District attorney and sheriff need to stop squabbling


Back in 1958, John Leo Brady was convicted of first-degree murder in Maryland. During his trial, Brady admitted that he had taken part in a botched carjacking, but insisted that his co-defendant, Charles Boblit, who was tried separately, had killed the driver. After Brady was sentenced to death, he learned that Boblit had previously confessed to the murder, but the prosecution had not shared the information. 

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that suppression of evidence favorable to Brady had violated his rights under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. “Society wins not only when the guilty are convicted but when criminal trials are fair; our system … suffers when any accused is treated unfairly,” Justice William O. Douglas wrote in the landmark decision. The court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Brady, and he was later granted clemency and released on parole. 

We explain this legal history because Brady material is at the heart of an unseemly spat between two of the Island’s most powerful institutions, the office of Dukes County Sheriff Robert W. Ogden and the office of Cape and Islands District Attorney Robert Galibois II. Ogden is the chief law enforcement officer and Galibois is the top state prosecutor on the Vineyard.

Over the past six decades, the Brady ruling has been expanded to require prosecutors to disclose any information to a defendant that could help reduce his sentence, undercut the credibility of a government witness, or otherwise allow a jury to unfairly infer a defendant’s guilt. So-called Brady material can include records that show a police officer lied in an affidavit or internal affairs probe, or was deemed to use racial profiling, sexual harassment, or excessive force. Courts have ruled that law enforcement agencies are specifically required to disclose such misconduct during pretrial discovery. 

That’s where the district attorney and the sheriff are at odds. Last year, Galibois’s office asked the 24 law enforcement agencies in his domain — including the sheriff’s office and six police departments on the Vineyard — to provide all exculpatory or impeaching material for their employees, even if an officer only prepared a report in an investigation. Everyone complied except the sheriff of Barnstable County, where a detective resigned last July after Galibois put her on the state’s Brady list of officers deemed untrustworthy. Ogden’s office was the only one to claim, in a letter last Sept. 14, that it had conducted an internal review and found no Brady material.

Last week, Galibois’s office told the Edgartown District Court that it was “unable to comply with its discovery obligations” under Brady in 10 pending criminal trials, and asked the judge to order compliance by the sheriff’s office within two weeks. On Wednesday, Galibois upped the stakes, filing similar motions in two additional cases, and vowing to add others as they come to trial. At this point, 11 criminal cases are at risk (one of the first 10 was dismissed when the alleged victim of domestic abuse failed to appear in court) as the two offices battle over exactly what and when Brady material is required from the sheriff’s office. 

Both offices blame the other for the impasse. In an affidavit filed in court last Thursday, Tara Cappola, the second assistant district attorney, said “many of my requests to the sheriff’s office for compliance have gone unanswered.” She notified Ogden and Special Sheriff James D. Neville on May 21 that her office was unable to comply with Brady requirements “as a result of their failure to provide information on all officers,” she wrote. 

For his part, Ogden wrote The Times that his office had “not received a single so-called Brady information request on any of the nine cases [that Cappola listed] for possible dismissal!” He said his office had offered to provide relevant material for any case within five days if requested. His deputies had made none of the arrests in the cases that “might be dismissed,” he added. “All were cases from Island police departments.” 

That strikes us as disingenuous. His office, which runs the county jail, books people arrested on the Island, holds prisoners awaiting bail or trial, and runs the Breathalyzer test for drunk driving arrests. We also are skeptical of Ogden’s charge that Cappola had not “bothered to read the files or police reports” in the cases, or “she would realize that at least one of the defendants was not even arrested!” 

There’s more. In January, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that prosecutors must disclose whether a police officer in a case faced an adverse finding in a civil lawsuit related to his duties. Citing the decision, the district attorney then asked the sheriff and other law enforcement agencies for disciplinary records going back 20 years, partly because his office didn’t have a formal Brady policy until he took office in 2023. 

Ogden bristled in response. “It is totally unfair to require making public every time my dedicated staff is targeted by disgruntled or vindictive individuals,” he wrote. “On a small Island where nearly everyone knows one another, a false accusation can be troubling to a correction officer as well as their family.” Yet the point of Brady is to ensure a defendant has access to exculpatory material, whatever the source. And we assume his deputies don’t lose lawsuits based on false accusations. 

Ogden called the district attorney’s “arbitrary request” for 20 years of records “something not used by other prosecutors in this state or across the nation by and large.” He’s right about that. It’s a big ask. But he then blamed the disagreement on an “erroneous understanding of the law” by the district attorney’s office. Presumably a court will decide if that’s true. 

For now, it’s a mess. The commonwealth — in this case, both the sheriff and the prosecutor — has a constitutional and an ethical duty to disclose Brady material to ensure a defendant’s rights are protected. It is not supposed to drag out or hinder the process. Over the years, federal and state courts have reversed hundreds of convictions for so-called Brady violations. 

Galibois and Ogden are elected officials in charge of multimillion-dollar budgets. Both also are tough-talking, law-and-order politicians. Neither wants to see criminals walk free. 

It’s time to settle this dispute before more cases are tossed out. The Island deserves a fair administration of justice, not squabbling from two of its most powerful officials.