Quick action unlikely in justice system review

A June 30, 2018 Cape Cod Times Article discusses how the Cape Legislative delegation met privately with court officials, lawmakers in response to the letter sent by the delegation regarding the shooting death of Yarmouth K-9 Sgt. Sean Gannon.

Quick action unlikely in justice system review

Cape Cod Times

June 30, 2018

By Geoff Spillane

HYANNIS — More than two months have passed the Cape and Islands legislative delegation sent a letter to Beacon Hill in response to the shooting death of Yarmouth K-9 Sgt. Sean Gannon.

Inspired by a mourning and outraged constituency, the eight legislators were seeking answers as to why career criminal Thomas Latanowich was not in prison April 12, when he allegedly killed Gannon, who was part of a team of officers trying to serve an arrest warrant at a house in Marstons Mills.

“In light of this most recent killing, we respectfully request that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in consultation with the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security convene an oversight hearing in the coming weeks to further scrutinize the matter and to identify lapses in the criminal justice system that led to Latanowich committing the crime,” states the letter, dated April 23.

No hearing has been scheduled yet by the joint committees, and likely won’t be anytime soon, according to legislators.

A private meeting, however, has been held at the Statehouse with the delegation, committee members and judiciary officials to discuss and review the matter.

“We have reviewed all the files of his (Latanowich) prior cases and have an understanding of the record and what happened with those,” said state Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, a chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, in a voicemail message Wednesday.

“We have met at length with leadership of the Trial Court, including the commissioner of probation, and have included members of the Cape delegation in those meetings, so we’ve learned a lot about the whole situation. We will probably not have much to say publicly until the trial is complete,” Brownsberger said.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, said he was impressed by the meeting, which was held late last month and included Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey.

While he appreciates the desire to get answers, move quickly and make fixes, Cyr said, lawmaking is a deliberative process, and it has become clear to the delegation that moving in a more deliberative fashion will result in more effective action.

“I get the impatience,” he said. “I have it, too, but I want to make sure we are getting the right answers.”

Cyr noted that since Gannon’s death, legislative action, which he has been involved in, has been taken to increase funding for municipal police training and witness protection programs.

Many of Latanowich’s victims failed to testify because of intimidation, he said.

Cyr also praised Brownsberger for his attentiveness to the delegation’s concerns.

Brownsberger, a former prosecutor, traveled to Barnstable Village himself to review the voluminous court files chronicling Latanowich’s criminal history, according to Cyr.

State Reps. Timothy Whelan, R-Brewster, and William Crocker, R-Centerville, represent Yarmouth in the House.

Like Cyr, Crocker said he was pleased with the meeting as a venue for the local lawmakers to express their opinions, although he could not share specifics.

“The Cape Cod Legislative Delegation met with the Chief Justices of the State Supreme Judicial Court with regard to the death of Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon,” Crocker posted on Facebook on June 1. “Both sides learned a great deal from the 90-minute discussion and we hope to speak again. We continue to move forward with this. Something good will come from this.”

Whelan confirmed there have been ongoing conversations with the leaders of trial courts at the superior and district court levels, and locally with some of the court leadership on the Cape.

“We will be looking at areas of Massachusetts law that we have control over in the Legislature and try to find areas related to bail and sentencing that we can fix to more greatly secure the safety of citizens so we don’t have a repeat of what happened (with Latanowich),” he said.

Cyr said he hoped subsequent meetings would yield constructive policy initiatives that could be worked on in advance of the next legislative session.

“I’m hoping we have a public hearing on this,” Cyr said. “There are important questions the community wants answered.”