury, rather than the alleged victim. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the flimsy case, not based on the facts but stating that it was OK to have the investigating officer provide testimony instead of the woman.
Mr. Silvia’s mother, Brenda Williston-Floyd, is upset, and understandably so. She didn’t find out until one day before Mr. Bezahler was scheduled to be arraigned that the DA’s office would not follow through on prosecution. The meeting wasn’t even face-to-face. That’s not a good look for the DA’s office.
Officer Santon is gone, Ms. Marshard should be, and voters should remember Mr. O’Keefe’s complicity with both when his name appears on the ballot again — as well as his unwillingness to take a strong stand in a case, win or lose, that would have sent a strong message to those who sell drugs.