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Criminal Charge Filed Against MIT Police Officer is Dismissed

By Beckett W. Sterner


A Cambridge judge dismissed a criminal charge last Friday filed by Aimee L. Smith PhD ’02 against a MIT Police Officer, Joseph D’Amelio, who had arrested her for disorderly conduct on Aug. 24.

The judge’s ruling confirmed an earlier decision by a court clerk, which Smith had appealed, that the criminal charge case did not have enough merit to move to a trial.

Smith was arrested twice this summer by D’Amelio, first after she and three others attempted to hand out pamphlets at Commencement and again following an argument with D’Amelio outside the Student Center.

The court’s decision closes Smith’s criminal complaint against D’Amelio. Two other results of the August arrest, the charge by Middlesex District Attorney against Smith and a personnel complaint Smith filed with MIT against D’Amelio, remain open.

Outside investigation complete

Following Smith’s personnel complaint, MIT Police Chief John DiFava started a third-party investigation of the arrest. He said the intent of the investigation was only to produce a report of the facts about the arrest, not to give any recommendations for actions.

He said he “went as far as to not have anything to do with the investigators” by having his deputy chief handle interactions with the Pinkerton private detective agency, which MIT hired to carry out the investigation.

“I want this thing to be objective here and impartial,” DiFava said. “I didn’t want any subjectivity,” such as recommendations.

“What we told the investigators was that very simply to keep it objective and to keep it honest,” he said, so that “nobody is suspicious of the process.”

The report, which was completed about two weeks ago, will not be made public until the DA’s court case against Smith is complete, DiFava said. The trial is currently scheduled for Nov. 30 in the Cambridge District Court.

Smith, who said she had not been aware that the report was complete, said the investigators had not considered the escalation she saw between her arrest by D’Amelio at Commencement and again in August.

She also said that the Pinkerton company, which hires many former police and FBI officers, was not an objective investigator because it would be biased towards the MIT Police’s perspective.

“We have requested a meeting with President [Charles M.] Vest, but he has not gotten back to us with a time that we could meet with him,” Smith said. “I’ve written to him to express my concern about such an organization being charged with this kind of a investigation, and he has not expressed any willingness to address those concerns whatsoever.”

Vest did not respond to a request for comment.

DiFava said that he had sought a third party investigator to avoid the possible conflict of interest should any MIT staff or administration conduct the investigation. He also said that Pinkerton as a private firm had been in conflict with police in the past, and would therefore not be biased toward the police in its investigation.

No official process for complaint

DiFava said that Smith’s complaint against D’Amelio was unique in his time at MIT, and that he had referred to his experience at a state police department for how to report back the results of a complaint to the complainant.

A state police department would typically tell the complainant whether or not the complaint was sustained, but “we would not tell them the extent of the punishment or get into any of the facts or specifics,” he said.

“Over here, my recommendation would be the same thing,” DiFava said.

In terms of reaching a conclusion about any disciplinary action against D’Amelio, DiFava said “I will [decide] once we get the entire package,” referring to the pending court case against Smith, and “then I will make a recommendation and I will draw the conclusion.”

DA pursues charge against Smith

The Middlesex District Attorney has chosen to pursue Smith’s arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, in contrast to Smith’s previous arrest at Commencement, where the DA decided not to bring the case to trial.

DiFava said that regarding the Commencement arrest, “the district attorney’s office chose to do a null process,” meaning the court did not hear the case. The DA reached its decision after Vest sent a letter to the DA that said D’Amelio’s actions on Commencement were appropriate but also said MIT did not wish for Smith to be prosecuted.

“I believe that everyone felt that in the interests of what was best for the community” the case should not have gone forward, DiFava said.

In the current case, however, DiFava said MIT had not contacted the DA’s office. “I haven’t spoken to anybody down there about this case,” he said.

In general, he said, once the MIT Police make any arrest, the case is automatically sent to the DA’s office for prosecution, and it is up to them to decide whether or not to pursue a case.

He said that MIT has no direct control over the case, in that the institution cannot, in the vernacular, “drop the charges” against Smith. Instead, only the DA can decide whether or not to take a case to trial, but MIT can influence the outcome by choosing its cooperation level with the investigation.