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EDITORIAL

Troopergate case a study in privilege

Ethics Commission sees conflicts of interest, but the real ‘crime’ is a double standard of justice.

Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. (center) stands accused of violating the conflict-of-interest laws by the state's Ethics Commission for his role in events triggered by a State Police trooper's report.
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. (center) stands accused of violating the conflict-of-interest laws by the state's Ethics Commission for his role in events triggered by a State Police trooper's report.Suzanne Kreiter

What began with a car accident and the arrest of a judge’s daughter on charges of driving under the influence has exposed a law enforcement culture rife with privilege, conflicts, and double standards — and it’s not over yet.

Recall the evening in October 2017 when Alli Bibaud, 30, daughter of Dudley District Court Judge Timothy Bibaud, crashed her car on Interstate 190 in Worcester and was found by State Police Trooper Ryan Sceviour reeking of alcohol and with what he called “a heroin kit” in her possession. Bibaud proceeded to tell Sceviour about sexual favors she traded for heroin and about her father the judge — details that he was later asked by supervisors to remove from the official report.

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Today, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr.; his first assistant, Jeffrey Travers; former head of the State Police, Richard McKeon; and State Police Captain Susan Anderson all stand accused of violating the state’s conflict-of-interest law for their roles in the chain of events triggered by Sceviour’s response to the accident. The state Ethics Commission will hold a public show-cause hearing before issuing a final ruling. Each could face a fine of up to $20,000.

But at a time when the state and much of the nation are wrestling with issues of equitable justice and police accountability, this is a cautionary tale of just how far Massachusetts still has to go to create a culture of equity in law enforcement.

Imagine for a moment if Alli Bibaud had been a young Black woman high on alcohol and drugs.

“Never has anyone done that for a Black kid who’s been pulled over,” Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said last Thursday, after reading the Globe account.

Would the district attorney and the head of the State Police have been so concerned about her admissions of trading sex for heroin? Would sanitizing that report have been on anyone’s radar screen?

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This is the way the Ethics Commission put it:

“The conflict-of-interest law prohibits public employees from using or attempting to use their official positions to obtain an unwarranted privilege that is not properly available. Early, Travers, McKeon, and Anderson allegedly violated this section of the law by using their positions [to] cause the arrest report to be revised or replaced, as the removal of the sexually explicit statements and other embarrassing statements would be an unwarranted privilege for the judge and his daughter. This privilege would not be properly available to other people in similar situations.”

Astonishingly, Early insisted, in a statement issued Wednesday, that “my actions fit squarely within the rules of professional conduct that bind us as prosecutors.

“As DA, I am supposed to take steps to prevent the law enforcement officers with whom we work from making statements that will be publicly disseminated in the media that hold defendants up to ridicule and affect their right to a fair trial.”

If that’s really what Early thinks his job involves, he abjectly failed. Indeed, it’s only because of his intervention to alter the report that the stop became such big news, ensuring the salacious details of Bibaud’s arrest would follow her on Google for the rest of her life. (A judge sentenced her to a mere 14 months of probation for driving drunk and related charges.)

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The tale that became known as Troopergate began in 2017 when Sceviour filed his report on Bibaud’s DUI arrest, which included his description of Bidaud’s rant about how her father the judge would “kill me” when he found out. Sceviour was disciplined for his report — a punishment later rescinded after Sceviour filed suit. McKeon retired days after the first of Sceviour’s two lawsuits was filed and the whole messy affair became public.

According to a 2018 report prepared by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, during the two days following Bibaud’s arrest Early and McKeon had “several telephone conversations” including one in which Early told him his office “would be moving to redact the report” if the State Police didn’t.

“Well, it was after that I had the conversation with Joe Early, and all indications were that this was the appropriate thing to do,” McKeon told Healey’s investigators. “I must say that he was previously my boss. He’s the prosecuting district attorney in that county, and he was in charge of the prosecution of this case. And I was led to believe that everything that I was about to do was not only the right thing, but it was the appropriate thing to do.”

McKeon’s wasn’t the only prior relationship revealed in the case. Before going on the bench, Timothy Bibaud had worked in the Worcester DA’s office for three decades, though there is no evidence he was involved in the report redaction.

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Again, imagine that hypothetical Black woman being the recipient of such sensitive treatment.

Still, Healey found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Early or McKeon, insisting, “There is no evidence that anyone suggested that the case be dropped, or that certain charges be dismissed, or that revisions be made to the arrest report with the purpose of making it more difficult for the prosecution to successfully prove the case.” So she punted it to the Ethics Commission, which has only civil penalties in its arsenal.

That call also allowed Early to run successfully for his fourth term as DA that fall, defeating a third-party opponent; none of his fellow Democrats mounted a primary challenge.

McKeon may be gone, but the revamping of the State Police, the state’s whitest and most male-dominated police force, remains very much a work in progress — and the subject of much-needed reform legislation.

But most of all, the law enforcement “buddy system,” with its inherent double standard of justice, lives on. That’s what needs to change. This case just proves how difficult that can be.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.