Tisbury police officer Kelly Kershaw blacked out, apparently from a medical condition, on the evening of November 20, when the police cruiser she was driving struck a tree at about 8 pm, on State Road near Mayflower Lane, according to State Police Sergeant Thomas Medeiros, who investigated the accident at the request of Tisbury Police.
Ms. Kershaw is at home recovering from minor injuries she suffered in the crash.
Ms. Kershaw was notified Friday by the Registry of Motor Vehicles that her driver’s license has been suspended, at the request of Tisbury Police under a provision of state law that allows the registry to suspend the license of an individual police deem to be an “immediate threat,” most often based on a medical condition. Sergeant Medeiros said he applied for the suspension on Wednesday.
The vehicle struck the tree head-on, and airbags deployed. The cruiser was heavily damaged, a total loss, according to State Police.
Emergency medical personnel took Ms. Kershaw by ambulance to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Ms. Kershaw was found responsible for the accident but not cited for any violations. In a one paragraph report on the accident, Sergeant Medeiros said Ms. Kershaw “failed to maintain control of vehicle,” left the roadway and struck a tree, causing major damage to the front of the cruiser.
Sergeant Medeiros said that based on his investigation there was no indication of drugs, alcohol, or texting while driving, and there was no excessive speed. The speed limit for that part of State Road is 40 miles per hour. He said he conducted the investigation as he would any matter, and all the details suggest the accident occurred when Ms. Kershaw lost consciousness.
“She said she felt like she was going to pass out and she hit the tree,” Sergeant Medeiros said. He said the immediate threat request was based on the fact that Ms. Kershaw passed out while driving. The suspension is subject to appeal, he said.
Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan referred all questions about the accident investigation to State Police. He confirmed that officer Kershaw is currently on injured leave.
Chief Hanavan said a request for an immediate threat suspension of an individual’s right to operate, when it appears that his or her medical condition poses a risk to the public, is standard procedure.
War of words
The online report of the accident posted Tuesday night on mvtimes.com, following an early print edition deadline necessitated by the holiday, sparked a heated exchange in the comment section between Ms. Kershaw, Ms. Kershaw’s twin sister, Rachael Buckley, a former Tisbury police officer, and a set of online detractors. Ms. Kershaw commented on the police department and the legal status of her grievances she has made against the town.
“And trust me the politics of this town are not rigged toward the downtrodden; the opposite is true in fact,” Ms. Kershaw wrote. “This town has always done as it pleases with no worry of their own accountability.
“I have no ‘checkered history’ with my department. Until I brought attention to the things going on, I never had so much as a letter in my file or complaint from a wronged citizen. The townspeople are being fleeced by its leaders, fighting a huge battle that was completely unnecessary. The whole issue could have been resolved by holding guilty parties accountable instead of trying to get rid of me. Why don’t people question the amount of money being spent on the defense of the guilty? Why aren’t people calling for action against an officer that treats people (not just me) like this? Educate yourself before you point fingers under the security of an alias.”
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, November 28, Officer Kershaw declined to elaborate on the comments.
“I’ve been told by my department not to say anything,” Ms. Kershaw said.
Tisbury Police department policy prohibits officers from using social media to comment on police matters. The purpose of the policy is to “avoid any conduct which would compromise this department’s integrity and thus undercut the public confidence in this department or this profession,” according to the policy and procedure manual that went into effect in December, 2011.
Chief Hanavan said he is reviewing Ms. Kershaw’s online activity with regard to department policy.
Ms. Kershaw joined the force in 2002 as a summer traffic officer. She paid her way through the police academy, graduating in March 2004. In August of that year, the 22-year-old became the department’s first full-time female officer in several years.
In April 2009, Ms. Kershaw filed a complaint against the department with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), charging sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
In her two-page complaint, Ms. Kershaw, alleged sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by the town and the police department. She named the town and former town administrator John Bugbee, the department, Sergeant Tim Stobie, and former Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin as respondents.
In September 2011, MCAD found probable cause that the Tisbury Police Department and Sgt. Timothy Stobie discriminated against Ms. Kershaw “based on sexual harassment.”
MCAD did not support all of Ms. Kershaw’s allegations. The MCAD decision also found a “lack of probable cause…on the allegations of retaliation and aiding and abetting” against the town, the police department, the town administrator, the former police chief, and Sergeant Stobie.”
On November 18, 2011, Ms. Kershaw filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in Dukes County Superior Court, against the Tisbury Police Department and the town of Tisbury. Her lawsuit also names individually Sgt. Stobie, Mr. Bugbee, who has left Tisbury, and Mr. Cashin, who has retired. The court has set September 2013 for disposition of the case.
Attorney James Budreau, who represents Officer Kershaw in the civil lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Sergeant Stobie now holds the rank of lieutenant.