Three Massachusetts police chiefs are calling on state leaders to reexamine key parts of the state judicial system nearly two months after a violent criminal with a long record was accused of killing a Yarmouth police officer.
All three chiefs have lost officers to career criminals and are harnessing their frustration to push for changes, including increased penalties for repeat offenders, regular review of judges, and the death penalty for convicted cop killers.
“The worst of the worst need to be in jail,” said Yarmouth police Chief Frank Frederickson, who lost an officer on April 12. “They need to stay there and be segregated from the good people. That is our job as police officers, as legislators and our job in the justice system.”
Yarmouth Sgt. Sean Gannon was shot to death serving a warrant in the Marstons Mills section of Barnstable. The suspect, Thomas Latanowich, was on probation after serving prison time for gun and drug crimes.
The chiefs say their officers were let down by the judges, the parole board and the judicial system. They want to use the fresh pain of Gannon’s murder to advocate for change, and to rally their fellow police chiefs and officers.
“We’re a very small club,” said Woburn police Chief Robert Ferullo Jr. “But it’s not just three here. There’s 350 behind us. The entire Massachusetts Chief’s Association is behind us.”
Woburn officer Jack Maguire was killed in a shootout during an armed robbery in a snowstorm in 2010. The man who shot him, Dominic Cinelli, had been paroled from a prison sentence of three life terms for armed robbery and escaping prison two years before the robbery.
Cinelli also was killed in the shootout.
The chiefs want changes to the appointment of judges, including periodic review.
“One of the things is end the lifetime appointments for judges… be reviewed every five to six years,” said Auburn police Chief Andrew Sluckis Jr. “The governor gets evaluated every time he runs for re-election. Every senator and state rep gets re-evaluated every time they run for re-election. Judges pretty much are the only people that don’t get evaluated.”
Two years ago, Auburn police officer Ron Tarentino Jr. was shot and killed after pulling over a car. Inside was Jorge Zambrano, a career criminal with 92 charges including assault and battery on officers.
Zambrano was out on bail when he was pulled over. During his bail hearing, the judge wrestled with whether to set bail for Zambrano, citing past violent encounters with police. He eventually set bail.
“This has been going on forever,” Frederickson said. “Don’t wait until you have an officer murdered to get upset, to show your anger, your fury. Don’t wait. It’s here now. We already know what needs to be done.”
They all also support applying the death penalty, abolished in Massachusetts for decades, to those convicted of killing police officers.
The chiefs have an interview scheduled with the governor and lieutenant governor.
“If he could raise us a little bit more of a priority than we have seen in the past in all parts of the judicial system and our legislators, that would help,” Frederickson said.
“We’d like to have a seat at the table and have some buy in for future negotiations and strategies with his office,” Sluckis said.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he wants a conversation on how to move forward.
“Obviously we would be open to conversations with our folks in law enforcement. We talk to them all the time about all kinds of things,” he said. “This is certainly something that if they want to talk about it we would be happy to talk with them.”
The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association is drafting a proposed list of changes that include those the chiefs said they support, as well as an automatic dangerousness hearing for people with violent criminal records being arraigned, and a minimum prison sentence of five years for repeat violent felonies.
“When a person racks up 125 and 100 arraignments on their record. there’s a point where you have to say enough is enough,” said Dudley police Chief Steve Wojnar, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
The chiefs do see progress, pointing to a new police training budget that passed the State Legislature as an example.
“That was just a shame it took this long to do and it took the death of Sgt. Gannon to push it over the finish line,” Frederickson said. “But thank you Sgt. Gannon. If nothing else, you allowed us to do that.”
“We’ve been fighting for that for decades, 30 years,” Sluckis said.