NAACP call for open police commissioner process, urge mayor to consider allegations against 1 deputy chief

By Peter Goonan | 
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on March 17, 2014

Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin

Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin

SPRINGFIELD — Representatives of three community organizations issued a joint statement on Monday calling on Mayor Domenic J. Sarno to create an open process for selecting a new police commissioner and urging him to consider their list of allegations of wrongdoing by one of the candidates, Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin.

The statement was issued after The Republican / MassLive reported on Monday that Sarno has completed closed-door interviews of the three deputy police chiefs as the sole candidates being considered by Sarno for commissioner.

The statement was issued by the Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Greater Springfield NAACP, Archbishop Timothy Paul Baymon, president of the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts, and Michaelann Bewsee, director of Arise for Social Justice.

“In the interest of transparency, we call on the mayor to open his selection process and to allow public input,” the statement said.

Without any publicity, Sarno interviewed McFarlin last Monday, and interviewed the other two deputies, William Cochrane and John Barbieri, on Friday, according to a police source.

The three community groups said that Springfield has had a “problematic history regarding police / community relations and police personnel hiring practices.”

They said that McFarlin “has a long history of insensitivity toward communities of color and women.”

However, they ask Sarno “to look further into the allegations (regarding McFarlin) and to thoroughly vet all candidates under consideration.” An earlier press release asked Sarno to remove McFarlin from consideration, but Swan said later Monday that he sent that release by mistake and the groups chose not to ask for removal, but rather to look further into the allegations.

Sarno did not immediately reply to requests for comment about the group’s statement.

Swan said he and Bewsee were speaking on behalf of the NAACP and Arise, respectively, while Baymon was speaking on his own, not on behalf of the Council of Churches.

McFarlin, in response to the letter, said he has spent a career of nearly 37 years in the Springfield Police Department “building positive relationships with the good people of Springfield.”

“I could not successfully hold the second-highest rank in the department if my reputation within the city and the relationship with the good people here was not exemplary,” he said.

McFarlin said he is a candidate because he has “great concern and regard for the city of Springfield and care very much about it.”

“Otherwise, I would not subject myself and my family to attacks made by people who don’t know me,” he said.

The joint statement alleged that McFarlin’s actions of the past “show a blatant disregard” toward communities of color and women, including allegations:

    • That he reportedly uses “inappropriate and unprofessional nicknames for both police and officers and administration officials.


    • That he is known to use a “replacement code word for the ‘N’ word.”


    • That he strip searched an African-American man, Kenneth Spence, at Oak Grove Cemetery for drugs, taking the clothes from him. The city paid a $12,000 settlement.


    • That he was demoted in connection with a police radio call he made, and subsequent damage to the car of the late city councilor Morris Jones. McFarlin’s demotion was overturned and his rank was restored after rulings in his favor by the state Civil Service Commission and a Superior Court judge.


    • That he supported and led other officers to support former Patrolman Jeffrey Asher when Asher was charged with police brutality in the arrest of Roy Parker, and also supported Asher when he was charged with police brutality against Melvin Jones III.


    • That he was a participant in “a melee” in the lobby of the police station in the arrest of Lucy Jones and family members.


  • That it is reported that he attempted to show his disdain toward then-future Chief Paula Meara by spitting on the ground each time she passed.


“Despite the reprehensible conduct of McFarlin and his consistent disrespect for women and people of color, he has risen to become a two-star Deputy Chief under the same closed door, private promotions process that the mayor is now using in selecting a new commissioner,” the group’s letter states. “There is widespread fear in the Springfield community concerning McFarlin’s candidacy and a concern that his selection will bring irreparable damage to police community relations.”


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