Following a records request by The Times, Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden’s office has claimed certain visitor logs for the Dukes County Jail cannot be found. The logs cover a span of time when the Massachusetts State Police launched an investigation into allegations that an inmate was behind a murder-for-hire plot. The claim that the records can’t be found comes after the sheriff’s office, through its general counsel Jack Collins, made several lengthy arguments about why the records were exempt from disclosure. Only after the state’s Supervisor of Records ordered the sheriff’s office to produce the logs for an in camera review did the sheriff’s office change its stance and claim it couldn’t locate them.
The logs date from 2011, when David Thrift was in the jail on a charge of rape of a child by force, and other related charges. While in the jail, Thrift was accused by two other inmates of attempting to commission the murders of a Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office prosecutor and the rape victim. In addition to pleading to the rape charge and associated charges when he was on the cusp of a trial, Thrift later pleaded guilty to two counts of solicitation of a crime in relation to the murder plot. In a subsequent interview with The Times while he was serving his state prison sentence, Thrift denied he tried to commission the murders, and alleged he was forced to make a plea.
The records requested would show everyone who visited Thrift and every other visitor to the jail over the course of several months in 2011, and could help shed more light on criminal events associated with Thrift and responses by law enforcement, each of which are riddled with mysteries and inconsistencies. In the course of their investigation, the Massachusetts State Police utilized a copy of Thrift’s visitor list as part of its investigation. In October, a State Police attorney told The Times that “after a diligent search, the department is unable to locate the requested list of visitors.”
In December, a spokesperson for the Essex County District Attorney’s Office, the office that took over the prosecution of Thrift from the Cape and Island’s District Attroney’s Office following the murder for hire development, wrote that they didn’t have those records either.
Over the course of three appeals to the Supervisor of Records, the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office argued the records The Times sought were exempt from disclosure for privacy and security reasons, among others.
On Jan. 5, 2022, in part of a letter addressing an appeal made by The Times, Collins wrote that the sheriff’s office “will not provide copies of Visitor Logs to the MV Times.”
By Jan. 20, Collins had opened the door to the idea the records might be unavailable, but also argued a reason to deny the request is that it could result in further records requests.
“The request is for documents from 2011,” Collins wrote in part, “which may or may not even exist. Once any such logs were provided, the requesting party could claim that as a basis to ask for more current ones, even on a weekly basis, for example. While this might help boost sales of the paywall tabloid, it would do far more harm than good to the persons in the Sheriff’s custody, not to mention the public. There is no overriding public purpose to be served by making these logs available. Just the opposite, doing so threatens the security of our staff, the prisoners, their families, and others.”
In the same letter Collins also wrote in part, “There is no way the Public Records Supervisor, never mind a local tabloid reporter, can or should insist there is any basis to override the Sheriff’s public safety determination in this case. They are just not allowed to substitute their judgment for the Sheriff’s.”
The Times previously battled the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office for audio records related to Thrift’s crimes. Those records were ultimately released. As The Times previously reported, Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden is the brother of Tisbury Police Officer Scott Ogden, one of the responding officers to the Thrift crime scene. Scott Ogden, records show, was also the officer who arrested Thrift. He was later disciplined by the Tisbury select board and Tisbury’s police chief for performance failures during that police response, failures an arbitrator would later describe as “neglect of duty.”
The Times also previously reported that Tisbury select board executive session minutes revealed Collins, then general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, was relied upon by town officials to help craft Scott Ogden’s discipline. Collins previously denied making any recommendations about Ogden. He also claimed he didn’t know the sheriff and Scott Ogden were brothers.
Ogden wasn’t sheriff when Thrift was in the jail, Michael McCormack held the post back then, though Ogden did work at the sheriff’s department at the time.
As The Times went to press on June 8, Sheriff Ogden hadn’t responded to an email inquiry as to why he had not handed the records response off to a neutral third party. He subsequently told The Times on Friday he hoped to comment in the coming week. He has yet to do so.
In a June 3, 2022, letter, Collins wrote in part, “It is not possible to speculate further about what might have happened to the records. Keep in mind that the time in question precedes the current Sheriff’s term of office. While some inquiries to staff of the former sheriff will be attempted, beyond that we are at a loss as to what other efforts we might undertake to locate the missing Visitor Logs.”
Collins told The Times on Friday that it’s “completely unknown” to him why the records cannot be found. He confirmed the sheriff’s office has reached out to past employees and also to the State Police, but nothing has turned up. Collins said that earlier in the records process he was unaware the records hadn’t been found, and was surprised when they couldn’t be found. Asked if due to potential conflicts he might have with the records request, if he thinks he should have farmed the matter out to another attorney, Collins said, “No.”
He also said, “There isn’t any conflict.”
During his time on the Vineyard, which he said spanned 58 years, he said he tried to keep “below the radar,” and doesn’t know much about who is related to whom.
Collins subsequently said he reached out to a member of the State Police unit that previously had a copy of a portion of the visitor logs back in 2011, but nothing was unearthed.