Holyoke officer suspended for viral video alleging corruption, racism in Police Depart

By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN and GRETA JOCHEM

Staff Writers

Published: 03-09-2021 4:26 PM

HOLYOKE — A Holyoke police officer said he has been suspended after posting a lengthy video online alleging widespread corruption and racism within the police department.

Rafael Roca, 37, uploaded the now viral video early Sunday morning. In a nearly 45-minute speech, he alleges that superior officers in the department falsify overtime pay, have protected each other from punishment from misconduct and have fostered a culture of favoritism and racism when it comes to promotion.

“It goes back as long as anyone can remember,” he said in the video. “I speak to citizens, I speak to former police officers, retired police officers and they all say corruption and racism has taken place within this department for as long as anyone can remember.”

In an interview with the Gazette, Roca said that after posting the video — which had more than 27,000 views days after it was posted — a police department captain called him to say that Police Chief Manny Febo was ordering him to remove the video. When he declined to do so, Roca said he was suspended with pay for “failure to obey a direct order on my day off and for violating their social media policy.”

“It goes to show that they’re dirty and they want to cover up the stuff that they do,” Roca told the Gazette. “They want to send a message to other officers: ‘Don’t be like Roca, because this is exactly what’s going to happen to you.’”

Febo said in a statement released Tuesday that “it is not standard practice for police departments to comment on issues that have an ongoing personnel investigation for violations of policy. With that said, I will not be commenting on the internal personnel matter that is ongoing.”

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The chief did, however, address several of the allegations Roca made in the video.

“I want to ensure the citizens of Holyoke that they can continue to have confidence in the men and women of the Holyoke Police Department and the great work that they do every day,” he wrote.

Mayor Alex Morse said in a statement that he could not comment on a personnel matter. “What I can say is that I have full confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the Chief of Police and the men and women that make up the Holyoke Police Department,” he wrote.

Allegations outlined

In his video, Roca references alleged abuse of overtime pay. Speaking to the Gazette, he alleged he has worked on grant-funded shifts during which supervisors who were supposed to be working were “nowhere to be found the entire shift.”

“Not one time did they respond to a call, not one time were they on the radio,” he said.

A 2020 city report of the top 100 salaries in the city shows that, including school staff, 18 out of the top 20 highest paid city employees that year were police officers. Many of those officers — all but one of whom are supervisors — collected tens of thousands of dollars last year in overtime pay. Of those 18 officers, eight made more than $200,000.

Roca said that the department is rife with racism. He said minority candidates get passed over for top positions, as detectives or supervisors.

Febo addresses the allegation that “minority officers are not given opportunity for specialized assignments,” as Roca said in his video that minorities are underrepresented in specialized positions. Twelve of the 46 patrolmen with eight years or more of experience are part of a minority group, and nine of them have specialized positions, Febo wrote.

“That is roughly 75% of minority officers with 8 years or more [of experience] in specialized assignments.” Febo’s statement added, “The Holyoke Police Department has a Chief, 2 Lieutenants, and 4 Sergeants who are minority in the department command staff.”

In the video, Roca also alleged that department leadership has covered up the facts surrounding several instances when weapons have gone missing from the department.

Though he mentioned no names in the video, one incident Roca referred to occurred in September 2011, when police Sgt. John Hart was suspended and fined for losing a department-issued sniper rifle.

At the time, then-Police Chief James Neiswanger said the weapon had fallen out of Hart’s pickup truck. Roca, however, claimed that somebody stole the gun from Hart’s house during a party. He alleged that later, somebody who had been arrested tipped police off to the rifle’s location in an effort to receive leniency in court.

Ultimately, police found the weapon in February 2012 while Morse was riding along with officers on duty. Neiswanger said that a tipster found the gun in an alley, and that the mayor’s presence was a coincidence.

“The reality is my community policing cops got a tip and they followed up on it,” Neiswanger told The Republican at the time. “There was no set up.”

Febo did not use any names in his statement, but addressed an incident 10 years ago where rifles were lost. “The incident was fully investigated by previous chief, discipline meted out, and every step was reported publicly at that time,” he wrote.

Roca also claimed in his video that recently, a police officer had his car stolen with “guns and equipment inside.” He alleged that the car was found in Hartford, but the guns and equipment were missing.

Febo said a detective’s vehicle was broken into and “taken from that vehicle was 2 ballistic vests with 2 magazines in the pouches, along with some K9 gear, and a first aid bag.” Some, but not all, of those items were later found in a vehicle stolen from Granby that was recovered in Hartford, according to Febo.

Roca also alleged that he has been the subject of retaliation for speaking out about misconduct in the department. He said that Febo and others have stepped in to prevent him from getting jobs with other police departments. He said that is because he is a “proactive” police officer who tries to “engage in crime fighting.”

“I was a very proactive officer, I would do my job, I tried to do traffic stops,” he told the Gazette. “I did exactly what I was trained and paid to do but people on my watch had a problem with that because they like to sleep in their cruisers overnight; they don’t want to work.”

Roca said that as a result, supervisors have given him a bad image that has influenced others in the department. Others, he added, have managed to escape from serious instances of misconduct without any disciplinary action.

“Internal affairs is corrupt as can be,” Roca said in his video. “They pick and choose who they want to discipline and who they don’t want to discipline.”

Roca said that he has only received one formal and one informal complaint during his five years on the force — a claim that appears to be corroborated by an internal affairs log the Gazette has obtained through a public records request.

The handwritten log, which tracks civilian and internal complaints against officers and their conclusions, features two entries for Roca. One complaint for “rudeness” was not sustained by an investigation. A second, by the “Firearm Review Board,” lists Roca as “exonerated.”

That second entry likely relates to an incident in 2017 when Roca fired his gun at a Leeds resident, Dan Guyette, who led officers on a high-speed chase through Holyoke before crashing into parked cars. The Gazette’s coverage of the incident notes that officers attempted to subdue Guyette with a stun gun as he rammed into cars attempting to escape. Roca said in his report that the driver attempted to back into a state trooper, at which point he fired his gun three times at the driver.

Roca mentioned the incident in his video over the weekend. He said that he saved the state trooper’s life, only to be “treated like a piece of crap” afterward, getting turned down for a job with the state police.

Incident with FD lieutenant

Early on in his tenure with the department, Roca was called to testify in an appeal hearing before the state Civil Service Commission over the suspension of a superior, Sgt. Jorge Monsalve.

According to the commission’s decision, it had been Roca’s first solo patrol in October 2016 when he pulled over a driver who had been driving down the street in the opposite direction. The driver, who officers alleged smelled of alcohol and had slurred speech, turned out to be a lieutenant with the Holyoke Fire Department.

Instead of arresting the driver, Monsalve, one of a number of officers who responded, decided to park the driver’s car and give him a ride back home. Later that evening, however, Roca and another officer saw the fire department lieutenant drive by in his car again at high speed. They put him in handcuffs at his home, but Monsalve ultimately decided to place the driver in protective custody instead of arresting him, declining to give the driver a breathalyzer, according to testimony included in the commission’s decision.

At the time, Roca told the commission that he had told Monsalve he was OK with the driver being placed in protective custody instead of being arrested because he “did not view it as his decision.”

Asked on Monday what he thinks will happen to him after he spoke out against the department and other officers, Roca said he expects to be fired — a possibility he mentioned in his video.

“Because when you speak up and you expose corruption,” he said in the video, “that’s what they do.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com. Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Chief Manny Febo which he sent to the Gazette midday on Tuesday.

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