Updated Nov. 14
A 23-year veteran police detective, terminated Friday after a vote by the board of selectmen, used a FBI database to conduct background checks on people not under investigation, according to a press release issued Tuesday by Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake.
James T. Morse, 43, who is also a licensed attorney and lives in Falmouth, was terminated for using what’s known as the FBI Criminal Justice Information System, a national database available to law enforcement agencies.
In a statement faxed Tuesday afternoon, Blake wrote that on Oct. 10, the town received a call from an unidentified law enforcement agency conducting a criminal investigation. The subject of the investigation was Morse’s former tenant.
“The information from this initial contact led us to conduct an internal investigation,” Blake wrote. “In the course of this investigation, Detective Morse was asked if he had utilized the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) to conduct any records check on his former tenant. The answers given caused us to conduct a one-year lookback period with CJIS on all subjects run by Detective Morse.”
The results were received on Oct. 18 and checked against internal records, Blake wrote. “We discovered several names of individuals that had no affiliation with or being investigated by this department,” he wrote.
Blake declined to name the tenant investigated by Morse.
On Friday, the town accepted a “mutual separation agreement” that was entered into with Morse, Gail Barmakian, chairman of the board of selectmen, confirmed. She declined further comment calling it a personnel matter.
Selectmen held an executive session Friday afternoon before opening the meeting and signing the separation agreement, which was also signed by town administrator Robert Whritenour and Blake.
“Detective Morse has been separated from service to the town through the separation agreement, and as a personnel matter we will make no further comment,” Barmakian said in a written statement.
Under the terms of the separation agreement released by the town, Morse will be allowed to seek retirement, and will be compensated for $7,686 in accumulated vacation and $12,746 in compensatory time. He is not entitled to unemployment benefits, according to the agreement.
“Mr. Morse agrees to refrain from making any public statements including but not limited to social media postings of any kind (or authorizing any statements to be reported as being attributed to Mr. Morse) that are critical, derogatory, or which may tend to injure the reputation of the town, the board of selectmen, town administrator, town labor counsel, police chief, or members of the police department,” the separation agreement states.
The town will only release the dates of employment and job title, should someone call seeking a reference, the agreement states. Morse agreed not to sue the town, according to the terms of the agreement.
Morse, who signed the agreement on Nov. 3, did not return a message left on his cell phone. He had been an Oak Bluffs police officer since 1995 and was with the department for his entire career with the exception of a short stint at Blackstone Police Department, Blake told The Times in a text message.
The Times first began asking about Morse a week ago, requesting documents of an internal investigation from the town. Whritenour, in an email, denied the request. “At this time, the town does not have any documents available to satisfy your request,” Whritenour wrote in the email dated Nov. 5. “Without acknowledging the existence of what you allege is an internal investigation, even if any documents existed, they would not be available while any such investigation is still ongoing.”
Whritenour’s email contradicts the timeline in Blake’s release. The investigation was completed as of Oct. 18 and Morse signed a separation agreement Nov. 3. The Times continues to seek the release of the internal investigation through an appeal with the state’s Supervisor of Public Records.
Morse was promoted to detective at a ceremony in July 2014.
The Oak Bluffs department is required to submit in writing to CJIS the results of any investigations stemming from the audit and any action taken against the subject of the audit.
FBI officials had no immediate comment on the unauthorized background checks.
“We consider this matter closed and will be making no further comment,” Blake wrote.
.George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated to include new information from Oak Bluffs police. -Ed.