Residents packed the Select Board chamber Tuesday night, spilling into the hallway to show their support for Hopkinton Police Sgt. Tim Brennan and stressing his competence and compassion.
Brennan has been accused by the town of violating HPD policies for not disclosing information about alleged sexual assault by a colleague, former Deputy Chief John “Jay” Porter. Porter pleaded not guilty to three counts of child rape on May 9, 2023. Brennan indicated that he was protecting the alleged sexual assault survivor, who confided in him over a period of years after he served as a school resource officer — and his many supporters in town back his decision.
Meanwhile, after a Loudermill hearing on Jan. 19 on Brennan’s possible termination, the town released documents that did not redact the alleged survivor’s first name and other identifying information.
Those who spoke at the meeting showed ardent support for Brennan, with one person saying he should be named police chief. Others were appalled by the release of the name because it re-victimized the woman involved, and they chastised Select Board members and HPD Chief Joseph Bennett for the oversight.
Select Board chair Muriel Kramer began the meeting with an apology “from the board and the town” over the error, particularly to the alleged survivor. But that did not go far enough for some residents.
“We — all of us on the board, those of us representing town government, our attorneys and our police chief — are deeply sorry for the inappropriate disclosure of sensitive information included in the documents that were not fully or appropriately redacted,” she said. “We are deeply sorry for all you’ve had to confront, including our regrettable contribution to your burden.”
Stressed Kramer: “Words alone are never enough. But we still offer them as we seek to do what is right and to make amends.”
She called the error “devastating and inexcusable.”
She added that the town will review the situation to determine the consequences of this mistake, which may include “correcting processes” and training.
Resident Timothy Boivin said he and his wife are friends of the alleged survivor’s family. He spoke before the board in support of her as well as of Brennan. He detailed how he received “a frantic text message from the survivor’s mother” on the morning of Jan. 20, when she realized the extent of the personal information about her daughter that went public the night before on the HPD news blog. He said the police chief “outed her” by releasing this information.
Boivin added that he immediately sent an email to the Select Board but never received a response from any of the five members.
“I let the board know how mortified the survivor’s mother was at this information being released,” he continued. While he expected the information to be removed from the website immediately, it remained there until the following day.
Under state law, he noted that the identities of rape survivors are supposed to remain protected.
Said Boivin: “The town continues to fail the survivor every single step of the way.”
He added that he spoke with the alleged survivor, who explained to him how badly she feels about how the repercussions of her disclosure have affected Brennan and his family.
Sue Hadley described Brennan’s “unblemished and exemplary service record,” a comment that was echoed by others who spoke before the Select Board. Several people called for Brennan’s reinstatement.
“I understand that Officer Brennan did not follow proper reporting procedures,” Hadley said. “But I felt like he was in a very difficult situation, and he made a compassionate decision to honor and respect the victim’s request by not doing so.”
Others accused board members of having their minds made up about Brennan’s fate before garnering all the information at the Loudermill hearing.
Karen Webb called the move to terminate Brennan “vindictive” and “payback time,” saying that Brennan should have received a suspension or reprimand from the chief instead of potential termination.
“The board has a responsibility to be fair and equitable,” she added, “not to make up your mind and write a prepared statement before all the evidence has been presented. That’s unconscionable to me.”
The latter remark referred to Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch. As Ritterbusch spoke at the Loudermill hearing, she appeared to be reading from notes. It is unclear when they were written. Others in the audience referred to this action and claimed that she also published information from the unredacted report on Facebook.
Two people accused Ritterbusch and Bennett of breaking the law regarding rape survivor confidentiality by publishing the information.
Gayle Ober said she was “appalled” by the actions of the Select Board and Bennett. She called for the board to make a motion to make “Tim Brennan the new chief of police in this town.”