Officer accused of racist comment after racist incident

Man faces disorderly conduct charge after obscenity-laced tirade in Vineyard Haven.

A Tisbury Police officer allegedly told two people who’d been subjected to bigoted comments that the person they accused of making those comments couldn’t have uttered such things because he listens to hip-hop and rap. — Rich Saltzberg

A Tisbury Police officer allegedly made a racist comment to members of the family who own Ackee Tree Caribbean American Grocery on Beach Road. The comment was made to employees of the store after police responded to a racially charged dispute outside that business last week. 

On Sept. 21, a heated argument erupted in the parking lot between Ackee Tree Caribbean Grocery and Xtra Mart where a white man, identified in a Tisbury Police report as Edward James MacLeod, loudly hurled slurs at people of color, including a woman whose car he’d partially blocked with a pickup truck, and a brother and sister who worked in the grocery store. Tisbury Police came to the scene after the incident had wound down. Based on video shot by The Times, the incident lasted about 3:30 minutes. 

The Times shared the video with Tisbury Police.

“After reviewing the video, it appears that if MacLeod had simply moved his truck, that the disturbance that followed would not have happened,” a report states. 

At some point during the police response, two officers went inside Ackee Tree Caribbean Grocery to make sure everyone was OK inside, according to Janeesa Ampy, whose family owns the business. The officers spoke with her brother Dylan, who was closest to the entrance to the store, she said. 

Dylan said he’d been videoing the police response through a window when the officers entered the store. One of them he recognized and one he didn’t. 

“I was standing right behind the counter,” Dylan said. His sister, he said, was helping a customer with an in-store Western Union booth elsewhere in the store.

After asking if “anybody got hit,” an officer asked who the instigator was, he said. 

“That guy right there,” Dylan recalled saying as he pointed out the window. “And he was like, the cop was like, ‘Are you sure it’s that guy?’ And I was like, Yeah,” Dylan recalled, “and he’s like, ‘That guy listens to a lot of hip-hop and rap music, so I’m surprised that it was him.’”

After looking at roster images on the Tisbury Police website, both Dylan and Janeesa identified the officer who made the remark about hip-hop and rap. However Tisbury Police Department has yet to name the officer involved. Detective Bill Brigham’s name appears at the end of the police report on the incident as the submitting officer.

In the store, Dylan then said, he reaffirmed who he said was behind the parking lot incident, and that the officers exited shortly after. 

“When he said it,” he said of the officer, “I didn’t really think about it … I was still like all gassed up from what had just happened in the parking lot.” 

A bit later he discussed the comment with his sister. She wondered if the officer had some personal ties to the pickup driver, he recalled. Overall, Dylan said he wasn’t taken aback by the comment because, he said, he’s familiar with the Tisbury Police Department and already harbored a bad opinion of it based on past experiences with members of that department and based on the opinions his friends have of the department. One example he gave was allegedly being stopped near his home in Tisbury by an officer who jumped out from a parked cruiser with its lights off. He said the officer told him police were on the lookout for a vehicle that matched the description of the Mercedes he was driving. Dylan, and a friend whom he said was following him home, both expressed puzzlement at the cruiser not being lit up, Dylan recalled. 

Janeesa described the Sept. 21 incident as “crazy,” not just because of what was said, but because the officers didn’t seem to do much with the man once they went back outside.

She said she partially heard what the officer said to her brother, but was filled in on the rest by him soon after police left. “I felt like they could have put in a little more effort,” Janeesa said.

Janeesa said after The Times contacted Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio, Saloio reached out to her.

“Which was mind-boggling to me, because you’d think after an incident like that, they would come and do a follow-up just to see if the person has been back …,” she said, “which they didn’t.”

Janeesa said she told the chief over the phone that one of his officers said something “that I felt was very insensitive, especially considering the incident that had taken place moments before that.” She said she went on to describe the utterance as “something I took real offense to.”

When The Times first spoke to Saloio about what one of his officers said, he suggested it could have been “nervous chatter.”

Janeesa said she was underwhelmed by her initial conversation with Saloio. “Screw the police department,” she said, “based off the things that I’ve seen and personal interactions, that kind of behavior is expected.”

She said Saloio invited her to come to the station and talk some more, and suggested he may speak to someone about what was said, or perhaps have a supervisor reprimand someone. 

She said she visited Saloio on Sept. 23.

“I felt like his whole thing was trying to distance himself from something, you know, his officers may have done,” she said. She said she thought he was trying to impress upon her that he may not harbor the same perspective some of his officers might. She added it didn’t seem like there was a “genuine interest in me having concerns with the police department,” but rather that Saloio was trying to placate her and diffuse any allegations of racism in the department.

Asked what Saloio said he was going to do, she said, “not much” — he would have his “4 to 12 officer do a follow-up to see if the guy is still bothering us at the store, and when he said that to me I felt like he was just disregarding the whole comment that was made. I said for you, whatever was said, it might not feel like a racist thing to you or a slur to you, or whatever you want to call it, but it’s something that I do take offense to when an officer’s going to say something like that. And I don’t know where you guys are going with this — it doesn’t seem like much — but it would be good to have a conversation with that officer, have a conversation with all your officers to shed some kind of light, give them some kind of awareness …”

She said an apology from the officer who made the remark would be a good first step. 

When asked if anyone has come back to the store to apologize, Dylan said, “Not at all.”

On Monday Janeesa said Saloio reached out to her again, and told her MacLeod was going to be charged with disorderly conduct. He also said, she recalled, that the officer who made the remark was dealt with. He wanted to know if she was discontented with anything, she said. She recalled telling him she expects an apology of some kind from the officer, but when Saloio said he would tell the officer to do so, she said he needed to come to that conclusion on his own.

The next day Saloio hand-delivered a letter to her, which read, “I would like to thank you for meeting with me and bringing to my attention your concerns pertaining to comments made by an officer responding to your business. Please know that I have met with the officer and counseled him for his statements. Once again, thank you for bring [sic] this matter to my attention, and as always feel free to contact me directly should you have any concerns with our services.”

Janeesa said on Tuesday she thought Saloio had made a genuine effort to reconcile. 

In an email to The Times on Tuesday, Saloio wrote, “Any insensitive comments made by the police officer have been addressed. Additionally, please be aware that Diversity Training will in fact be mandatory for all members of the Police Department, and is being planned for later this fall … I have met and spoken with Ms. Ampy several times since last week, and she indicated to me that she is in fact satisfied with my response to her concerns.”

Jim Rogers, who is chair of the Tisbury select board, said he only knew what he’d read in The Times, and hadn’t heard about an officer making an offensive remark. “I’m certainly going to look into this,” he said. Rogers later said he did pursue the matter “to make sure something was being done.”

Carrie Tankard, first vice president of the Vineyard’s NAACP chapter, said she is aware of the incident in the parking lot, but no one has filed a complaint regarding it. A complaint is necessary for the chapter to look into anything, she said. 

“No one has brought it to our attention,” she said.