A 2011 state Hanna Medal of Valor award winner and an outspoken union president for the Chelsea Police Patrolmen has been indicted on police misconduct charges and put on unpaid leave this week after a Grand Jury in Suffolk Superior Court approved prosecution on Monday.
Officer Felix Rivera Jr., 34, of Lynn, was charged with beating a handcuffed suspect, violating the suspect’s civil rights and filing a false police report for a chaotic incident that involved a response to a firearm incident at 55 Chestnut St. last Sept. 26, 2014. He was arraigned earlier this week in Suffolk Superior Court.
The victim in the case had not been a major player at the chaotic scene on Chestnut Street, but had been intoxicated at the scene and allegedly interfered with the police and was ordered to be put in custody and removed from the area. That’s when the alleged assault by Rivera is said to have taken place.
As in many of the cases of police misconduct around the country over the last year, Rivera’s case was “discovered” when an unknown witness came forward in March with a video taken of the incident – a video that allegedly shows that, as the handcuffed victim was being escorted away, Rivera allegedly struck him four times in the face, knocking him to the ground. Another officer reached out to stop him. This officer denied the allegation in Rivera’s report that the victim had pushed him while being led from the scene.
Rivera’s attorney, Keith Nicholson of Quincy, said they have not seen the video yet or reviewed grand jury testimony, but plan to do that this week.
“The Commonwealth is providing some discovery information regarding the grand jury minutes and some of the officer statements that participated in the incident last September, but we just received that yesterday and haven’t reviewed them all,” he said. “I also haven’t sat down with him yet and watched the video…He’s concerned obviously. The situation with his position is he’s on unpaid administrative leave. He’s concerned about the welfare of his family – his three children and the reputation he’s worked very hard to build up in the way he has. He’s concerned the allegations will tarnish his reputation as a police officer. He’s very, very concerned about his family and he’s really at a loss. It’s a very tragic incident.”
District Attorney Dan Conley said there was no room for the alleged behavior in any police department.
“There is no room in law enforcement for anyone who would beat a handcuffed prisoner or lie in a report,” Conley said. “The evidence suggests this officer engaged in criminal conduct, not police work. I want to highlight the professionalism of Chief Kyes, his team, and our prosecutors in building this case. They made clear that there is one system of justice for all of us – sworn or civilian.”
Chief Brian Kyes said he couldn’t make and specific comments right now, as Rivera is innocent until proven guilty, but did say police officer misconduct would not be tolerated in Chelsea.
“The allegations as charged in the indictment against Officer Felix Rivera are extremely troubling and concerning,” Kyes said. “The Chelsea Police Department has cooperated fully and completely with every facet of this criminal investigation since its inception. A police officer’s credibility and integrity are two of the most important attributes in this challenging profession. Both operate at the core of our ability to build trust and confidence in our community members so as to effectively police our neighborhoods alongside our residents. Please rest assured that Officer misconduct in any form including excessive use of force by our personnel will not be tolerated under any set of circumstances. Beyond that at this point I think it is always in the best interest of the City of Chelsea and the Chelsea Police Department to refrain from making any specific comments regarding any alleged facts and/or circumstances of any and all pending litigation, whether civil, criminal or otherwise, so as not to unintentionally adversely affect the rights of both the plaintiffs and/or the defendants in any case or to otherwise jeopardize the integrity of a fair and impartial judicial process.”
The incident was pretty much a standard prosecution in Chelsea District Court for several charges against the victim, including assault and battery on a police officer for what Rivera termed as being pushed by the victim. Things changed dramatically, however, last March when the video emerged from the unknown witness.
Based on Rivera’s report, the victim – then 20 and a resident of Chelsea – was arraigned in Chelsea District Court on charges of assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. In March of this year, however, the victim’s attorney provided Suffolk prosecutors with a video clip filmed by an unknown witness showing the incident and argued that the charges against the victim were unfounded.
The ensuing investigation by Suffolk prosecutors assigned to the DA’s Special Prosecutions Unit and Chelsea Police Internal Affairs detectives developed significant evidence, including the statements of other officers, that corroborated the victim’s claims. As a result, prosecutors terminated the pending case against the victim and began presenting evidence and testimony to the Suffolk County Grand Jury.
The investigation revealed that multiple Chelsea Police units responded to the rear of 155 Chestnut St. that night for a report of a man with a gun. Among those present at the scene was the victim, whom a supervising officer found to be intoxicated and interfering with the investigation. This supervisor directed other officers to place him into protective custody and remove him from the area.
As he was being taken away by other officers, that’s when Rivera allegedly punched the victim in the face four times – knocking him to the ground. Prosecutors seemed to conclude that the video evidence showed as much.
Rivera holds one of the highest decorations for law enforcement officers in the state, winning the George Hanna Medal of Valor for Bravery in 2011. That came as a result of he and another officer diffusing an armed conflict at a Marlboro Street apartment in June 2010. Rivera and the other officer had responded to a breaking and entering call, but were confronted with three armed men – all known to police to be very dangerous. One of the men had a .38 calibre handgun pointed directl
y at the officers and several innocent people were standing in the crosshairs. Rivera and the other officer were able to calm the situation and affect arrests without any shots being fired or anyone being hurt.
Rivera was also the president of the Patrolmen’s Union during contentious contract negotiations a few years ago, leading a memorable informational picket at the Fox 25 Zip Trip at the Chelsea Marina in 2013. His style was confrontational and fiery, but he and City leaders were able to solve the impasse and arrive at a contract. Another officer assumed duties as president of the union last year.