Internal report: Drug investigation led to officer’s termination

Morse not implicated in drug probe, but that’s where his unauthorized use of FBI background checks came to light.

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A heavily-redacted police internal affairs report provides new details on what led to Det. James Morse being terminated.

An Oak Bluffs Police internal investigation reveals that a condo owned by former Det. James Morse was being used to peddle large amounts of cocaine and possibly meth, though the officer was not implicated in the drug dealing.

Morse, who is also a licensed attorney, was terminated on Friday, Nov. 9, for unauthorized use of FBI background checks. His use of the database came out during an investigation into what the 23-year veteran knew about two or three 1- to 2-kilogram packages of cocaine delivered to his tenant at his West Falmouth condominium. The street value of a single kilo can be upwards of $40,000.

The new information comes from an internal investigation conducted by Oak Bluffs Lt. Timothy Williamson, which was released Friday after a public records request by The Times. The report is heavily redacted, including the name of the tenant and the name of the law enforcement agency conducting the drug investigation, although it does refer to an unnamed state trooper.

The names are redacted, Williamson told The Times, under exemption F of the public records law, which allows withholding information so as not to compromise an ongoing investigation.

Morse was terminated through a mutual separation agreement reached between the officer and the town.

Oak Bluffs Police were first contacted by law enforcement on Oct. 9. The person told Oak Bluffs Police that packages of cocaine were delivered to Morse’s condo in West Falmouth, though there was “no indication or information that Morse had any involvement in the activity other that [sic] he believed that Morse rented a room to the target.”

The unidentified tenant, who moved out in September after he failed to pay rent, was also “under surveillance over the summer months doing hand-to-hand drug transactions on a beach in Falmouth, and they believe he was selling methamphetamine,” the report states.

Morse passed a drug test administered after the internal investigation was launched.

Williamson, who conducted the investigation along with Sgt. Nicholas Curelli and Sgt. Michael Marchand, came up with questions to ask Morse. It’s those questions that led to the further investigation of Morse’s use of the FBI Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). Asked about his use of CJIS, or CORI, the state database, on the tenant, Morse provided the following answer: “On advice of counsel, I refuse to answer this question exercising my rights under Carney vs. Springfield and Article 12 and 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.”

Based on that answer, Williamson ordered an audit of Morse’s CJIS and National Crime Information Center queries over the past year.

“Sgt. Curelli noted a large amount of names Morse ran that did not coincide with any current cases or activity in QED,” the report states. The names were cross-referenced with targets of drug investigations, and none of the names were recognized, according to the report.

“Based on the information of a lack of any official reason Detective Morse would have made the checks on these individuals, Sgt. Curelli came up with a set of 40 questions specifically tailored to questions to inquire as to the reason Det. Morse would be running these individuals through the CJIS system, specifically if it was in his official duties and responsibilities or something else.”

That section is followed by nearly five pages that are completely redacted.

According to the investigation, none of the names run by Morse were part of the drug investigation.

When Morse was confronted with the audit, he again responded repeatedly with the same answer he gave initially.

“At this point in the investigation [Chief Erik Blake] contacted [town administrator] Robert Whritenour and Jack Collins to discuss termination/separation of Detective Morse specifically for the CJIS violations,” the report states.

Morse was cited for conduct unbecoming a police officer, and the report stated that he may have also violated the department’s rule for association with known criminals. The investigation also found that he violated the department’s rules for use of CJIS.

“Through this investigation it appears that Detective Morse was using the department’s CJIS access to obtain information on multiple individuals he ran on department computers while on duty,” the report states. “It is unclear of the motive for Detective Morse to access these individuals, as he refused to answer our questions by exercising his constitutional rights. I can only surmise that it was not for any official police business.”

Prior to being terminated, Morse had been on paid administrative leave, according to the report. The separation agreement will pay him $20,614 in vacation and comp time. He is also being allowed to seek his retirement, but won’t be able to receive unemployment benefits. Under the terms of the agreement, Morse has agreed not to disparage the town on social media.

Attempts to reach Morse by phone and text were unsuccessful.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Vanadium, though this may come as a shock, I am no big fan of police corruption on MV (I know, what a shock!) , I can understand why Morse would plead the Fifth in these matters. You simply cannot pick and choose when to invoke its protections, yet answers others in that same inquiry. To quote the former King of the Chilmark Store Porch and defender of retired NFL killers, Alan Dershowitz, “You can’t simply make statements about a subject and then plead the Fifth in response to questions about the very same subject,” Dershowitz said. “Once you open the door to an area of inquiry, you have waived your Fifth Amendment right… you’ve waived your self-incrimination right on that subject matter.”
    That being said, there is enough bad smell on everything else associated with this, I would be saving that OB golden parachute check for upcoming legal defense.

  2. I know you folks will disagree but If I am an attorney and a police officer and I am able to use background check hardware of a commercial nature but not the one he used and my house is being used for drugs and I am NOT involved, I would use any tool I could get to clean myself of these criminals quickly. We have established he is privy to background checks due to being an attorney. This is a bit like not being able to cross a red light to save a child. Yes I exaggerate but it feels flimsy to me and it certainly is not a gross violation of anything.

    • The tenant was one of many searches he did. The OBPD report says there was a “a large number” of names searched that did not match up with any OBPD investigations or drug investigations.

      • You get it. If it was just a horrified reaction to a scummy tenant (wonder how they met), I could live with him receiving a reprimand. But then, these OTHER (‘MULTIPLE’) search subjects, unrelated to any investigation- That’s a problem.

        As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “Who ARE these people?!”. And why was Detective Morse so interested in running secret investigations on them?

        License plates of visitors to his creepy tenant? Clients of his law practice, and/or their associates? Romantic interests? Fraternal lodge applicants? Personal S**t-List?

        We’d like some answers.

  3. #1, how do you know he is “NOT” involved? The OBPD has enough probable cause to request a drug test of him, he did rent out the place to these alleged crooks, and I suppose all big drug dealers go out of their way to rent from cops/lawyers? Oh yeah, real plausible.
    #2, yes, we disagree because your words do not comport with the known facts.
    Try again.

    • Kozak ”the article says ”there is no information or indication that he is involved” Yes he could be involved if and when more info comes to light but if he wasnt involved I stand by my opinion that I would have done anything I could to trace who the criminal tenant is. An attorney is an officer of the court you know. Yes my words do comport with the known facts and you are speculating as to unknown facts.You and I can disagree about the use of the equipment but I remain steadfast that Morse showed bad judgment but not criminal action. If and when we find out that Morse is a real bad guy I will apologize to you. The entire pathology here on MV wherein people want and need to know why someone is terminated is disorded.

  4. Andrew, don’t lose sight of the facts here, this is the police investigating the police, along with an unprecedented dose of redaction. Oh no, nothing suspicious there.
    Further, it is the police (the investigators) themselves making the claim he is not implicated. No inconvenient independent citizen review board for these actions.
    Plus, did read the Times headline? “Morse not implicated in drug probe, but that’s where his unauthorized use of FBI background checks came to light.” That seems the very definition of “implicated.”
    I get it that you like the guy, you may even be Morse himself, trying to sneak around the NDA, but you again ignore the facts in that the public has a right to know the actions of its public officials. This is no mere “personnel issue”, this is an officer of the courts who is implicated in a federal violation of the nations criminal database. Go on about your local employee issue if you like.

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