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Mass. police academy instructors under fire after trainees forced to crawl on hot pavement

It is unclear whether the unauthorized training exercise was punitive, but that will be a focus of the internal investigation


A Massachusetts State Police cruiser.

Photo/Jackson Cote of MassLive via TNS

By Stephanie Barry

NEW BRAINTREE, Mass. — Nearly two dozen Massachusetts State Police trainees suffered abrasions and blisters after being forced to “bear crawl” across hot pavement during an unauthorized training exercise at the New Braintree academy, an agency spokesman confirmed.

The incident earlier this month triggered an internal investigation and a rush of transfers for supervisors and drill instructors involved, according to Dave Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police.

It is unclear whether the exercise was punitive, Procopio said, but that will be a focus of the internal investigation. It was not a sanctioned training session by the academy, at any rate. Four were transferred out of the academy to different assignments at the direction of State Police Col. Christoper Mason.

Detective Lt Scott McDonald, commandant of the academy, and Lt. Matthew Gladu were the supervisors transferred out along with a pair of drill instructors involved in the bear-crawling exercise, Procopio confirmed.

State Police Major Dan McGinn, head of the Division of Standards and Training, was previously set to retire at the end of the month absent the incident, Procopio said, issuing the following statement:

“Last week, Colonel Mason became aware of two prior instances in which some academy trainees were required to perform a physical exercise (bear crawls) that was not authorized as part of the training curriculum, added no value to the training, and contradicted the expectations that MSP Command Staff explicitly conveyed to academy staff prior to the start of the current Recruit Training Troop,” Procopio said. “The exercise resulted in blisters to some trainee’s hands, which were treated by the Academy Medical Unit. The Colonel immediately initiated an investigation of the unauthorized training and further increased oversight of training operations.”

Procopio also said Mason Issued a directive “explicitly reiterating that unauthorized and extracurricular physical exercises and training activities are prohibited and that the health and wellness of Trainees shall be prioritized when considering any exercise to mitigate injury. This directive reiterates one previously given by the Colonel to academy staff, including drill staff, prior to the start of the current Recruit Training Troop in May.”

There are 193 trainees in the midst of the academy, he said. The trainees are set to graduate the academy on Oct. 20. Procopio said it is roughly a 24-week program to test the trainee’s fitness for the job and learn proper policing techniques and protocol.

The incident is among the latest of a series of incidents at the academy over the last several months, including a trainee who accidentally shot himself in the leg with his own service firearm — also earlier this month. The trooper, who was not identified, suffered only superficial injuries and returned to join his class days later, Procopio said.

And in December, two troopers were suspended without pay for failing to intervene when a group of trainees were filmed hurtling down a makeshift slip-n-slide in a hallway at the facility. Troopers Douglas Grout was suspended for 45 days and Trooper Ryan Stanley was suspended for 30 days — both without pay. An internal investigation revealed Grout and Stanley directed the trainees to participate, took video of the hijinks and

The investigation revealed both troopers directed the trainees to take part in the activity, Grout recorded and then shared the video.

In 2005, higher-ups at the academy were transferred out of the training facility to other assignments after it came to light instructors were plunging trainees’ heads into dirty toilet bowls. A state appeals court judge ruled a decade earlier the state’s anti-hazing law don’t apply to the academy. Academy rules prohibit officers from using unprofessional language or behavior.

The gravest of scandals at the Massachusetts State Police academy occurred in the late 1980s when a trainee died after rigorous training in an early autumn heatwave at a facility in Agawam.

In 1988, Timothy Shepard, 25, of Pittsfield, died six weeks after collapsing during training at a state police academy just a week into the curriculum. Shepard fell unconscious from heat stroke, eventually regained consciousness and underwent a liver transplant. But, he succumbed to infection and died on Nov. 3.

Thirteen other cadets in his class were treated for kidney ailments and exhaustion.

Then-state Attorney General James M. Shannon said the evidence did not support criminal charges against officials of the academy but prompted widespread reforms.

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