State police investigating traffic stop of Holyoke auxiliary chief

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2021 10:57:49 AM

HOLYOKE — Massachusetts State Police have launched an internal investigation into several state troopers over a July traffic stop of Holyoke’s auxiliary police chief, who resigned his position shortly afterward.

On Thursday, July 29, state police in Chicopee pulled over Laurence Cournoyer — a longtime Holyoke officer who rose to the rank of lieutenant before becoming auxiliary chief earlier this year — for “driving at excessive speed” on Interstate 391. The following week, Cournoyer resigned from his auxiliary position, a decision that acting Mayor Terence Murphy said was related to the traffic stop.

The auxiliary police force is a volunteer, trained and uniformed division of the Holyoke Police Department, providing support at events such as parades, road races and emergency services.

Cournoyer did not return a voicemail message left Wednesday, and other efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Murphy said Wednesday he had no additional information on the incident.

In a description of the state police stop of Cournoyer, spokesman Dave Procopio said last month that state police issued Cournoyer a written warning for speeding, based on his “cooperative and forthcoming demeanor” and his lack of speeding violations since 1986. A passenger also was in Cournoyer’s vehicle during the traffic stop.

“The Trooper questioned and made observations of the driver who attributed his erratic driving to fatigue from having worked long hours the previous day on a road detail as a Holyoke Police officer,” Procopio wrote in an email. “The Trooper observed no signs of impairment or any other indications that would have established probable cause for further investigation of the driver … Because the operator acknowledged feeling fatigued, the Trooper requested that the duly licensed passenger in the vehicle take over the driving of the vehicle, which the occupants agreed to do, and the passenger drove the vehicle away.”

Cournoyer, who was president of the police supervisors union, worked 896 hours of off-duty detail in 2020, according to city records. He earned $59,692 in overtime pay last year and was the second-highest paid Holyoke city employee in 2020, earning $261,557.

State police now say that the officers who responded to that traffic stop are under investigation for what transpired the night they stopped Cournoyer.

The Gazette filed a public records request for the state trooper’s body camera footage from the incident, as well as any log entry or written narrative regarding the traffic stop. In a response sent on Tuesday, the Massachusetts State Police said that no written log of the traffic stop exists. There are six bodycam videos of the incident, but state police said they are withholding those videos because they are related to an ongoing internal investigation.

“The Department has initiated an internal investigation relative to the subject stop,” Sean Farrell of the state’s Office of the Chief Legal Counsel wrote in the public records response. “The subject videos depict police actions which are the subject of the investigation.”

In an email Wednesday, Procopio said that the Massachusetts State Police are investigating “several” officers who ultimately responded to the traffic stop.

“Records of internal investigations (with appropriate redactions) are public records once the investigation is completed,” Procopio said. “The review we are undertaking is ongoing as of this time.”

The Gazette has appealed the withholding of those records.

The Gazette has been able to obtain through a public records request the Holyoke Police Department’s audio recording of a phone call a state trooper made to the department after pulling over Cournoyer. The recording does not shed additional light on what exactly happened during the traffic stop.

“Is there any way I can talk to, uh, an officer?” a state trooper says to a Holyoke dispatcher in the recording of the phone call, placed at 12:37 a.m on July 29. When asked why the trooper simply responds: “I just need to talk to somebody about a stop I’m on.”

The dispatcher then talks with the commanding officer, saying that the trooper needed to talk to him about a motor vehicle stop.

“He was very hesitant about talking to me,” the dispatcher says before connecting the trooper with the commanding officer. The recording of the call then ends.

Holyoke police Capt. Matthew Moriarty, the administrator who handles communications for the department, said that all questions should be directed to the state police.

Asked why a state trooper would be calling HPD after pulling over Cournoyer, Moriarty said he was unaware of what the state trooper said after the recorded call ended.

“When a call is transferred the recording stops,” Moriarty said.

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


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