Oak Bluffs police officer terminated

Det. Morse did FBI background checks on people not under investigation.

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Oak Bluffs detective James Morse was terminated Friday. Seen here in January 2017.

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. 

37 COMMENTS

  1. “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,” Well, I am not bound by this crap the OB Selectmen have conjured up, because god knows, we can’t possibly damage the reputation of the Board. There is still free speech on my side of the pen.
    All of the above should be ashamed of themselves for conducting government as though this is North Korea.

    • Come on Kozak. The Board has a right to terminate any employee and you have no right to know the reasons. Surely you understand boss/subordinate terms of employment.

  2. Andrew, I am not disagreeing the fine OB Selectmen have a right to terminate employees with cause, my position is that as Morse is a sworn officer of the court, frequently giving testimony on the witness stand. This is not a DPW employee who may have taken a town chainsaw home for the weekend. Whatever he is alleged to have done, the public should have an absolute right to know. The proper and open administration of justice demands it be told to the public. This isnt North Korea, as I earlier wote. If you want secrecy cloaked in “personnel matter” , I have the feeling the public may disagree. This is THE TAXPAYERS EMPLOYEE, not the Selectmens (who also happen to be the TAXPAYERS EMPLOYEES.

  3. James Kozak. Respectfully The employee Mr Morse has a right to tell anyone the reason for his firing but if he and the Selectmen have agreed to keep it confidential, the public has no right to know. Your North Korea analogy is hyperbole. Labor law dictates he has confidentiality. Doesnt matter if the public disagrees. MV hospital Board fired their CEO and the so called public was up in arms but had no right to know. The CEO never told us what the Board had stipulated about the termination and he could have. By the way they can also fire at will and not have ”cause”. You are making an assertion about administration of justice and the public right to know because it sounds right but an employee needs to be protected with confidentiality unless he is an axe murderer.

  4. Good luck trying to get public records from an island police department.
    Do they think that one of the island’s best-liked, most-respected police officers gets quickly & quietly dismissed, and we won’t have questions? We also have a right to know.
    The cops need to learn their place, and come up with the documents. Now.

  5. Wow, a gag order for a firing? It only makes people talk….I knew the officer way back, I always thought he was a straight shooter….the island can cover up a lot of misdeeds of it’s residents. It is a ‘good ole boy club’, for sure.

  6. Mr Brennan. You won’t get the records because they will claim it’s not an internal investigation. One wonders why the Times has an exaggerated curiosity about the termination of an officer. It’s clear that the separation is an embarrassment for Mr Morse but it does not rise to a standard in which the public needs to know.

    • Not sure how you can say that without knowing what the circumstances are, but we’ll let the Supervisor of Public Records decide. Thanks.

  7. Andrew, you are priceless! A priceless asset for North Korean secrecy. (my new favorite Oak Bluffs comparison). “…. it does not rise to a standard in which the public needs to know.”??? Seriously? Who are you working for? Morse, the OB Selectmen? Why don’t you have the courage of your opinions and unmask yourself? It’s not hard, George and myself use our real names. Try it sometime.
    Back to your opinion, why you choose to make a case for secrecy among our government employees, rather than transparency, tells reasonable minds you have a vested interest in concealing the truth.

    • Kozak. Let suppose that Morse had indulged in three conflicts of interest with the police department due to the fact that he is also a lawyer. And lets also suppose that those conflicts did not create material damage but were of poor judgment. If the two parties sign a mutual agreement to separate in order to save more embarrassment then the public does not have the right to know and it is entirely reasonable to protect the officer. In Jackie’s post below with the drunken police officer, yes the man should have been fired and the public enlightened because the offense was substantial and not in keeping for the standards of the chief of police. Two different cases altogether. As for your grammar Mr Kozak ”George and myself use our real names” should be replaced with ”George and I use our real names” Privacy and confidentiality in employment is well established and has nothing to do with democracy and transparency and North Korea.

  8. Another cover-up. Good for the MVTimes for their standards. Of course the public has a right to know why a police officer is abruptly fired. The excuse of “it’s not our business” is damaging and not how democracy works. This is particularly relevant because of the recent attempted cover-up, by police, of how a police chief from another town was NOT fired after his drunken, dangerous escapades. Enabling these 2 sets of rules with lame excuses is not like North Korea… it is like the United States under the bone-spur, lying President. Cover-ups are ugly. So are pretenses that everyone gets equal treatment under the law… except for those who are deemed above the law. The public absolutely has a right to know. If a chief of police who drunkenly trespasses into a stranges home at 3AM, vomits there, frightens the sleeping residents and then tried to keep the whole episode a secret is not fired, one had better wonder what a tax dollar-funded police officer has to do to actually BE fired. For all we know, it could have been a set-up to get him out by someone who didn’t like him, (personal revenge) which would be all the more reason for there to be the proper transparency here. Thank you, MV Times.

    • Im still waiting to get some information about the 30,000 emails, then go down the list of Obama’s / Clintons 29+ scandals

  9. Don’t ‘cha just miss the days of when discretion was the better part of valor? Back in the day, no one knew that FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, MLK and RFK were philandering scumbags until well after they were dead. I know this is on a much lesser scale, but we really don’t need to know specifics unless it’s going to endanger the public for Christ sakes…

    • The problem is the public could have been endangered. We don’t know. When a police officer is fired and agrees to no unemployment benefits and accepts that he can get no job references when any future potential employer calls, that’s serious. It’s not that easy to get fired like that, agreeing to all those stipulations that damage your chances for other employment. Back in the day, sexual assault and harassment on the job was accepted. So, no, don’t miss those days at all, but I get it that a lot of creeps out there do.

      • Jackie do you really believe that the public could be endangered if they didnt know the terms of the separation. Could you give the Selectmen a bit more credit. This is a mutual separation agreement and is private and it should remain so. Do MV people have so much time on their hands that they need to know why everyone is let go. I am certain that almost all of us can envision a scenario in which we leave a company or an organization without too many details.

        • The public can indeed be endangered by police, like when they shoot a black man for being black. I was not saying the public is endangered by not knowing the terms of the firing. I was saying that perhaps the reason this police officer was fired was because he was endangering the community, but we don’t know and cannot fairly make that assumption since we are not yet privy to the reason he was fired so abruptly and harshly. This is a severe firing to which terms the office agreed, make no mistake. You misunderstood what I wrote. Ray assumed the policeman’s firing had nothing to do with behavior that was a danger to the community. We have to wait and see. The public has a right to know if our community was endangered by this man’s police activity and our democracy ensures that right.

          • Wow, just saw the update. Yes, doing background checks on people not under investigation is abusively damaging to the community, a community he was hired to protect, not try to get dirt on individuals to use heaven-knows-how. Duh.

  10. Thank you, MV Times, for the informative update to this story.

    As much as I personally like James Morse, this is a serious abuse of his office.

    His termination does a lot to restore the public’s faith in the integrity of the OB Police, Chief Blake, the OB Selectmen, AND the troubled FBI. Good follow-through, and a just determination.

    Curious to know more about who was being investigated, why, and what recourse the victims might have.

    Shame, Jamie. Shame.

    • Considering your admission of not knowing who was being investigated and why, you pronounce a hash judgment indeed.

      • I might not know the reason why the unnamed victims were investigated, but we can eliminate one very important reason; To further a legitimate police investigation.
        You DO get that, right?
        And as far as producing hash judgements goes, there has never been any question: Hash is totally Awesome.

  11. I have opinions – including one with big words I found using Google.
    I don’t understand what they mean, but they’re synonyms of the dumb-person words I was going to use. That means they mean the same thing but some of the words sound fancy and require more effort to say because of all the extra syllables. So much so that I’ve hurt my jaw reading and rereading my opinion about this article. Now I have to go deal with that. You will all have to do without my opinion after all.

    • I’m sorry, did you miss that he was running background checks on people not under investigation, presumably for his own private benefit?

  12. Well, he shouldn’t have done what he did, I’m sure it happens a lot across the country with police departments, he just got caught.
    Why didn’t the police chief in Aquinnah get fired for his drunken behavior?
    I still say it’s all about who you know on this island.
    I also think this community is so small that you can’t do anything without everyone wanting to know your business.

    • Whenever we get a Pittsburgh or Thousand Oaks, or any of the others, the cry goes up, “why weren’t the police on top of this? How did this go unnoticed? etc…etc?”. How do you know what the detective was thinking? We cannot have it both ways. Background databases are there for a purpose.

  13. Its not permitted to use government databases for non-criminal backround checks and OB did the right thing with respect to termination. You can’t just call a cop friend and ask to ‘run a license plate’ to see who owns a car, but it does happen. There are consequences if the cop is caught, as in this case. However, any attorney has access to the same information via commercial databases available to any ‘credentialed’ entity, such as a law firm or private investigator that would willingly and legally perform that backround check for a potential tenant or employee *who would have to agree to the check*. As an attorney, he should have spent the money to subscribe to the commercially available databases, and had he done so, would still have a job and pension.

  14. I know alot of homeowners would like to do background checks on their tenants. What about the house used for the porn videos up island? No I didnt watch them.

  15. It’s good to know that what is on the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) is privileged information. Access to it is a privilege. Privilege easily becomes invisible to the privileged, and with any privilege unavoidably come temptations to abuse privilege. Jim evidently gave in to temptation. A shame. He’s a good man and has been a good cop, I think all agree, and probably a good lawyer however much some think that phrase is an oxymoron. I am sure he would prefer to suffer this embarrassment and loss privately and let this blow over quietly. But his understandable desire for the personal privilege of privacy is trumped (in the good sense of the word) by defense of our privacy–your privacy, mine, the other guy’s, and that woman’s privacy over there that you don’t know about because some records are privileged information, held in trust by elected, appointed, or hired government officials. Jim evidently violated that trust and abused his privileged access to the CJIS.

    Whether and when internal proceedings of the OBPD and OB Selectmen are privileged information is an open question now being tested by the MV Times freedom of information request. I hope that journalistic interest and public interest do not needlessly and heedlessly further embarrass a decent man who made a mistake. But I weigh that hope against the cautionary note that this news sounds to others in positions of privilege.

  16. I think those who want transparency with a negotiated settlement separating an employee from the Town should use their ability as a citizen. File a public records request with the Secretary of State Bill Galvin. This forum is not a healthy way to debate without known facts. Just a thought folks…

  17. The guy made a mistake, so he got canned.
    If there a serious crime involved, I believe the the selectpeople would have taken a different course of action, such as a criminal indictment.
    Having said this, I would like to know who I can talk to about getting some parking tickets “fixed”.
    I truly believe that EVERYBODY will be foolish at least twice in their lifetime.

  18. Oaksbluff, abuse of the national criminal record database is an indictable offence! Where is the indictment?

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