What we learned from an independent investigation into racism within the Williamstown Police Department

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After an explosive lawsuit filed by former Williamstown Sergeant Scott McGowan in August 2020 brought to light allegations of misconduct within the department, city leaders commissioned two independent investigations into the situation. One was led by attorney Judy Levenson, who submitted her report to the city in August 2021. Since getting her in January, WAMC has continued to dig deeper into the findings.

While both investigations detail widespread misconduct, including sexual harassment and serious management problems within the department, they also document allegations of racism and racial hostility within the WPD.

In McGowan’s original lawsuit – since dropped – he claimed that “for more than a decade, the Williamstown Police Department has maintained an atmosphere in which racial harassment and hostility toward people of color is condoned and perpetrated. at the highest level”. He specifically identified “the demeaning behavior of Chief Kyle Johnson”, who resigned from the department in December 2020.

Levenson’s report ultimately found that McGowan and Johnson “initiated, participated in, and condoned racist and offensive comments and behavior within the department.”

One of the most stunning revelations from the McGowan suit was that WPD officer Craig Eichhammer had posted a photo of Hitler in his locker for almost 20 years. Although Levenson’s investigation was inconclusive as to Johnson’s knowledge of the photo, she says that given the small size of the department and its duration, “it seems unlikely that Johnson did not hear of it. talk about it and if he had heard of it, he did not investigate or act otherwise.

Johnson, who first joined the WPD in 1993 before becoming acting and then permanent leader in 2004, said he did not learn of the portrait until 2019.

The report describes Johnson claiming to be unable to distinguish the identity of people of color, rubbing his eyes and looking back and forth between a black WPD member and people of color entering the station or appearing on television. He would then ask if the other person of color was the officer. While Levenson was inconclusive about the claim that Johnson circled newspaper photos of people of color, wrote the initials of a black officer in the photos, and left them in their mailbox, “the detailed nature of McGowan’s account and Johnson’s inability to deny or affirm the incident lend credence to these allegations.”

In both incidents, Johnson said he had no recollection of the events in question.

Levenson says claims that the officer in question – who did not testify as part of the investigation – requested a transfer to another department because of the hostile racist environment are credible given the findings of his investigation.

Levenson confirms that a part-time dispatcher shouted the N-word in the department in 2012, which was heard by a black officer and a Black Williams College student visiting the station. While Johnson removed them from their assignment for two weeks after the officer reported the incident, the report notes that no written record of it was produced and no follow-up training or education from the dispatcher does not seem to have taken place.

For McGowan’s part, Levenson notes that despite his claim that he was offended by Hitler’s image, he did nothing to remove it despite having been a supervising officer over the years, choosing instead to photograph it for use in his trial.

The former sergeant was heard using the N-word when referring to his black roommate – another WPD officer – between 2002 and 2005. Levenson says McGowan frequently commented that another WPD officer of Puerto Rican descent “came on a rubber tube, I saw the Statue of Liberty and I said, ‘I went to America.'” The officer in question was born in New York, and although he know, McGowan continued his remarks, sometimes trading in Mexico for Puerto Rico. McGowan denied making those remarks to Levenson.

In a statement to WAMC about the investigations, Acting WPD Leader Michael Ziemba said he immediately took action to address the concerns they raised upon receiving them, and that “the current department does not in no way operates as it did at the time of the events detailed in the reports.

McGowan, who declined a live interview with WAMC, provided his own statement on the investigations, saying they are neither fair nor impartial. He claims he was targeted for defamation following what he describes as whistleblowing activity.

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