Tisbury police officer faces criminal charges

Tisbury police are investigating a pair of car break-ins on Clough Lane last week. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Updated 2:50 pm Friday, May 17, 2013

At the request of Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan, the Edgartown District Court Wednesday issued four criminal complaints against Kelly Kershaw, a Tisbury police officer currently on medical leave. Ms. Kershaw is charged with a felony and three misdemeanors, in connection with her behavior during a fire at her home early on the morning of May 9.

Officer Kershaw was to be arraigned at Edgartown District Court Friday, but she asked Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams to delay the proceeding until she can arrange for a lawyer to represent her.

“I was in the process of retaining counsel,” Officer Kershaw told Judge Williams. “I was given a summons at 8:30 pm at night Wednesday night. I only had yesterday to retain counsel. I spoke to someone, I’m in the process of retaining him. He asked that I ask for a day in June.”

Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard said she will not prosecute the case and agreed to postpone the arraignment.

“I have no objection to that, particularly since I won’t be the assistant district attorney handling the case,” Ms. Marshard said.

In cases where a prosecutor may have a conflict in trying a case, another prosecutor from the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office routinely steps in.

Ms. Marshard often works closely with the Tisbury Police Department in prosecuting cases.

The judge set June 28 as the date of the arraignment.

The criminal complaint charges Officer Kershaw with hindering a firefighter who was trying to put out the fire, a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison, but not less than 30 days of incarceration. She will also be arraigned on misdemeanor charges of assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and threatening to commit a crime.”We have investigated it, it’s unfortunate, and we will take appropriate action,” Chief Hanavan said this week when asked for comment.

In separate police reports, Tisbury police officers Jason Marathas and Joseph Ballotte said Ms. Kershaw repeatedly interfered with firefighters by trying to enter the house as smoke poured out the windows. She said she was concerned about a pet chicken inside.

Ms. Kershaw swore and screamed at the responding police officers who tried to get her away from the active fire scene, according to the police reports. Also according to the reports, she struck Officer Marathas on his arm, and she repeatedly threatened to kill both officers.

The two officers reported that Officer Kershaw showed apparent signs of intoxication.

The complaint file included a letter from Fire Chief John Schilling to Chief Hanavan, dated May 13, in which the fire chief described the incident.

“Throughout the course of this incident, Ms. Kershaw repeatedly attempted to gain access to her chicken pen, inserting herself into the middle of an active fire scene before being stopped by fire personnel,” Chief Schilling said. “At times, Ms. Kershaw appeared to resist their verbal directives and had to be physically assisted from the scene. It was a very disappointing turn of events to have to address these kinds of issues from an ‘off duty’ officer, especially since her actions distracted from our efforts to effect a timely resolution to the incident.”

Officer Kershaw is currently on paid medical leave from the police department following an injury she sustained when she struck a tree while driving her police cruiser on November 20, 2012.

She has had a contentious relationship with the department and the town. In 2009, she filed a sexual harassment claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She is currently suing the town and the department for employment discrimination in Dukes County Superior Court. In the lawsuit, she alleges the department and her fellow officers have retaliated against her for pursuing legal action.

Fire scene

According to police reports, Tisbury police officers and firefighters responded to reports of a fire at Officer Kershaw’s Lagoon Pond Road house about 2 am last Thursday morning. Officer Ballotte, the first to arrive, saw a large amount of smoke coming from the windows and doors of the small building. Officer Kershaw told him her dryer was on fire, and there were no other people in the house.

“I spoke to Kershaw and attempted to comfort her,” Officer Ballotte wrote in his report. “Kershaw was crying and stated that ‘someone did this to me.’ Kershaw then asked who I was working with and I explained that I was working with Officer Marathas tonight. Kershaw stated ‘of course. Where was he?’ It seemed to me that Kershaw may have been implying that Officer Marathas set the fire, but Kershaw did not elaborate on why she thought Officer Marathas would have done this. During my conversation with Kershaw, she showed obvious signs of intoxication such as slurred speech and an odor of alcoholic beverage coming from her mouth area as she spoke.”

In his report, Officer Ballotte wrote that Ms. Kershaw walked into the active fire scene three times. The first time she was escorted away by police officers and firefighters. The second time she was restrained and escorted away by her father, who was at the scene. The third time, officers Ballotte and Marathas again attempted to escort her away.

“Officer Marathas and I began escorting Kershaw out of the yard when she began screaming for us not to touch her,” Officer Ballotte wrote in his report. “Kershaw screamed several obscenities to me and Officer Marathas in the audience of nearly ten firefighters and several onlookers from nearby houses.”

Again, Officer Kershaw’s father, George Buckley, intervened, according to the report.

“While Kershaw was being removed by Buckley, Kershaw swung her arm toward Officer Marathas and struck him in the arm. Officer Marathas and I advised Buckley that Kershaw was dangerously close to being arrested.”

Officer Marathas described a similar course of events, including the officers’ attempts to escort Officer Kershaw away from the fire scene.

“At the time, there was still heavy, thick smoke coming from this house and several firefighters in the yard trying to conduct fire operations,” Officer Marathas wrote in his report. “Officer Kershaw was acting in an extremely aggressive manner towards us as we informed her that she had to leave the area. Officer Kershaw, in a hysterical manner, yelled and screamed at me saying ‘touch me and I’ll [expletive] kill you [expletive]. [Expletive] you.”

He wrote that Officer Kershaw took an assaultive stance toward him with her arms raised in the air.

“Officer Kershaw’s hysterical, aggressive, and assaultive behavior caused several of the Tisbury firefighters to stop fighting the fire so they could get out of the way,” wrote Officer Marathas.

This article was updated to reflect court proceedings Friday morning.