Former Springfield Police Detective Steven Vigneault …
SPRINGFIELD — In a stunning reversal, the U.S. attorney’s office Wednesday spiked a police brutality case against former narcotics detective Steven Vigneault after the alleged victim pointed the finger at another police officer.
Vigneault was charged in an excessive force indictment in 2018 along with his onetime partner, Officer Gregg Bigda. The charges were brought in connection with allegations the two kicked separate juvenile suspects in the face during an arrest after the boys stole Vigneault’s undercover car in 2016.
But one of the boys, labeled D.R. in court records, testified during a Dec. 30 deposition the he was “100 percent positive” it was Bigda, not Vigneault, who kicked him in the face, according to court records.
“In light of this evidence, dismissal of Count Two of the indictment is in the interests of justice,” reads a filing signed by Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling along with other attorneys with the Department of Justice.
The notice of dismissal also outlined the evidence they believed supported the indictment — including testimony from Officer Luke Cournoyer, who was at the scene of the arrest and said Vigneault told him “I just f—ing kicked that kid in the face.” Cournoyer passed an FBI polygraph, the memo notes. Both Vigneault and Cournoyer separately conceded they didn’t get along.
Vigneault, who has maintained his innocence since the start of the investigation, was charged with a single count of excessive force. Bigda faces four criminal counts, including one for allegedly kicking a second juvenile suspect in the face and yelling “welcome to white town” and another for what federal prosecutors call an abusive interrogation following the boys’ arrests on Feb. 27, 2016.
The now-notorious “Bigda videos” show the veteran officer threatening to kill and maim the boys, and frame one for drug trafficking as they sat in holding cells at the Palmer Police Department. The car chase ended in that town.
Though charged jointly, Bigda and Vigneault were set to stand trial separately this spring.
Vigneault sat in his attorney’s Holyoke office on Wednesday still absorbing the news.
“I was on my way to class and Shawn called me,” Vigneault said, referring to defense lawyer Shawn Allyn, who last week put D.R.’s three-hour video interview in front of federal prosecutors, urging them to dismiss the case. “He said, ‘How you doing?’ I said ‘OK.’ Then he told me they dismissed my case. It was over.”
Vigneault, 49, said the revelation hadn’t really sunk in by the afternoon.
“It won’t for a while. Plus, I still don’t get my life back,” he added.
While Vigneault, a combat veteran, said he loved being a cop, his assignment to the narcotics bureau following a stint in Afghanistan seems ill-fated in retrospect. He said he found himself among a group of mostly hard-charging, hard-drinking plainclothes detectives who played fast and loose with the rules.
He was forced to resign over the kicking allegation in August of 2016, but argues he was bluffed because he felt then-Commissioner John Barbieri had it out for him and pushed the issue. Vigneault said the police union failed to protect him and the deck was stacked against him, so he quit, hoping to get another job in law enforcement.
After he resigned, he filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Barbieri and other members of the department. The case remains pending and includes allegations that members of the narcotics bureau routinely drank on the job, drafted bogus search warrant affidavits, treated suspects abusively and used drug seizure money to buy booze.
Although his lawsuit seeks reparations including restoring his job, with back pay, he concedes it wouldn’t be easy returning to a department that regards him as a traitor.
“I’m not proud of anything I did while I was in narcotics, but I did love being a cop. I joined the military at 39 to increase my chances of becoming a cop. Who does that?” Vigneault said.
Allyn said city officials were awaiting the outcome of the criminal case against Vigneault to gauge how to proceed with the civil lawsuit. But his client’s troubles did not end with the dismissal of the federal case.
“Where does he go to get his reputation back? Does he go to the FBI? Does he go to the Department of Justice?” Allyn said. “Everyone rushed to judgment in this case. Everyone always thinks the government has it right — if they charge someone, he must be guilty. They got this wrong from the beginning.”
A spokesman for the Springfield Police Department declined comment. An attorney for the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An FBI spokeswoman declined comment. The U.S. attorney’s office does not comment on pending cases like Bigda’s.
It is unclear whether Bigda will face an additional criminal charge in connection with D.R.’s disclosures.
Vigneault is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has struggled to make ends meet since he was charged. No one would hire him, he said.
Part of Allyn’s most recent argument to the court was that Vigneault had become “unemployable.”
Vigneault said he hopes to return to some sense of normalcy, though he’s uncertain what that will look like.
“You know the phrase ‘The elephant in the room?’ I’ve felt like every elephant in every room for the past three years,” he said.
Published at Wed, 22 Jan 2020 15:13:00 +0000