Veteran Tisbury Police Officer Mark Santon was fired for insubordination, incompetence in filing a bogus police report, misuse of town funds to purchase sneakers, and lying repeatedly to the police chief during the course of an investigation into those incidents.
An internal affairs investigation released by the town Friday through a public records request sheds light on the evidence presented to the board of selectmen during a closed-door disciplinary hearing on Friday, Dec. 15.
“By his actions in repeatedly lying during an internal investigation, Officer Santon has engaged in conduct unbecoming a police officer and employee of the Town of Tisbury,” the nine-page report concludes. “Police work calls upon an officer to speak the truth. Police officers that lie damage more than their own reputation. They hurt the department’s ability to engender and maintain the trust and cooperation of the community.”
Keeping Officer Santon employed would place the town in a position of liability, the report states.
His termination came one day after charges were dismissed in Edgartown District Court against a Brooklyn, N.Y., man charged with operating under the influence of alcohol. In that case, Officer Santon had filed a false police report saying the man’s keys were in the ignition and the hood of the car was warm to the touch. His report was contradicted by the first police officer on the scene, who wrote that the man reached into a center console to hand over his keys and that the vehicle’s hood was cool, indicating the car had not been driven recently.
“Officer Santon created facts and circumstances to support an illegal arrest,” the internal investigation states.But it wasn’t just that bogus arrest that led to his firing.
The report details an incident on Sept. 2 where Officer Santon went against a direct order by Sgt. Kindia Roman by ordering another officer at the scene of a disturbance to file a police report on the incident, according to the internal affairs report. Back at the station, Officer Santon made comments to special police officers (part-time officers with less training, typically used to fill summer shifts) that “the whole thing could have been taken care of a lot faster, easier, and should not have taken so long.” His comments were “detrimental to the sergeant’s leadership and morale of the department,” according to the report.
The report details instances in which Officer Santon has made untrue statements about co-workers and supervisors, including a 2015 incident where he spread a phony story that a department supervisor was involved in a domestic incident witnessed by West Tisbury officers. He was suspended for two days, one for that lie and the other for tampering with a department laptop by switching the default language to Estonian. Officer Santon also put the department in a precarious position in a 2014 incident in which he had to be ordered to stay away from the wife of a man he had investigated for open and gross lewdness. The relationship could have jeopardized open investigations, and “could have also [led] to the question as to whether the investigation of the husband was objective and/or fair, which would paint the department in a negative light,” the report states.
In November, according to the report, Officer Santon spread false statements in front of junior officers that a suicide was actually a murder. He was issued a warning to “cease giving false statements.”
During a Nov. 1 administrative hearing, Officer Santon was also questioned about the purchase of $119 Asic’s white and gray running sneakers, purchased from Brickman’s in June with his uniform allowance. The town’s clothing allowance only allows for the purchase of black boots or a black pair of sneakers for those on bike patrol, the report states.
Officer Santon told the chief the sneakers were purchased for him to wear while he was working with the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force, but he hasn’t worked with that group since January 2017.
The report alleges that Officer Santon took advantage of the clothing allowance to buy expensive running sneakers for his personal use. “This is theft from the Town of Tisbury,” the report states. “Officer Santon is a senior officer who should know what items are allowed to be purchased with a clothing allowance.”
The Dec. 15 disciplinary hearing was the second time during 2017 that the 25-year veteran was the focus of such a hearing. In May he was suspended for five days after an independent investigation showed he lied repeatedly about what happened during a Jan. 27 arrest. While his cruiser was parked at the Dukes County jail, his female passenger wiggled out of one handcuff and attempted suicide by wrapping the cord from a hooded sweatshirt around her neck. She was revived, but Officer Santon lied repeatedly about how long he was in the booking room and how he reported the incident to department supervisors.
The most recent investigation concludes that the longtime officer has continued to lie to investigators despite his previous discipline.
“Officer Santon continues to be untruthful during administrative hearings, which indicates he has not learned from previous discipline sanctions which were issued in an attempt to correct his behavior,” the report states. “Making untruthful statements does not occur by accident but is a conscious decision to mislead an investigation.”
The Tisbury Police union is seeking arbitration to appeal Officer Santon’s termination.