State police object to Eastern Hampshire District Court ruling in Quabbin trespassing case
STEVE PFARRER Quabbin Reservoir. Purchase photo reprints »
BELCHERTOWN — The Massachusetts State Police are challenging a decision by a clerk magistrate not to issue criminal complaints against seven people who allegedly trespassed at the Quabbin Reservoir last month.
The late-night incident, involving people from Northampton, Amherst, Sunderland, Cambridge and New York City, triggered increased patrols at water supply facilities around the state and a close examination of water-quality samples from the reservoir.
The five men and two women were not arrested, but detained, and later summoned to Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown for a private show-cause hearing to determine whether criminal charges could be brought. At the hearing, a clerk magistrate continued the cases without a finding for six months. That ruling means that if the alleged trespassers stay out of legal trouble for six months, the complaint will be dismissed.
State police spokesman David Procopio said the decision is a departure from an understanding the law enforcement agency has had with the court, which is that when trespassing occurs at a critical infrastructure site such as the Quabbin a criminal complaint is issued, which would result in an arraignment.
“Our position is that because it’s a critical infrastructure site, a reservoir, that’s an aggravating factor and we’d like to see a complaint issued,” Procopio said. “We’ve asked for judicial review.”
Procopio said the state police respect that clerk magistrates are well within their rights to rule as they see fit, but “we just wanted it to go before a judge,” he said.
William P. Nagle Jr., the district court clerk, and Randall Smith, the assistant clerk, could not be reached for comment Friday. The court’s phone lines were down, according to state officials, and the public could not get through. The Gazette also sought to reach Nagle by email Friday.
Procopio said state police could not release the names of the seven people involved in the alleged Quabbin trespassing because criminal complaints were not issued.
The incident at the Quabbin unfolded May 14 shortly after midnight when a state trooper on patrol observed the seven people walking from the reservoir toward two vehicles. The group, which involved young men and women from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, told the trooper they were chemical engineers and recent graduates of the University of Massachusetts and Smith College. They said they wanted to see the reservoir and cited their educational and career interests, according to state police.
After a multi-agency investigation into their backgrounds that included assistance from the FBI, they were allowed to leave the Quabbin in the vehicles, but asked to appear at the show-cause hearing.
The Quabbin Reservoir is one of the largest man-made public water supplies in the country, covering 39 square miles. The reservoir can hold 412 billion gallons of water when full. It supplies drinking water to more than 2 million people, according to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.