By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — The defense attorney for police officer Melix Bonilla said he will continue pushing for full access to the personnel records of Jay Jackson, a fired police department civilian employee who’s viewed as a “key witness” in Bonilla’s criminal extortion, fraud and conspiracy case.
Bonilla, a political ally of former Mayor William Lantigua, is accused of an illegal car swap involving city-owned cars. He is scheduled for trial on April 17.
Defense attorney Alex Cain, in court papers, said Jackson, during his tenure with the police department, was the target of multiple internal affairs investigations and may have been granted leniency if he testified at the Essex County Grand Jury against Bonilla. In a motion filed in late January, Cain asked the city of Lawrence to turn over Jackson’s personnel file, including investigative and internal affairs reports.
But last week, when the city did turn over documents pertaining to Jackson, Superior Court Judge John Lu impounded the paperwork, saying some of the records may be privileged. Lu did specify that Cain could have “redacted access” to some of the Lawrence Police Department documents, according to court papers.
In response, Cain said he will be filing additional discovery motions on March 20 when he and Bonilla return to court.
“We are trying to get full access to everything,” said Cain.
Jackson served as both the police department’s unpaid auxiliary police chief and civilian facilities manager. He was suspended as auxiliary police chief in September and fired as facilities manager after Mayor Daniel Rivera succeeded Lantigua on Jan. 2.
In his motion for the personnel records, Cain said Jackson “may have been coerced into making a damaging statement against (Bonilla).”
Jackson testified against Bonilla at the grand jury on April 25, 2012. Bonilla was indicted on September 11, 2012. And former Police Chief John Romero dismissed an internal affairs investigation against Jackson on Dec. 27, 2012, Cain wrote in the motion.
However, Romero, who retired in September after 15 years as chief, previously denied there was any truth to Cain’s allegations regarding Jackson.
In February 2013, after obtaining police department internal affairs documents, the Eagle-Tribune reported that Jackson was disciplined in 2012 for sexually harassing men he commanded as auxiliary chief. One complaint alleged Jackson parked his cruiser under a bridge while on a midnight patrol with another officer and graphically described sexual torture by Afghan terrorists.
“He informed me of their torture methods and one of them happened to be to single out homosexual men and then take gorilla glue and then squeeze bottles and bottles of the glue up their rectum, causing their stomach to explode,” William DeBenedetto Jr. wrote in one complaint on May 1, 2011, after he had resigned from the force.
“He then proceeded to question my opinion on the subject matter along with my views on homosexual men. I was immediately uncomfortable with the situation,” DeBenedetto wrote.
Sgt. Emil DeFusco, commander of the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, interviewed 22 past and current members of the auxiliary force, including Jackson, after receiving the complaints in 2012, according to the documents.
The Eagle-Tribune obtained a copy of DeFusco’s investigation after requesting it under the state’s Public’s Records Law. City Attorney Charles Boddy redacted information about how Jackson was disciplined, which the law allows.
In September 2013, Jackson was relieved of his duties as auxiliary chief amid an unspecified police department investigation. He never regained the auxiliary chief’s position, which he held for 26 years, prior to his firing as civilian facilities manager in January.
When he was called before the grand jury in Bonilla’s case, Jackson testified that Bonilla threatened to have him fired if he didn’t help the then deputy chief with an illegal swap of 13 city-owned cars for four Chevrolet Impalas.
The extortion, fraud and conspiracy charges were brought against Bonilla as a result of the car swap.
Jackson told grand jurors he feared losing his job; his only source of income and health insurance after he had a heart attack four years prior.
Also in January, after Rivera took office, Bonilla stopped receiving his $138,000 police department salary. After his indictment on Sept. 11, 2012, Lantigua allowed Bonilla, his former campaign manager who he promoted to deputy police chief from sergeant, to stay on paid administrative leave from the police department.
But after he was sworn in, Rivera suspended Bonilla, demoting him back to the rank of sergeant and moving to halt his pay. A hearing officer then ruled the city was justified in shutting down Bonilla’s paychecks.
Bonilla was indicted at the same time as Leonard Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, who is accused of pressuring a city trash hauler to donate a truck to Lantigua’s native Dominican Republic. Degnan’s criminal trial is scheduled for March 10.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.