Kicking a juvenile Latino teenager in the head. Spitting on him. Telling him: "Welcome to the white man's world." Threatening to plant a "kilo of coke" in another Latino teen's pocket.
Those are just a few of the more horrifying allegations made against a Massachusetts cop in a federal indictment unsealed yesterday. The accusations stem from a February 2016 incident in which two Springfield police officers allegedly used excessive force after several Latino teens allegedly stole an unmarked police car.
It all started with a pizza run, according to a civil lawsuit filed in August by one of the teens. On the night of February 26, then-Officer Stephen Vigneault drove his unmarked car to pick up some pizza for former narcotics detective Gregg Bigda. The lawsuit says Bigda had been drinking rum, and Vigneault was hoping to sober him up.
The chase was on. The alleged thieves, a group of teenagers, were apparently looking for a joyride. For nearly four hours they got one, until a strip of spikes laid by police stopped the speeding TrailBlazer in its tracks. The doors flung open, and the suspected thieves jumped out, fleeing through the woods with police dogs on their heels. They made it as far as the porch of a multifamily home.
The federal indictment, filed on October 25, names both Bigda and Vigneault as defendants. While arresting one of the juveniles, identified as E.P., Bigda "willfully deprived" him of his right "to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer," the indictment says. The result was "bodily injury" sustained by E.P. The indictment says Vigneault acted in a similar manner while arresting another juvenile, identified as D.R.
The indictment did not go into detail regarding Vigneault's alleged use of excessive force. But the claims made against Bigda are disturbing. "During the course of the arrest," the indictment says, Bigda "kicked juvenile suspect E.P. in the head, spat on him, and said, 'welcome to the white man's world.'"
Things didn't improve after the teens were taken to the police station. According to the indictment, Bigda interrogated D.R. without his parents present and "without reading him his Miranda warnings." Bigda allegedly threatened to "crush [D.R.'s] skull and fucking get away with it," "fucking kill [D.R.] in the parking lot," "stick a fucking kilo of coke in [D.R.'s] pocket and put [him] away for fucking 15 years," and "kick [D.R.] right in the fucking face."
Bigda also interrogated a third juvenile and allegedly threatened to "beat the fuck out of" him.
Much of the interrogations was captured on surveillance video and released later in 2016.
"I'm not hampered by the fucking truth 'cause I don't give a fuck! People like you belong in jail. I'll charge you with whatever," Bigda says in the video, before threatening to plant drugs in D.R.'s pocket.
According to The Daily Beast, Bidga only received a 60-day suspension. He was able to return to work despite this being just the latest in a series of disturbing claims made against him. MassLive reports:
Bigda has a history of civilian complaints. He has been accused of assaulting a pregnant woman, saying "I hate Puerto Ricans" and pepper-spraying puppies to death.
In a statement yesterday, Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri said Bigda "will be suspended without pay due to the indictment."
Vigneault, meanwhile, resigned in the months after the incident. However, in a lawsuit filed last year, Vigneault claimed he was forced to step down, even though he didn't actually do anything wrong. Vigneault has maintained his innocence to the present day.
Still, he and Bigda were both arrested yesterday, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts. In addition to the other charges, Bigda also stands accused of filing two false reports with internal affairs in an effort to cover up his actions.
The press release notes that both officers "are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty." But regardless of what happens in court, the case highlights a glaring lack of accountability in the Springfield Police Department.
On its own, the video of Bigda conducting interrogations should have been enough to get him fired. The fact that he was able to return to work so soon is unacceptable. Even though the video was disturbing enough to spark a Justice Department probe, Bigda remained on the force, despite years of alleged misconduct.
Firing bad cops may be "damn near impossible," as Reason's Mike Riggs explained in 2012. But that doesn't justify Bigda's continued employment. As the video shows, it was clear he had no business being in any sort of position of authority.
The fact that it took federal charges for him to suspended indefinitely is inexcusable.