Since June, Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden’s office has declined to release police audio records sought by the Martha’s Vineyard Times. The audio records are being sought as part of an ongoing investigation by The Times into a Tisbury Police response in 2011 that resulted in a family babysitter being raped. On Nov. 1, the state’s Supervisor of Records ordered the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) to provide portions of the audio records. The order comes as part of the Supervisor of Records’ fourth determination on the records.
The Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, through its communications center, runs Vineyard police, fire, and EMS radio traffic, and facilitates 911 calls. DCSO typically only archives audio records for a year, but in certain circumstances, state law requires an extended period of storage for such records. The records sought by The Times appear to fall in the latter category. The audio records potentially contain transmissions from the sheriff’s brother, Scott Ogden, who is a Tisbury Police officer and one of the responding officers to the 2011 incident. The audio records may help shed further light on what happened during the response to that incident, a response that internal investigation records show was marked by opacity and negligence.
Former Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association general counsel Jack Collins has represented DCSO on appeals made by The Times to the Supervisor of Records. When asked about potential conflicts he and the sheriff may have, Collins said he didn’t see any for himself, even when it was pointed out he previously advised the Tisbury Police Department about Scott Ogden’s discipline following the 2011 incident.
Collins said it was news to him that Robert Ogden and Scott Ogden were brothers.
When asked why he didn’t pass the records request to a third party agency, such as the State Police, in light of his brother’s association with the records, Sheriff Ogden replied in part that his office does everything it can to comply with the law.
The records sought by The Times — 911 calls, radio transmissions, and business calls — stem from a night in July 2011 when Tisbury Police, against a battered mother’s wishes, left a nanny and three children unguarded in a house with a suspect at large. The suspect was David Thrift, a truck driver who’d recently moved to the Vineyard. Police conducted a search for Thrift, failed to find him, and left the scene. In the absence of a police presence, Thrift returned to the house and raped the nanny at knifepoint. Scott Ogden was one of three officers disciplined for police failures that night. The discipline stemmed from an internal investigation and an arbitration ruling.
Among the arguments DCSO has made to justify withholding the audio records is the notion equipment used to make the recordings is old and not conducive to the redactions that would be necessary.
In a telephone conversation with The Times on the morning of Oct. 25, Collins said it was a revelation to him that the sheriff was related to one of the responding officers of the July 2011 domestic battery and sexual assault incident.
“I didn’t know,” Collins said.
Collins, who was once interim Edgartown chief of police, has represented several towns and police departments on the Vineyard. Nonetheless, Collins was emphatic that until speaking with The Times last Monday, he was unaware of the sibling relationship between the sheriff and the longtime Tisbury Police officer.
“I was unaware Jack Collins did not know Scott Ogden was my brother until today, when you informed me he did not, and I asked Jack Collins directly,” Sheriff Ogden wrote on Oct. 26. “To the best of my knowledge, we did not have occasion to discuss Scott prior to your inquiries into this specific matter, as your requests were not directly associated to my brother.”
Records show Collins was acquainted with the July 2011 domestic battery and sexual assault incident and the dicipline Scott Ogden received.
Tisbury selectmen executive session minutes obtained by The Times show Collins allegedly helped craft or influence Ogden’s discipline for his failures during the 2011 police response.
January 24, 2012, executive session minutes show former Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan conferred with Collins about Ogden. Collins is referred to as “special counsel.”
“Chief Hanavan reported that years of training and department policy were disregarded, adding that after conferring with Special Counsel Jack Collins, a five-day suspension was recommended and implemented,” the minutes state.
“I’ve never worked for the town of Tisbury,” Collins said in his telephone conversation with The Times. He suggested he may have instead offered an opinion through his role at the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
“I didn’t make a recommendation,” Collins said. “It’s possible I got a call from the chief.” He went on to say, “I didn’t give legal advice.”
Elsewhere the minutes state, “Town administrator John Bugbee pointed out that for the chief, attorney Jack Collins, and himself, the main thrust of this case is the fact that Mr. Thrift had fled the house, and was still at large when everyone left the scene, adding that, in a nutshell, they should not have left. He stated further that Jack Collins felt that a five-day suspension was appropriate for Officer Ogden’s role in this matter.”
Asked if his name in the minutes being closely associated with Officer Ogden constituted a conflict, Collins described the situation as “less than tenuous,” and said “there’s no connection whatsoever.”
A set of March 6, 2012 executive session minutes describes Collins as working with Tisbury labor counsel Brian Maser “to strategize” for a hearing on another officer involved in the case.
Despite his appearances in executive session minutes, Tisbury could find no invoices related to Collins. In an email to The Times, Suzanne Kennedy, Tisbury’s town accountant, wrote there has “never” been a payment made by the town to Jack Collins or his company, Collins Associates.
Asked if he was aware Collins appeared in the executive session minutes, and if so, why he would permit Collins to participate in a records defense he potentially had a conflict in, Sheriff Ogden wrote that he was unaware of the minutes, and Collins’ place in them. He added that he still doesn’t see a conflict.
“I was not privy to any session minutes of the Tisbury select board, nor Jack Collins’ active advisory involvement, related to that 2011 police response,” Sheriff Ogden emailed. “I will inquire through the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, but since neither I nor Attorney Collins were aware until you informed us he was quoted, presumably by the former Police Chief, a decade ago, I do not see a conflict of interest as it relates to a public records request.”
Sheriff Ogden’s complete response to why he didn’t select a third party to respond to the request is as follows: “The Dukes County Sheriff’s Office makes every effort to comply with all and any lawful requests for information made to this office in any area of its operations when it does not violate the law and/or infringe on an individual’s legal rights. This is strictly a matter of following the letter of the law, which precludes this office from revealing the identities of persons involved in a sexual assault. Over a decade ago, when this horrendous crime was committed, I was not the Sheriff of Dukes County, nor was I in a direct supervisory/command role related to this incident. Any decisions made at that time were made by my predecessor and his administration.”
Asked why a department that recently beefed up its communications infrastructure and has skilled technical staff can’t provide redacted audio from an old piece of equipment, Sheriff Ogden wrote that he was proud of the regional communications upgrades done under his watch. He also wrote, “The present system is light years ahead of the old and can do many things the former could not. It is my understanding as merely a layman; the redacting of confidential portions of outdated recordings is not feasible at this time. If the determination is lawfully made that we should expend our limited and valuable resources to pursue technology for a properly redacted version of the recording being requested, we will do our best to comply.”
The Nov. 1 order issued by the Supervisor of Records followed an in camera inspection of the records. For such an inspection, the Supervisor of Records is given the records, or in this case a sampling of the records, to better guide a decision. The Supervisor of Records’ order gives DCSO 10 days to provide non-exempt portions of the audio records with whatever redactions are necessary.