Case of missing police gun perplexing

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/3/2022 8:24:20 PM
Modified: 2/3/2022 8:22:50 PM

HOLYOKE — The search for a Holyoke police officer’s missing gun remains open after two local police department investigations came up empty-handed.

In response to a public records request, on Tuesday the Belchertown Police Department released its investigation into Kevin Whalen, the Holyoke officer who in November reported his Glock 21 stolen from his car, where he admitted to placing it unsecured under the passenger seat. That’s illegal in Massachusetts, and Belchertown police ultimately found probable cause that Whalen had committed a felony: improper storage of a large-capacity firearm.

However, after Belchertown police sent the case to Eastern Hampshire District Court, it appears that no criminal complaint was issued against Whalen. The clerk’s office said that it has “no public record” related to Whalen, despite the Belchertown Police Department telling a Gazette reporter it should speak with the court about the case. Belchertown police spokesman David Squires declined to answer any further questions about the case.

Massachusetts is the only state in the country where the clerk magistrate of a court can hold secret “show cause” hearings when law enforcement accuses someone of a crime but they haven’t been arrested. The hearings take place behind closed doors and records related to them are not made public. A clerk magistrate can decide whether to issue criminal charges against the accused person or to dismiss those charges altogether.

A 2018 investigative series by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team found “uneven outcomes and apparent favoritism to the privileged and powerful” in the “secret court system” that clerk magistrates preside over.

The Eastern Hampshire District Court clerk’s office declined to confirm whether a show-cause hearing took place.

“The results of show-cause hearings are not of public record and, as such, are not disseminated to the public,” Assistant Clerk Magistrate Scott Rathbun wrote in an email. “Even the question of whether or not a hearing was scheduled, held, etc. cannot be disclosed. We cannot confirm or deny that information.”

On to Belchertown

Whalen first reported his gun stolen on Nov. 19 after he returned home from getting takeout food at a Chicopee restaurant. Chicopee police reviewed surveillance footage that showed Whalen had locked his car at the restaurant and that nobody had come near his car while he was inside.

Whalen told Chicopee police that on the day in question, he visited a Planet Fitness gym in Belchertown after training at the Holyoke Revolver Club.

“He was wearing his duty belt while driving to Planet Fitness and had forgot his off duty holster,” Chicopee’s police report reads. “He then unholstered and placed his duty handgun under the passenger seat while driving.”

Under state law, a person with a license to carry a firearm is allowed to have a gun in the car only if that gun is under their direct control. Otherwise, the law requires that it be unloaded and placed in a locked location.

Because Whalen had visited Belchertown, the town’s police picked up the investigation after Chicopee police concluded that the alleged crime had not taken place in the city.

In a Dec. 1 police report, Belchertown Detective Robert Mann said that no surveillance footage existed from the place in Belchertown that Whalen had visited that day. Though Belchertown police redacted the name of the location, Chicopee’s police report said that place was a Planet Fitness in Belchertown.

Mann noted that there had been several car break-ins in that area this year, including a June 3 incident when somebody’s wallet was stolen from their vehicle.

“At this time this investigation remains open and there are no suspects,” Mann wrote. “It is unclear at this time whether Kevin’s vehicle was locked or unlocked but no damage was reported to his vehicle where someone would have forcefully gain access into it.”

Mann did, however, write in his report that he found probable cause that Whalen had committed the felony offense of improperly storing his large-capacity firearm.

“I advised Kevin that prior to conducting the interview, a department Interview Consent Form for electronic recording would need to be filled out along with a waiver of Miranda Rights Form,” the report says. “Kevin was also advised that he could have an attorney present if he wished during the interview.”

Holyoke Police Department Capt. Matthew Moriarty did not respond to several requests for comment on this story. The department placed Whalen on “internal administrative duties” until its internal investigation into the matter was concluded.

Various factors

It is unclear how often charges are not brought in similar cases.

Speaking generally, First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said Thursday that he had no data at hand to answer that question. He said, though, that many factors are at play when determining whether to charge somebody with improper storage of a firearm: whether it was stolen or left in a public place, loaded or unloaded, or if the person was being careless with the weapon.

“Was the person required to carry their gun as a part of their job responsibilities?” Gagne said. “If it’s sort of related to or close in time to when they had to have it for purposes of their job, that’s relevant.”

Whalen did tell Chicopee police that he had left the Holyoke Revolver Club, where he was training, before going to the gym.

“With law enforcement, they are by and large required to carry firearms to do their jobs,” Gagne said. “The loss of that ability to carry a firearm could really cripple a police officer’s career … We try to be very cognizant of the ripple effects criminal charges and convictions can have on anyone’s life or employment.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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