NORTHAMPTON — It was nearly 5 a.m. on a chilly January morning when two Northampton police officers pulled over a driver for a busted tail light and then arrested him on a drunk-driving charge. In their arrest report, the officers alleged that the car smelled like alcohol, and that the driver had glassy eyes, slurred his words and fumbled his belongings before failing field sobriety tests.
But when Northampton District Court Judge Mary Beth Ogulewicz watched dash-cam video of the incident, she found that the evidence told a different story: the driver’s speech wasn’t slurred, his eyes weren’t glassy and the rookie officer who made the stop told his training officer back in the cruiser that the driver “didn’t have any smell.”
And that’s not all that the judge heard on the dash-cam audio.
“If it’s an OUI, we’re gonna cheat,” Ogulewicz said she heard the training officer, Heather Longley, tell her trainee, Edward Hagelstein. “I need to get out by 8:30.”
The Northampton Police Department and Northwestern District Attorney’s Office are now both looking into Longley’s comments about cheating, which The Shoestring discovered in court filings from the case. Those remarks played a large role in Ogulewicz’s decision to suppress evidence from the traffic stop, together with the fact that Longley also said, when the driver’s lawyer cross-examined her, that cheating “is okay depending on the context.”
“As a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of police duties and training another officer, espousing cheating in any regard is anathema to the fair and impartial administration of the law and contributes, particularly in the current socioculturalpolitical climate, to the widely held public perception, particularly among marginalized populations, of rogue law enforcement,” Ogulewicz wrote in her decision. “Moreover, Officer Longley’s adoption of cheating, and honesty as a malleable factor in the course of police work, casts doubt on her credibility in the determination of facts by this court.”
In July, after Ogulewicz’s decision to suppress evidence from the traffic stop, the DA’s office dropped the case. But having to fight the charge in court still took a toll on the driver, who The Shoestring is not identifying because prosecutors dropped the case against him.
“The arrest had a really negative impact on my client’s life and resulted in hardship and lost opportunities as it dragged on for more than six months,” Northampton defense attorney Jesse Adams told The Shoestring. “We are very grateful that the judge ruled in our favor and wrote a thoughtful opinion. I hope the officers have learned from their mistakes and never repeat them.”
Neither Hagelstein nor Longley returned emails sent late last week requesting comment on the case.
On Aug. 23, The Shoestring filed a public records request for the final report of any internal investigation NPD conducted into Longley. In early September, the department responded: “At the time, we do not have a record responsive to this request.”
Now, Police Chief Jody Kasper says that’s because the incident is still under investigation.
“When we became aware of this matter we initiated an internal investigation,” Kasper said in an email to The Shoestring. “We are still waiting for the completed report with the investigator’s findings. While we wait for the outcome of the investigation, I will not make further comments.”
The outcome of that internal investigation could also have secondary impacts on other court cases in which either officer testifies. When a police officer is found to have credibility issues, DA’s offices can add them to what is known as a “Brady list,” which prosecutors keep because they are required to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to defendants in criminal cases.
When asked if the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office has drafted or sent out any Brady disclosures related to the incident, spokesperson Laurie Loisel said that “the office is still in the process of assessing the impact of the judge’s decision.”
Longley in particular has likely made a significant number of arrests on charges of operating under the influence.
In 2020, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving presented awards to Longley and fellow Northampton officer Matthew Montini. In a Facebook post, the organization said that the two officers “go above and beyond to take impaired drivers off the road.”
The Northampton Police Department’s website also lists Longley as one of the department’s two “drug recognition experts” who, after a two-week training course, work to identify drivers who are under the influence of drugs. (Last year, Massachusetts General Hospital scientists studying marijuana impairment while driving found that drug recognition “experts” produced a staggeringly high number of false positives, causing the researchers to drop that protocol from their experiment altogether.)
In her assessment of the evidence in the January OUI arrest that Longley and Hagelstein made, Ogulewicz found important discrepancies between most of the officers’ statements and the video footage, which The Shoestring was not immediately able to obtain.
The driver was coming from the MGM Springfield casino with a passenger when the officers pulled him over. After telling Longley that he didn’t smell alcohol on the driver, Hagelstein asked Longley how far away the driver’s home was, according to court documents. That, Ogulewicz wrote, suggested that Hagelstein thought he should let the driver go because he lacked reasonable suspicion for further investigation. But that’s not what happened.
“Officer Hagelstein was told by his field training officer that she heard the Defendant slurring his words and directed him to return to the Defendant and ask how much he had to drink,” Ogulewicz wrote. “Given the imbalance of power between the officers, Officer Hagelstein returned to speak to the Defendant a second time.”
According to court records, it was after Hagelstein told Longley he didn’t smell alcohol on the driver that she told him: “If it’s an OUI, we’re gonna cheat … I need to get out by 8:30.” Eventually, Ogulewicz wrote, Longley got out of the cruiser, where she had been listening to the interaction from Hagelstein’s microphone, and after a brief interaction instructed the driver to exit his car. She then performed what Ogulewicz called “an unusually high number of field sobriety tests” before arresting the driver.
Ogulewicz said that when asked about the cheating comment, Longley said she was talking about helping Hagelstein write his report. However, the judge wrote that she did not find that explanation credible.
In his motion asking Ogulewicz to suppress evidence from the traffic stop, the driver described Longley’s comment about cheating as “a rather shocking open admission of malfeasance.”
“Knowing there was no sufficient legal basis to order me out of my vehicle, Officer Longley, who was training Officer Hagelstein, told him that they were going to collude together to cheat and arrest a person without any probable cause whatsoever because Officer Longley did [not] want to get out of work late,” the driver wrote. “This conduct is egregious.”
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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