Size and use don’t matter


Last week we shared our efforts in attempting to get public records from Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden’s office.

At issue are visitor logs from 2011, when David Thrift was being held at the Dukes County Jail. First, a bit of history about Thrift. He’s the man convicted of raping a babysitter at knifepoint — a particularly heinous crime that migh not have ever happened if the Tisbury Police hadn’t left that young woman and Thrift’s children unguarded when they knew Thrift was at large. Officers were first called to the house on a report of domestic abuse. They found evidence of an additional crime, failed to pursue it, and as the town’s aftermath investigation concluded, pledged to watch over the teenage babysitter and the kids in her charge after the remaining adult of the household was taken away in an ambulance. But instead officers abandoned the scene and left that teenager to a horrible fate. Later, while he was in jail, Thrift was accused of a murder plot against an assistant district attorney and the babysitter.

While Ogden wasn’t sheriff at the time, he is now, and is responsible for keeping and maintaining the department’s public records — emphasis on public. These aren’t the sheriff’s department’s records. These aren’t Ogden’s records. And they, most certainly, aren’t attorney Jack Collins’ records.

Ogden hired Collins for the records work, despite the attorney having what appears to be a conflict of interest. Collins, who was general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association at the time, consulted for the town of Tisbury during and prior to disciplinary proceedings against the sheriff’s brother, Scott Ogden, according to executive session minutes. Collins denies he ever represented the town. Scott Ogden was one of the three officers who first responded to the Thrift house on that night in 2011. Records show Collins was directly involved in recommending the disciplinary action that was handed out to Scott Ogden. He was also directly involved in the disciplinary matters of former Tisbury Police Sgt. Robert Fiske, the senior officer at the Thrift crime scene. Plenty of Fiske’s internal investigation testimony had direct bearing on Scott Ogden and vice versa. 

Why should you care?
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, as reporter Rich Saltzberg has chronicled. 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 Saltzberg that “after a diligent search, the department is unable to locate the requested list of visitors.”

Collins stretches credibility when he told us he didn’t know the two Ogdens are brothers. Now that he does know, he continues to represent the sheriff’s department despite the clear appearance of a conflict of interest.

In his attempt to keep public records out of the hands of the public, Collins goes to great lengths attempting to disparage the newspaper by referring to the size of our print edition.

“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.”

It’s not up to Collins to decide which public records we ask for and how we use them. As for mentioning the size of the newspaper, we know what Collins is trying to imply, and it’s as distasteful as his decision to represent the sheriff’s department in this case, knowing his conflict.

We don’t mind a battle, and we’re not going to just walk away from one, but in this instance Collins continued to rack up billable hours at the taxpayers’ expense, apparently knowing the logs were no longer available. When the state Supervisor of Public Records asked to see the records requested to make a determination on whether they should be handed over, Collins wrote to the state and said they could not be located.
“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,” Collins wrote. “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.”

Those billable hours aren’t coming out of the pocket of Sheriff Ogden. That’s attorney Jack Collins playing with the public’s money. Outrageous.

It’s not the first time Ogden has had Collins obfuscate on his behalf. When The Times requested audio records from that same time period, Collins argued on behalf of the sheriff’s department that it would be nearly impossible to redact the recordings where necessary because of the age of the equipment. Miraculously, when the Supervisor of Public Records made the correct determination that these records were indeed public and should be released, the sheriff’s department was able to hand them over in short order.

Ogden may appreciate the tactics used by Collins, but we don’t. The newspaper and the public deserve better.