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Testimony contradicts House candidate

Witnesses, officials differ with Perry on handling of ’90s strip-search cases

Jeffrey D. Perry was a police sergeant. Jeffrey D. Perry was a police sergeant.
By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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Testimony from witnesses and police officials directly contradicts recent statements by Republican congressional candidate Jeffrey D. Perry about his actions as a Wareham police sergeant in the early 1990s, when a subordinate officer illegally strip-searched two teenage girls, according to transcripts and police reports obtained by the Globe.

In one case, the officer, Scott Flanagan, made a 16-year-old girl drop her pants as he shone a flashlight on her naked body. Perry asserted in an interview last month that he notified his supervisor and had Flanagan write a report as soon as he found out about the incident, which, according to police reports, was an hour after it happened. Perry, a four-term state representative, called his actions “good police work.’’

But during a Wareham disciplinary hearing for Flanagan shortly after the 1992 search, Perry’s supervisor testified that he did not hear about the incident until the next day, when a police officer from neighboring Bourne called him.

In addition, the Wareham supervisor, Captain Paul Joseph Cardalino, said Perry made an unauthorized visit to the girl’s house, according to a hearing transcript. And later, when the girl’s family went to the police station to report the incident, Perry met with them but neglected to have them fill out a complaint, Cardalino testified.

In the other case, Flanagan strip-searched a 14-year-old girl, and stuck his hand down her underwear, near a cranberry bog in 1991.

Perry said in last month’s interview that he was at the scene but did not observe anything inappropriate. “It did not occur in my presence,’’ he said.

But in sworn testimony in a deposition for civil suits filed by the two girls’ families, Perry said he was in a position to have seen and heard everything and that it did not happen, according to a law enforcement specialist, Lou Reiter, who reviewed Perry’s deposition, wrote a report, and testified for one of the plaintiffs.

Flanagan later confessed that he had strip-searched both girls, pleading guilty to criminal charges. The contradictory statements — Perry saying nothing happened, and Flanagan later admitting it did — led Reiter to conclude that Perry was “not being truthful.’’

Reiter, former deputy police chief in Los Angeles, was hired by the victims, who won a jury verdict against the town in one case and settled the other before trial. Perry was dismissed as a defendant in the case that went to trial.

In an interview yesterday, Perry blamed a bad memory for contradictions between his comments last month and statements in testimony and police reports. In the 16-year-old’s case, Perry said, he does not dispute Cardalino’s testimony, but that it does not match what he remembers.

“I’ve always tried to the best of my ability to recount what happened 18 years ago,’’ Perry said.

In the 14-year-old’s case, he said, he does not recall what statements he made or even being deposed, though Perry said the statements attributed to him are consistent with his beliefs at the time. “I thought the officer was being falsely accused,’’ he said.

Perry declined to comment specifically on Reiter’s report, saying he had not seen it.

Perry was not charged or disciplined in either case. He submitted his resignation on June 3, 1993, six months after authorities began investigating the searches and 17 days after a grand jury probing both cases indicted Flanagan on indecent assault and civil rights violations. Perry maintained yesterday that he left to start a private investigation business.

Perry pointed to recommendation letters Cardalino and the chief of police at the time, Thomas A. Joyce, wrote praising his service. Cardalino, asked yesterday if he stood by his letter, declined to comment. Joyce did not return repeated messages.

The two cases are under new scrutiny as Perry, of Sandwich, battles former state treasurer Joe Malone for the Republican nomination to succeed US Representative William D. Delahunt. Prominent GOP politicians, including Senator Scott Brown, have endorsed Perry.

The Globe, in addition to reviewing sworn testimony in depositions and the civil trial, obtained transcripts of Flanagan’s disciplinary hearing, State Police and Wareham police reports, and correspondence in the criminal case through requests under state public records law. The Globe is withholding the victims’ names at the request of family members.

State Police reports paint a picture of a teen get-together in Wareham on May 22, 1991. Three boys and the 14-year-old girl were socializing around two parked cars when three police cruisers pulled up, according to a Wareham police report. Perry, the patrol supervisor that night; Flanagan; and another officer, Stephen Kearney, approached the teenagers.

Perry and Flanagan found one of the boys had marijuana and arrested him. Flanagan then asked the girl if she had any drugs. He ordered her to lift her top and bra and then unbutton her pants, according to a transcript of Flanagan’s guilty plea. She protested, but he threatened to arrest her if she did not.

“I started yelling, I started screaming, I was crying, and I was real upset,’’ the victim testified in the civil case.

Perry was roughly 15 feet away and searching one of the boy’s cars at that point, according to State Police reports drawn from separate interviews with the three other teenagers. While two of the witnesses told police they did not know if Perry saw the search, one said he believed Perry did. Perry maintained yesterday that he did not see or hear anything inappropriate.

The strip search of the 16-year-old happened roughly 18 months later, on Dec. 31, 1992, when Flanagan took the girl behind a dumpster at a Tedeschi’s store, ostensibly to search for drugs, the transcript of Flanagan’s guilty plea states.

Perry was not present, but Flanagan called him within an hour afterward and told him the girl had dropped her pants without provocation, to prove she did not have any drugs, according to a Wareham police report. Perry did not notify superiors that night, even though he testified at Flanagan’s disciplinary hearing that the events Flanagan described were “unusual.’’

“It’s not every day a young lady exposes herself when you’re investigating a complaint,’’ he testified.

He and Flanagan then went to the girl’s house and told her parents she had an oregano-like substance on her shirt and that if it had been marijuana she could have gone to jail. As they left, Perry said, “Oh, yeah, by the way, [she] pulled her pants down for us,’’ the parents testified. The parents perceived the officers’ visit as a threat to keep quiet.

The father complained to Perry at the police station the next day, and Perry said he would notify his supervisor. He called Cardalino later, but by that time, nearly 24 hours after the search, Cardalino had already received a call about the incident from a Bourne police officer, Cardalino testified. He then ordered Perry to write a report and have Flanagan write one, as well.

Overall, Perry said that in retrospect, he might have done things differently, not necessarily in his police work, but in his relationship with Flanagan. “My biggest mistake,’’ he said, “was trusting him unconditionally.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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