Interviewing witnesses is a key part of police work.
So why did Massachusetts State Police conduct an internal investigation of one of their troopers without speaking to a single person?
The report, obtained by the NBC10 Boston Investigators, concluded there was not enough evidence to prove whether or not Trooper Michael Cogan abused his position following an off-duty crash last February.
Details of the crash first surfaced in the summer of 2018, raising questions about whether Cogan received special treatment from first responders who arrived at the accident in Wilmington.
The crash occurred late on a Friday night along Woburn Street. Cogan’s truck hit a pole and lost a wheel upon impact, knocking out power to the neighborhood.
Neighbors called 911 and described Cogan spinning the vehicle’s tires in the road, telling dispatchers it appeared the driver was trying to flee the scene.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators discovered Wilmington police officers sent Cogan away in an ambulance and never performed any field sobriety tests.
The trooper then checked himself out of the hospital without ever seeing a doctor, potential evidence literally walking out the door with him.
After the NBC10 Boston Investigators started asking questions, Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis launched an internal review of the incident. At the conclusion of the probe, Begonis agreed his officers should’ve asked more questions, but did not believe they gave a fellow cop a free pass.
“I think we could’ve done better,” Begonis told NBC10 Boston Investigator Ryan Kath in July. “But I’m confident there was no special treatment.”
Following the story, state police confirmed they were starting their own internal investigation to see if Cogan violated department policies and procedures.
The report written by a lieutenant in the Andover barracks concluded an allegation that Cogan abused his position was “not sustained.”
“It is impossible to speculate if Cogan’s employment as a Massachusetts state trooper potentially resulted in any different treatment from the Wilmington police officers in any conscious or subconscious manner,” Lt. Eric Bernstein wrote. “Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove this portion of the complaint.”
The NBC10 Boston Investigators shared the report with several law enforcement experts to get their reaction.
“I would characterize it as a non-investigation,” said Tom Nolan, a criminology professor and former Boston police officer of 27 years.
Nolan expressed surprise that state police leaders signed off on the internal investigation without speaking to a single witness.
State police investigators did not interview the neighbors who described the trooper “stumbling like a drunk.” They did not interview firefighters who reported they smelled alcohol on his breath in the ambulance. Nor did they speak with police officers who said Cogan identified himself as a trooper at the scene.
“It’s slipshod, it’s sloppy, and it’s unprofessional,” Nolan said. “And it’s indicative of the lack of seriousness with which the State Police take the allegations that were made against this particular trooper.”
The NBC10 Boston Investigators tried speaking with Cogan at the conclusion of one of his patrol shifts last summer, but the trooper declined to comment.
It’s a step further than internal investigators went. Instead of interviewing him in person, the department asked Cogan to fill out a brief written question/answer form.
His responses are redacted in the internal investigation obtained by The Investigators. Therefore, it’s unclear how he answered this question: “Were you seeking to obtain any special privileges, preferential treatment, or to avoid the consequences of illegal acts, as a result of your official position with the Massachusetts State Police?”
Department spokesman Dave Procopio defended the process in a written statement.
“The purpose of the State Police internal investigation into Trooper Cogan’s off-duty crash was to determine whether any specific departmental rules of conduct were violated, not to re-investigate the crash itself, which had already been investigated by Wilmington Police and reviewed by the District Attorney,” Procopio wrote.
However, critics point out that the District Attorney’s office was investigating to see if criminal charges should be pursued. State police were trying to determine if their own department rules were violated, a completely different line of questioning.
For an agency facing increased scrutiny from the overtime scandal and other recent controversies, Nolan said the lack of detail in the report is all the more surprising.
“It should have been an investigation that crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s, and we don’t see that here,” Nolan expressed. “What state police did was get an industrial-sized broom and swept this under the rug.”