A city’s sense of security

Opinions surrounding Worcester’s Chief of Police

By Elisabeth Valinski
Contributing Writer

Every city, town, and other populated area has some sort of group to protect its citizens. Firefighters, EMTs, and police are there to help keep the population safe. To them, it’s their job; to everyone else, it’s a feeling of safety.

Without the police, crime would increase and go unreported; people would start to feel threatened and defenseless. The police are like big, comfortable security blankets: not always around (except when needed), but there in a figurative sense that lets people feel safe.

Worcester Chief of Police, Gary Gemme. Photo courtesy of worcesterma.gov

But what happens when that sense of security is shattered by the police themselves? When corruption and manipulation play a huge part in police actions that indirectly cause problems within society?

The trust that the police built over numerous years is on the verge of breaking in Worcester, where a controversial topic regarding Chief of Police Gary Gemme has recently arisen.

Over the past couple of years, Chief Gemme has taken his Chief of Police role personally, seeming power hungry. He seems to not care about the reputation of the Worcester Police, for he has broken the line between doing his job professionally and engaging in corruption.

Many myths surround police corruption. No one wants to believe that their police force is using manipulation to get the job done. If that was true, not one person would trust the police force or even hold them in a respectable light.

Unfortunately, police corruption is rather common. Corruption is one of those things that is vaguely acknowledged but is still brushed under the carpet in order to keep a respectable view of the police force.

If accusations arise, the police force could deny it to the end of time, and society would believe such denial. It is easier to believe lies coming from a trusted source than to believe in the corruption that would no doubt break trust. If people believed the police were corrupt, the police force would lose respect and the sense of security would be forever broken. Who would want to be protected by people who are likely to manipulate society?

Unfortunately, Chief Gemme has come into the public eye as the man that eroded society’s trust. He is to blame for the coerced confession of a teenage girl by two Worcester police officers. He took eight months to send records to the media, when asked, well outside the ten day requirement.

Gemme recently opened a Twitter account and has used his account to insult the rulings made by Judge Kenton Walker on the case.

In 2008, a young teenage girl named Nga Truong was arrested for the death of her thirteen month old son Khyle.

Truong called the police to report that her son wasn’t breathing, and Khyle was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour and a half later. Sergeant Kevin Pageau and Detective John Doherty interrogated Truong for hours on end, eventually coercing Truong into a confession, and that confession put her behind bars for three years.

However, the interrogation videotape, which NPR member station WBUR fought in court to obtain, was the key fact in setting Truong free. The videotape shows Truong emotionally fragile, pleading and crying to be released so she can mourn her lost child and take care of funeral plans.

Homicide detectives are supposed to confront who they question, but according to Truong’s attorney, Ed Ryan, the interrogation was “psychological torture.” Ryan says that “[Pageau and Doherty] intention was designed to force her to confess to doing it in the way they figure she did. They are the ones that force-fed her to say the word ‘suffocation.’”

In reality, the baby was not smothered to death, according to the medical examiner. This means that Pageau lied to Truong in order to obtain a false confession.

The two men also brought up horrific events in Truong’s past which involved the death of her baby brother when Truong was only eight years old.

By bringing up the unknown cause of her brother’s death, the two officers intended to prove that Truong smothered her brother just like she supposedly smothered her son. In actuality, bringing up her past only made Truong more emotionally unstable; she only admitted to the crime because she wanted all of her traumatic thoughts to end.

The two officers also promised her help and leniency in court if she confessed. Truong, who wanted nothing more than for everything to end, bought their lies and admitted to “smothering” Khyle. In reality, there was no help or leniency. Instead, Truong was charged as an adult with murder, denied the right to attend her son’s funeral, and spent three years in jail.

At 16, Truong was still a juvenile, and she was entitled to special Miranda rights that the officers failed to give to her. The uncaring use of deception, trickery, false statements, and unfulfilled promises also helped to free Truong. Judge Walker stated that the “confession was inadmissible and could not be used at trial.” She was the Judge that ultimately freed Truong. Her ruling, as well as other rulings, angered Chief Gemme.

The ruling in Truong’s case prompted Gemme to attack Judge Kenton Walker through Twitter.

His account, @911chief, is used for updates on arrests and other information regarding the Worcester police force. However, he also used his Twitter is fire out tweets like this:

“Judge Kenton-Walker. Cognitive bias. What more can be said?”

When asked what he meant by cognitive bias, Gemme said, “When you look at what cognitive bias is, it’s taking information and continually making a bad decision based on the information that you have.”

City Councilor Rick Rushton thought that Chief Gemme was over-reacting. “When you use the words like ‘cognitive bias,’ you’re indicating that you believe that a judge has a mental disorder,” says Rushton. “It really puts a chilling effect, I believe, and it shows a lack of professionalism.”

Lack of professionalism seems to be a good term for Chief Gemme’s Twitter account. Gemme tweeted that the councilors were engaging in a food fight and that he won. Instead of using his account to answer media questions or to help the Worcester police become more respected, Gemme is using his Twitter to insult and intimidate judges and reporters. For example, he tweeted this:

“Worcester Police Department Responds to Judge Releasing Violent Offenders Back to the Street.”

This tweet, once again, was aimed at Judge Kenton-Walker and her decisions in court. But instead of taking responsibilities for his tweets, Gemme refused to respond to any questions regarding his thoughts on Truong’s case or his decision to use Twitter as an insulting weapon.

“The last thing I’m going to say, is that if you have an questions, I’m going to suggest that you speak to the district attorney,” Gemme said. His response has been the same to all reporters hoping to get at least some information out of him.

Most City Councilors have expressed their desire to have Chief Gemme gone. But without full support from all City Councilors, not much can be said on what will happen to Chief Gemme. He has denied accusations and refused to answer questions, and his fate is undeterminable.

Only one thing is sure: Chief Gemme is so caught up with his Twitter that his account is still up and running. Perhaps he hasn’t learned his lesson yet.

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At the time this article was written, Chief Gemme’s Twitter account was still active.  Since then it appears to have been deactivated.  Click here for more information on this issue.