Board overruled investigator’s Santon findings

Minutes show board considered prisoner incident allegations unsubstantiated.

Tisbury’s select board found the conclusions of an independent investigator to be unsubstantiated in a matter involving Officer Mark Santon (shown here in civilian clothing) and a female prisoner. — Stacey Rupolo

Tisbury’s select board had an opportunity to be rid of a problem officer half a year before he was let go from the department. Instead of using the opportunity, the board opted to second-guess a private investigator, and let the officer off with a suspension. Executive session minutes released following an Open Meeting Law (OML) complaint lodged by The Times, and after an order from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, show the town of Tisbury hired private investigator Arthur Parker, a retired police chief, to investigate an incident where an unattended arrestee tried to kill herself in a Tisbury Police cruiser. 

Parker’s 45-page report, which had previously been obtained by The Times, shows that Tisbury Police Officer Mark Santon arrested a female motorist on Jan. 27, 2017, following a minor accident. Santon made the arrest based on charges of operating without a license and “failure to use care in backing.” Santon handcuffed the woman with assistance from Tisbury Officer Jeremie Rogers. Santon then transported the woman to the Dukes County Jail. Per the report, Santon left the woman alone in the cruiser and entered the jail to secure his sidearm and do paperwork. While he was inside, the woman freed one of her hands, according to the report, and used the drawstring of her hoodie to try to strangle herself. She was later saved after a corrections lieutenant cut the cord from her neck and Edgartown Police and EMS came to her aid. 

Her ability to free her hand, Parker alleged, was due to improper handcuffing.

The Times previously interviewed the woman with her attorney, and learned she was a victim of domestic violence, and had previously lost a 2-month-old baby in unresolved circumstances after the child was left with a babysitter. Against that backdrop, the woman had two of her children in the car at the time Santon arrested her. As The Times previously reported, they were left behind when she was taken away. 

The woman’s attorney previously questioned the arrest, and suggested her client could have simply been summonsed.

Parker directed blame at Santon: “The matter of the [prisoner’s] attempt of suicide while in police custody is the direct result of Officer Santon’s lack of attention, neglect of his duties, and a flawed practice in the handling of his prisoner during the pre-booking process,” the report states. In addition to police incompetence and neglect of duty (and withholding information and breach of chain of command), Parker alleged Santon was untruthful in the matter three times — to a corrections lieutenant, to Sgt. Chris Habekost (now chief), and to Parker himself.

Parker noted the chain of command breach involved a phone call choice. Upon discovering the attempted suicide, per the report, Santon first placed a call to Rogers, the other person who assisted in the cuffing process, instead of his supervisor, Habekost.

At a May 24, 2017, executive session, following a discussion, the board took a number of unanimous votes which all found various findings and allegations made by Parker to be unsubstantiated. Five lines on the fifth page of the minutes, which may be disciplinary in nature, are redacted. Despite the votes, the board did discipline Santon by placing him on leave for a short period of time. Parker was later brought back to investigate another incident Santon was involved in, where Santon allegedly falsified a report that led to a man’s OUI arraignment. The OUI incident set the stage for Santon’s termination from the department. The board unpacked the OUI matter and other allegations at a Dec. 15, 2017, meeting, Minutes from early 2018 previously obtained by The Times show the select board later opted to convert Santon’s termination into a resignation. 

Tisbury’s select board released the May and December 2017 minutes to The Times on Dec. 21. The May minutes were unintelligible in places, and The Times filed another OML complaint seeking rectification. On Jan. 11, the board reviewed the complaint. Town administrator Jay Grande explained to the board that a rough draft of the minutes had been released to The Times instead of the final draft. In light of that and other factors, the board voted 2-0 to establish the position that there had been no violation of OML. Grande released the final draft of the May minutes the next day. The minutes were sloppy and convoluted, though more intelligible. The Times didn’t seek further review from the attorney general’s office.


  1. What a riveting news story by the outgoing reporter lol…

    Really? The guy was terminated and is living a retired life we presume. Let’s focus on the past. This happened under a different police chief, a different select board, and a different roster at TPD. Wish Mr. Saltzberg the best in his future, but can we move on? Can the town of Tisbury have positive articles that aren’t barraged by the same two people in the comments section who have been charged and arrested for crimes against other people? 2023 is a new year. Good luck, Rich. I wish you the best at the MVC.

  2. Rick has just been showing how hard it has been for many, many, years getting public information from our town leaders, what actually goes on behind closed doors and what some employees get away with.
    It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Politicians might mean well in the beginning but it doesn’t take long at all for them to become tainted. Many actually get into positions just for their own good and connections!
    You want a watered down, a outright bias newspaper that ONLY allows comments on their articles and weekly columns that goes along with their bias agendas, then keep reading our only other newspaper.
    I hope the Times keeps getting reporters like Rich so we can know what really goes on behind the scenes of our town and island.

  3. If we don’t learn, from the past, the past will be repeated. And it seems Tisbury still has issues that need to be corrected. Thankfully the Times is willing to discuss g deep into the workings of not just the police departments, but all departments on the island. If the Times does not do this, we will never hear about the real story as this is the only paper willing to uncover the truth. The other island paper is a joke when it comes to what goes on behind closed doors and unfortunately social media sites can be so misleading that they are harmful. Thank you MV Times.

  4. Dear editor, this article about a questionable decision by town leaders doesn’t name the people who made it!

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