Updated Jan. 14
An Oak Bluffs Police sergeant resigned in the wake of an investigation that found he failed to properly account for a department rifle issued to him, according to a press release issued by select board chair Brian Packish. Reports by an investigator hired by the town raise questions about the police department’s system for tracking weapons, and fail to conclude how the rifle in question was lost and later found in the police station’s basement. The reports found several police officers’ memories clouded when asked about issuing or returning the weapon.
A “mutual separation and release agreement,” received by The Times Thursday, shows Sgt. Michael Marchand will remain on paid administrative leave until Feb. 2. Marchand and the town have agreed not to disparage each other and not to sue each other. The agreement allows for payment of accrued vacation and sick time, and suggests health insurance matters will be covered by another agreement.
Marchand’s pension isn’t mentioned. Packish told The Times on Thursday that the pension issue is the purview of the Dukes County Retirement Board. Dukes County Contributory Retirement System executive director Kelly McCracken told The Times the retirement board has had no hearings in regard to Marchand, but that municipal employees are eligible for benefits after 10 years of service, even if they resign from their position. Marchand has worked at the Oak Bluffs Police Department since 2005, and was a Tisbury Police officer prior to that.
The agreement states in part that Marchand “acknowledges the results of the investigation and regrets his attitude and answers during such investigation.”
The investigation reports, which were released on the evening of Jan. 13 following multiple public records requests by The Times, offer a window into the foggy trajectory of the rifle’s journey, which was discovered missing in October 2021, only to reappear in a previously searched location in December. Marchand’s attorney, Tim Burke, indicated in December that his client intended to file a whistleblower suit; however, Packish contested that in his release.
“Contrary to erroneous news reports, no so-called ‘whistleblower’ claim was ever filed by the sergeant with any state or federal court or agency,” Packish wrote.
On Dec. 29, The Times reported Marchand intended to sue, not that he had filed a suit.
Pembroke-based private investigator Paul L’Italien investigated the rifle on behalf of Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake. That investigation produced a report, executive summary, and supplemental report.
L’Italien found that records-wise, the firearm was last assigned to Marchand, and reserved culpability for him alone. L’Italien alleged Marchand failed to adhere to department policies regarding the rifle. Transcripts obtained by The Times through additional public records requests show L’Italien interviewed Marchand five times in his efforts to suss out what happened with the rifle. Marchand agreed the rifle had been assigned to him, and asserted he had returned it to the department, and while he could not explain why records didn’t indicate the gun had gone back into inventory, he made note on multiple occasions that the department’s records were flawed. L’Italien acknowledged as much during Marchand’s final interview on Jan. 7, 2022: “There’s no doubt issues with recordkeeping,” L’Italien stated.
Nonetheless, L’Italien alleged a department master firearms list from 2020 and a firearms list given to accreditation assessors both indicate Marchand was assigned the rifle in question.
Marchand’s union lawyer for the interview, John Becker, discounted the correlative value of the records. Becker alleged the only thing the records showed was that “somebody in the department is digging things up to try to retaliate against Sergeant Marchand …”
Becker said if Marchand had seen the gun assignment entry back in 2020, he would have reported it, just as he did when he got hold of former Lt. Williamson’s gun records.
Transcripts show Marchand made numerous allegations about how loose the police station’s security was, and how freely some guns were loaned out without a paper trail. In one instance, he alleged, another sergeant was loaned a department shotgun to hunt deer, in another instance he alleged a special police officer from another department somehow had an Oak Bluffs handgun for a decade.
In his second interview with L’Italien, Marshand was asked, “If you were afforded an opportunity to clear your name with the use of polygraph, is that something you’d consent to?”
“Absolutely,” Marshand replied.
It’s unclear if any polygraph test occurred.
The rifle was found by Officer Seth Harlow on Dec. 16 while he was searching for training equipment in the department’s “training/specials room,” according to L’Italien’s report.
“He searched the area along the east wall of the room where the large duffle bag with portable walls was located. While searching the area of the bags, he found the patrol rifle case,” a report reads.
L’Italien was eventually able to examine the recovered rifle. “The rifle was secured in its case in the department’s temporary evidence locker on the main floor of the building,” a report states. “When the case was opened, I verified that the serial number matched the rifle that had been reported missing during October 2021. The serial number is L407289. It should be noted there were also three (3) magazines present in the rifle case. The patrol rifle was found to be in poor condition with regards to its cleanliness. There was dirt, rust, mold, and cobwebs or hair on the surface of the rifle. There was a rifle strap inside the case which had the name ‘Maliff’ written on it in white lettering. There was also mold and dirt on the strap.”
After checking records on his phone, Harlow told L’Italien he had been in the training/specials room on two prior occasions, on April 15 and August 5. Harlow said the rifle case was not in the room on either date.
L’Italien’s investigation occurred in two stages, an initial inquiry and a follow-up inquiry after the rifle was found. In the first inquiry, L’Italien learned Sgt. Marchand had taken over clerical duties from retired Lt. Tim Williamson, and found a rifle assigned to him (Marshand) was missing. According to department records, the rifle was assigned to Marchand on Dec. 3, 2016. When asked, Marchand said the rifle was eventually turned back into the department along with a shotgun, according to a report. However, Marchand was unable to say precisely when the rifle was turned in, and who received it. In a second inquiry, L’Italien revealed the rifle had been assigned to Police Academy Cadet Michael Maliff, now an officer in the department. How the rifle transitioned from Marchand to Maliff is unclear. Gaps in Maliff’s accounts proved a nexus of mysteries for L’Italien. Maliff couldn’t precisely recall who issued him the rifle in 2019, nor could he say to whom he returned the rifle after being in possession of it for a month. In addition to the rifle, Maliff said, he was issued a pistol for use at the police academy.
When asked by L’Italien to share his recollections of receiving the rifle, Maliff was light on specific details. “I asked what his memory was of being issued the weapons for academy training,” a report states. “He answered, ‘I came to the station. I picked it up. Honestly, I’m not sure exactly how it happened.’ I asked when he would have done this, and he replied, ‘When I picked it up, I probably would’ve came on the weekend to pick it up.’ I asked him if he received the pistol and rifle at the same time, and he answered, ‘I believe so.’ I asked him how he got the weapons off-Island. He stated he couldn’t remember, but was certain he would not have carried the weapons onto the ferry, and would have driven a car. He couldn’t be certain if he used his own car or if he had taken a cruiser off-Island as part of his emergency vehicle training.”
At one point Maliff said he stowed the rifle in a safe at his family’s home in Whitman. He indicated this was done while he was at the academy at times when he wasn’t using the firearm.
When pressed for more specificity in a second interview as to who he believed issued him the rifle, Maliff said Sgt. Daniel Cassidy did, but he could not back that belief with 100 percent certainty.
“I asked if it could have been one of the other sergeants (Curelli, Conley, or Marchand),” a report states, “and he replied, ‘I can’t say it with 100 percent certainty which sergeant it was.’ I asked if it could have been Lieutenant Williamson, and he answered ‘I can’t say it with 100 percent certainty.’ I asked where he was in the building when he was issued the patrol rifle, and he was certain it occurred in the sergeant’s office. I asked if there was any possibility that someone left the rifle for him somewhere in the building and he simply took it without anybody present, and he answered ‘no.’ I asked if he was certain, and he answered ‘yes.’”
“Sergeant Cassidy stated he had no memory of issuing the rifle to Maliff,” a report states. In a report, Marchand and Sgts. Curelli and Conley denied issuing Maliff the rifle, as did former Lt. Williamson.
Maliff denied leaving the rifle in the room where it was found, according to a report. After his academy training, Maliff said, he left the rifle in the sergeants’ room when Marchand was present, and admitted he didn’t clean the gun before returning it, a report states.
When asked if he had any memory of Maliff returning the rifle, Marchand replied, “None whatsoever,” a report states.
Despite being a key witness, Harlow acted as Maliff’s union representative when L’Italien first interviewed Maliff on Dec. 20, according to a report. When Maliff was interviewed a second time on Jan. 6 and had legal representation, Harlow was present as “an observer,” a report states. Harlow was the Oak Bluffs Police Department’s armorer when he found the rifle on Dec. 16 downstairs at the police station. At that time, the Vineyard’s tactical team was meeting in the police station upstairs, preparing to do some training. Dukes County Sheriff’s Department Major Greg Arpin, who was present in the police station that day for the training, told The Times Friday he now heads the tactical team following the retirement of Lt. Williamson. Arpin said he never saw the rifle that was found. When asked if it could have come in with somebody from the tactical team, Arpin said, “We don’t think so. They asked us if it was possible. We didn’t think it was.” Arpin also said, “As soon as it was located, we weren’t allowed to train down there.”
Arpin said the portable wall the rifle was found near was one of five owned by the tactical team. He described it as a system of fabric and aluminum poles used to make roomlike settings to train in. Arpin said Harlow wasn’t the armorer for the tactical team, and there is no “official armorer.” Arpin said he himself handles inventory and maintenance, but Harlow helps. “The duties would be split between me and Harlow,” Arpin said.
When asked if it seemed like a conflict for Harlow to be in the interview between the investigator and Maliff, Packish said, “Stuff like that really doesn’t faze me.” Packish said Oak Bluffs is a small community with a 16-member department. In a large city department, he said, he would have found those situations more suspect.
L’Italien concluded in his report that Marchand was ultimately responsible for the firearm. “He is the officer who is/was responsible to ‘take a reasonable precaution to insure that weapons issued to them are protected from loss, misuse, or theft,’” L’Italien wrote, citing an Oak Bluffs Police Department general order. “Following the second part of this investigation, my conclusions and recommendations remain the same. It is Sergeant Marchand who is/was responsible for the rifle.”
L’Italien noted that how, when, and by whose hand the rifle found its way into the lower-level training room of the police department remains “undetermined.”
“The investigation has established more questions than answers,” L’Italien wrote, “and unfortunately the new questions have not been answered.” Many of those questions have to do with Maliff, as L’Italien states near the end of his supplemental report:
● Who issued Officer Maliff the Bushmaster M4 patrol rifle for his academy training in 2019?
● On what specific date was Maliff issued the rifle for training, and how did he specifically get the rifle off Martha’s Vineyard?
● Exactly how long was the patrol rifle secured at the home of Maliff’s family in Whitman?
● How and exactly when did Maliff return the rifle to the Island?
● When and to whom did Maliff return the rifle to at the police department?
L’Italien also questioned whether or not an April 22, 2020, “Master Weapons List” relied on by accreditation managers was accurate.
Packish described L’Italien’s work as “very thorough.” Packish said his philosophy in regard to L’Italien was “whatever he asks for, give it to him — stay out of his way. That’s how you get an unaffected investigation.” When asked if other people might face discipline, Packish said, “That’s hard to say — this is a step-by-step process.” Packish said he only recently received much of the investigation material to review. When asked his thoughts about Harlow’s presence, town labor counsel John (“Jack”) Collin, to whom the second investigation report is addressed, said, “I was not involved in the interview process.”
Reached Thursday, L’Italien declined to comment on his investigation, and referred questions to Oak Bluffs Town Hall. Maliff didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Blake could not be reached for comment. Marchand did not respond to voicemails seeking comment. Marchand’s attorney, Burke, declined to comment.
Updated with more details from report. –Ed.