Officer offers public apology: Read his statement
UPDATED, May 2: Unhappiness about using restorative justice to deal with stark published comments that led to placing a town police lieutenant on paid leave for 5 1/2 months spilled over into public protest in March.
Following a demonstration by nine people, some with signs, outside and inside the March 20 meeting of the town Human Rights Commission at the Jefferson Cutter House, the town volunteer body voted to withdraw from the restorative-justice process for Lt. Rick Pedrini.
Did the protest that night help sway nine members, with one abstention, to vote as they did?
That's hard to gauge, because individual commissioners have declined to respond to individual requests for comment. Instead, the cochairs, David F. Swanson and Naomi Greenfield, released a statement, which suggests the protest had some effect:
"The Commission was invited to participate in the Restorative Justice process involving Lt Pedrini as it has for other incidents in town. Since the process was announced in February, the Commission received feedback from a wide range of individuals, including those that attended the March meeting.
"Given the depth and severity of the hurt expressed to the Commission by members of the community, the AHRC collectively thought limiting its role to the collection of community impact statements would best serve the Restorative Justice Process."
Until March 6, the commission received statements from the public following a request to explain how Lt. Pedrini's comments had harmed them. Those comments were used when a limited number of people met in the private process involving the officer who was facing the impact of his published words.
In the 2018 edition of The Sentinel, the official publication of the Massachusetts Police Association, Pedrini wrote three opinion columns complaining about the direction criminal-justice reform and progressive policing practices. He wrote: "I am sick and tired of the social justice warriors telling us how to do our jobs. It's time we forget about 'restraint,' 'measured responses,' 'procedural justice,' 'de-escalation', 'stigma-reduction' and other feel-good BS that is getting our officers killed. Let's stop lipsynching, please! Let's meet violence with violence and get the job done."
In late October, these words led then-Chief Fred Ryan to place Lt. Pedrini, a 23-year veteran, on paid leave. At the time, the rights commission denounced Pedrini's published words.
Ryan retired in January, and the next month Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine and Acting Chief Juli Flaherty announced the case would be handled through restorative justice. Officials said they had determined in a meeting with Communities for Restorative Justice that Lt. Pedrini expressed enough remorse for harm caused to the Arlington community to make him an appropriate candidate for the process.
In March, the rights commission said it had received more than 100 impact statements, whose contents are private.
For a group of town residents, written impact statements were not enough. They decided to protest at the commission's March 20 meeting. Some carried signs, and police reportedly monitored them.
Individuals decline to comment
Asked to comment in March, members of the protesting group declined to do so as individuals. In April, they issued a statement written by a protester, John Sanbonmatsu, an associate professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who is part of an Arlington group concerned about tenants' rights.
Providing the statement was another protester, Ramy Abdel-Azim, a member of Socialist Alternative, a national organization whose website says it is fighting against the exploitation and injustice. Sanbonmatsu participated in the protest as a private citizen, and he is not affiliated with Socialist Alternative.
The statement describes the groups' aims for the protest:
“When we found out that the HRC was participating in a process tailored to preserve Officer Pedrini's employment, nine concerned citizens decided to approach the HRC at its March meeting to express our deep disappointment and anguish.
“We started with a peaceful protest where we stood outside of the Jefferson Cutter House with signage, starting approximately 20 minutes prior to the HRC meeting. When the HRC meeting began, we entered the room where it was taking place. In addition to the protesters and HR commissioners, there were another five people primarily attending the meeting for reasons unrelated to the Pedrini decision.
“During the open-comment period of the meeting, those from our group took turns reading prepared statements or otherwise voicing our concerns about the town’s decision to offer Lt. Pedrini a path to reinstatement and HRC’s role in that process. Several members of our group chose to abstain from commenting and simply held their signs in silent protest.
“Additionally, several of the people attending the meeting for other reasons who were not part of our group also chose to weigh in on the subject and their comments were generally supportive of our stance.
“Some of those who spoke up during the comment period -- whether from our original group or others in the room -- are either part of one or more marginalized demographics that Pedrini referenced in his articles or have close ties with these demographics. Because of this, some members of our group wish to remain anonymous out of fear of police harassment or other forms of retribution in the town.
“We approached the HRC because their mandate is to protect historically disenfranchised populations. In that vein, we are asking them to directly reach out to the communities that Pedrini threatened and focus on their healing and protection.
“We understand that the decision to offer Pedrini a path toward reinstatement in the police force despite his violent rhetoric was not made by the HRC. However, the HRC has made the decision to participate in the process and did so without investing enough effort into reaching out to those most directly harmed in the town by Pedrini's actions. The statement submission form that was online to gather public comment was in no way sufficient. Ultimately, there should be a democratic process whereby community members can have a say in important matters relating to the police such as disciplinary measures when needed.”
Differing views of restorative justice
The protesters disagree with how town officials and volunteers view restorative justice
“The process that the HRC is participating in is not restorative justice. Restorative justice focuses on correcting power imbalances instead of reinforcing them while prioritizing the needs of those most directly harmed by the offender’s actions -- as well as diverting from mass incarceration.
“It is therefore completely inappropriate in this situation. The only appropriate action for the town to take is to terminate Pedrini from the APD. We feel that this is the only way to regain public trust and better ensure the safety of those in town who are most affected by these threats.
“We appreciate that the HR commissioners are all volunteers with limited time and resources and we applaud the work the commission has done in other areas to enhance justice and equity in the town. Unfortunately, by participating in this process, they are compromising their stature as a moral authority in town that works to protect the marginalized.
“Finally, we ask others in the community who share and support our concerns to directly contact the HRC or attend one of their upcoming monthly meetings and urge them to seriously consider our position.”
Abdel-Azim, who provided the statement, added: "No one else from the people who met to discuss the protest were from Socialist Alternative, but there were other SA members at the protest."
Town resident Erik Pohl, who said he was among the protesters, told YourArlington that the commission sought police protection for its March 20 meeting.
Asked about this, Capt. Richard Flynn responded May 1: "The police department was notified about a protest at the HRC meeting and monitored the meeting just as we would with any type of gathering."
The minutes of the commission's March 20 meeting, obtained via a public-records request, offer bare-bones details:
Present were commissioners Christine Carney, Christopher Huvos, Kristen Bauer, Nick Minton, Sheri Baron, William Logan, Kristina Fontanez and cochairs Naomi Greenfield and David Swanson.
Absent were commissioners Gary Horowitz, Sharon Grossman, Betsy Carlton-Gysan.
Guests were Laura Kiesel, Susan Mortimer, Lynette Martyn, Justin Mueller, Ramy Abdel-Azim, John Sanbonmatsu, Maddie Grover, Blaze Travis, Eric Pohl, Louise Popkin, Melanie Konstandakis. [Kiesel, Martyn, Popkin and Konstandakis were not part of the protest.]
During the citizens' open forum, some "guests raised concerns regarding the Town’s and APD’s decision to pursue Restorative Justice in response to APD Lt. Pedrini’s recent writings in a statewide police association newsletter. After much discussion, Commissioner Baron moved that the Commission limit its role in the Restorative Justice process to the collection of community impact statements; Commissioner Fontanez seconded. All voted in favor, except Commissioner Minton abstained."
Others speaking on background described the views expressed during citizen comment as varied, including much back-and-forth with cochairs, passionately expressed. Some commission members said little but were defensive when they did speak.
Doubt in Town Hall
As to using restorative justice to resolve a personnel matter, one member of the Select Board has doubts.
According to the April memo about the town manager's evaluation, "Adam [Chapdelaine] was complimented for his strides in better delegating responsibilities to town staff and for also relying on the Board to represent the Town at various meetings and events, however board members continue to express strong concern that Adam still needs delegate more.
"One member expressed concern over the use of the Restorative Justice Process on a recent personnel matter but indicated that only time would tell if would be a success or failure." That member was not identified.
Lt. Pedrini returned to work April 15 in the office of Acting Chief Juli Flaherty under her supervision.
March 29, 2019: Off since October, officer returns to chief's office
This news summary published Wednesday, May 1, 2019, and updated May 2, to add a link.
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