For all the talk about police reform, the blue wall of silence still stands strong in Massachusetts. The latest example involves the son of Massachusetts State Police Superintendent Christopher Mason.
As reported by the Globe’s Andrea Estes, Reid Mason, 22, is facing possible criminal charges after he was allegedly found drunk in his car with four guns in February. A clerk-magistrate’s hearing to decide whether gun charges should be filed against him has been scheduled for this month in Barnstable District Court.
The hearing will be public, which is good news. The bad news is that, nearly three months after the incident happened, many questions about law enforcement’s handling of this matter — and what, if any, role Colonel Christopher Mason played in it — remain unanswered. Meanwhile, a police report that could answer some questions has been kept from the public.
As reported by Estes, Reid Mason, a firefighter on Cape Cod, went to a Barnstable gun shooting range with other firefighters on Feb. 28. Afterward the group went to a Hyannis restaurant, where Mason allegedly became inebriated. Barnstable police, who were called to the scene, found him drunk, half in and half out of his car, with four guns. Sources told Estes the car was not running. If keys were in the ignition, Reid Mason could have faced operating under the influence charges. The sources also said the guns weren’t loaded.
But as Estes reported, it’s a misdemeanor under Massachusetts law to travel with weapons that aren’t stored in containers or kept safe with tamper-resistant locks. The Barnstable police suspended Reid Mason’s license to carry firearms and took possession of four guns. According to Estes’ reporting, police recovered and seized a fifth gun at Reid Mason’s home.
Barnstable police did not submit a report on the incident to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe until April 29, and that report still has not been released to the public. Asked about Reid Mason’s case, O’Keefe released a statement that did not mention him by name, and said only that he had asked police to apply for a hearing — which is usually closed to the public — to determine whether there should be criminal charges for improper storage of weapons. The Boston Herald filed an appeal with Barnstable District Court Clerk Chuck Ardito to open up the hearing, and a public hearing is now scheduled for May 24 at 11 a.m. According to Estes, longtime Lawrence clerk-magistrate Keith McDonough will hear the case. The goal is to put the decision about criminal charges into the hands of someone with more objectivity and outside the small world of Cape Cod political connections.
As for the police report, Ardito told the Herald, “Any request for release of a police report is denied, as it is premature at this time.” Why? Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who is the arbiter of public records, told the editorial board that a police report is “in general, a public record.” There are some exemptions: for example, if a case is under investigation or if the release of witness names could have an adverse effect on the prosecution’s case. But neither situation seems to apply in this case. As Galvin noted, too often police withhold information without legitimate cause. “This unfortunately is familiar territory for us,” he said.
In this specific case, the problem lies with the Barnstable police and O’Keefe, but as head of the State Police, Christopher Mason could certainly let it be known that he believes the report should be public.
But so far, Mason has not addressed the matter involving his son. A state police spokesman did not respond to a question from the editorial board seeking comment and neither did the governor’s office. While no one has come forward to say Superintendent Mason did anything improper, the fact that he worked for 17 years in O’Keefe’s office fuels speculation that the DA is helping out a powerful friend. Meanwhile, when Governor Charlie Baker appointed Mason as State Police head in 2019, he presented him as a change agent. When he took the job, Mason promised reforms that would bring, among other things, more transparency to a department that sorely lacks it.
Given the lack of transparency surrounding the case of Reid Mason, that promise sounds like a joke now.
Mason has already been accused of breaking rules to promote allies. A lawsuit filed by three veteran State Police supervisors allege that Mason “turned a blind eye” to potential cheating on promotional exams to help younger, white troopers allied with him.
While dealing with a case involving a relative is no doubt difficult, Mason has a higher duty to the residents of Massachusetts, who should be able to believe there’s no double standard in law enforcement. Instead, this looks like the same old coverup culture and raises questions about whether Mason’s son was treated differently because of his father. In Massachusetts, that fact pattern has a familiar ring to it. This past April, lawyers for the state Ethics Commission alleged that a former head of the Massachusetts State Police, Richard McKeon, violated the state’s conflict of interest law when he ordered a trooper to remove embarrassing remarks from the arrest of a judge’s daughter.
To live up to his duty to the residents of Massachusetts, Mason should call for the release of the police report involving his son. If it turns out he interceded in any way, he should no longer be head of the State Police. In the meantime, whether or not Mason wants the report released, local officials should uphold the letter and spirit of the law by making it public without further delay.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.