By Joe McCain (Somerville Police Lt. Ret.)
On June 14, 2003, I was standing over the dead body of Carlos DeMedeiros. He was still warm. As a police sergeant, it was a familiar scene. Too familiar. Since the early 1990s it was one I witnessed too frequently and it was taking a toll on me.
My cell phone rang. On the other end was high school resource officer Alex Capobianco. Chief of Police George McLean at the beginning of the school year in 2002 had appointed him to his position. The kids called him “Officer Oscar, Officer Beans or Officer Noddie,” because he frequently nodded off at basketball games and school events.
“Hey Sarge,” said Capobianco, “are you at the DeMedeiros scene?”
“I am, what’s up?” I replied.
“He’s wearing a Rolex and he’s got a couple of grand in his pocket. Can you get them for me? He was holding it. I owed him some money,” Alex asked.
My explicative-laced reply is not appropriate here. Suffice it to say, I replied, “Are you out of your mind? You want me to strip the watch and the cash off of a dead kid at a crime scene?” I hung up the phone.
Returning to the station with a cell phone belonging to Carlos that was found at the scene, I knocked at Captain Dan Matthew’s office. Through the thick oak door I could hear him summon me. “Come in.”
Captain Matthews was in charge of the detective bureau. He was a consummate gentleman. I grew up playing hockey with his sons, knew him well and respected him greatly. He was one of the good guys. He looked out for me. Having already heard the recorded conversation, I approached his desk and handed him the phone. The recording was cued up. I told him to press play. He looked over his glasses and listened as DeMedeiros said “Alex, do you need any?” When he heard Alex’s reply: “I, I, ya, I have like 600 of em’ sold, but can’t get nobody,” Captain Matthews asked, “Is that Capobianco?”
“Yes, sir. It is,” I replied.
Captain Matthews had a full head of white hair. He shook it side to side and then tuned in with more intent as Carlos continued.
“No, eight[ies],” replied Capobianco. The number was a reference to the milligram content of each pill.
“How many Al?” asked DeMedeiros.
“Six-hundred of em’, I, I sold about six-hundred of them, but I can’t, I can’t do anything, ahh, no one has anything. I was wondering if you knew who did have some. So I don’t know what to do, no one has them,” said the high school resource officer.
“Ya, no one has any, not now anyway,” replied DeMedeiros..
Captain Matthews lowered the phone from his ear.
“Good luck,” I said, backing away from his desk and hopefully the whole situation. I closed the door behind me. He appeared to be well aware, as I was, that Joe Curtatone had just won the primary election and would soon be sworn in as Mayor of the City of Somerville.
As soon as resource officer Capobianco reached the halls and classrooms of Somerville High School in 2002, he began providing members of the narcotics unit with information regarding drug dealers operating in the city. It wasn’t long before these officers realized that Officer Capobianco was feeding them his competition.
That same school year, in June, DeMedeiros died. Three months later Curtatone, Capobianco’s first cousin, defeated Dorothy Kelly Gay and subsequently went on to win the general election in November.
The Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Criminal Division respectively agreed to a request from the city of Somerville and granted Capobianco transactional immunity on September 24,th and September 30, according to the state civil service commission. By granting transactional immunity to Capobianco the city government of Somerville was enabled to control the investigation internally. Immunity also afforded Capobianco the ability to avoid criminal prosecution were further illegal activities on his part discovered.
Is it a coincidence that the office of the Middlesex County District Attorney and the Attorney General at would grant Capobianco immunity in the same month his first cousin won the mayoral election?
It has been suggested by several of my former colleagues, that the district attorney and attorney general granted Capobianco immunity, enabling him to avoid criminal prosecution, because he was feeding “bigger fish” to the prosecutors. But who is a bigger fish than a drug-dealing cop?
What now Mayor Curtatone didn’t count on was that Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay would fire Capobianco. The state civil service commission in a decision handed down in 2005 found that Capobianco’s firing was “tainted by the influences of political considerations and retribution.”
In his May 19 decision, Civil Service Commissioner John Taylor found that Capobiano’s firing “raises concerns of a politically motivated decision.”
If anything, it was a politically motivated decision, concluded Taylor, who criticized Mayor Gay’s credibility as ”…low, based on her demeanor at the Commissions hearing.”
Taylor said Capobianco’s “credibility is high based on his demeanor and candor.”
To write that the former mayor’s credibility was less than that of a drug dealing cop is the height of preposterousness. Mayor Gay didn’t fire Alex because he was Joe’s first cousin or because he worked for Joe’s campaign; she fired him because he was a drug dealer.
On Wednesday, January 30, 2019, Mayor Curtatone and the City of Somerville filed a lawsuit against several major pharmaceutical companies. They laid blame for the opioid crisis that has hit our city squarely at their feet.
“Through our investigation, we have evidence that these opioid manufacturers and distributors created the extraordinary crisis we are experiencing in Somerville, our claims include their scheme to fuel the market by pumping opioids into our city and, as a result, creating a public health crisis that we must both address now and prevent for future generations,” the city solicitor, Frank Wright, said in a news release.
The mayor is 16 years too late. In 2003, an investigation provided him with clear evidence Capobianco was dealing drugs. He chose to ignore that evidence. Now he attempts to close the barn door. Long ago the horse ran out.
Curtatone had an opportunity to stem a portion of the opioids flooding into the city by telling his first cousin not to file an appeal. Last week, when he pointed his finger outward, he should have instead been taking responsibility.
He could have prevented Capobianco from returning to the police force, but he did not. Capobianco was a pariah. His presence was an insult to every honest cop who ever wore a badge. Instead Curtatone was an enabler. He chose to use his authority to help a filthy cop dirty a whole city.
Capobianco was back on the job for 12 years. Did Curtatone care more for the job security of a family member, than for the safety and security of the children of this city?
Late one evening last week, over a second cup of Barry’s Irish Tea at a dining room table in a Somerville home, a mother shared her story with me. She told me what it was like living with a drug-addicted teenage boy. Her son went to Somerville High School in 2002, and knew Alex well. She knew Alex well. She said her son told her about what was going on at the high school and what their resource officer was up to. He had shared with his mother the nicknames fellow students had for Officer Capobianco. He had shared with his mother how during the prom Capobianco drooled and repeatedly nodded off. The mother told me how her boy asked the police officer what was wrong, and how Capobianco replied that he was just tired. But the teenage boy knew differently, his mother told me. It was no secret what Alex was doing and why no one did anything about it. To this day it provokes her ire. “He was supposed to protect our kids,” she said, her eyes watering up.
I listened. She described hell in real time. Every day she expected to find her son dead in his bedroom, as do so many other Somerville moms, dads, sisters and brothers.
Tears do not come easily to this battle-hardened veteran of the ravages of drug addiction. She is still angry. After all these years she was a lucky one. Her son survived, probably only because she checked on him every single day: she repeatedly went in his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing, she said. It was a common scene in the homes of her friends, who also had drug addicted sons. It was heart breaking.
I have three sons. They are now all grown men, but they have all have lost friends to this disease. I joined her and wept at her table. Then, she consoled me. She said that the young boys who became addicts in the early 2000’s, — the ones who didn’t die, who struggle to this day with addiction and steady employment — still can’t find good jobs because of drug related arrests.
She got up from the table and went into another room. When she returned, she held a stack of plastic prayer cards in her hands. Spreading them before me on the cloth dining room table cover with the ease of a black jack dealer it was clear to me that she had done this before.
The faces were of youths, some young, some in their mid-30’s. All of whom brought into clear focus the reality of what happened here in Somerville and what is still happening all around us to this day. She blames Alex Capobianco, she said. She blames Mayor Joe Curtatone.
“I watched a whole generation of young boys from Somerville die. P.J. Pefine just died. He went to school with my son. He was 33. Its a disgrace that Alex got his job back. It’s a disgrace that he was given back pay for the two years he was out. It’s a disgrace that the city awarded him a 72% disability pension while there are parents still struggling with the loss of their sons. He got his job back and back pay while mothers and fathers were trying to find the money to bury their children,” She said.
I put on my jacket. She pushed herself up from her chair, swiped the her hair from her face and walked over to me. We hugged. I turned and walked down the carpeted stairs to the front porch. Photographs of her family lined the walls of the staircase. She’s proud of each and every one of them and she should be.
As I mounted my motorcycle, I could see from the corner of my eye that she was picking up all the small pieces of litter from the street and the sidewalk in front of her home. Another proud, old school, Somerville mom. She told me I was crazy for riding my bike in this weather. I smiled and told her I would call her later in the week. I’m not sure she knows how much I respect her.
Lt. Joe McCain retired from the Somerville Police Department on his 26th anniversary on September 11, 2015. He was born and raised in Somerville. He graduated from Somerville High School where he was a trumpet player and Captain of the varsity hockey team. He is the father of 3 sons who were raised in the city. He is a former Marine. Lt. McCain has a Master’s degree in History from U Mass Boston and a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Anna Maria College. He, like his father, was the recipient of the George L. Hannah Memorial Award for Bravery; it is highest award for bravery given to police officers by the Governor’s office and it is the first and only time a father and son have been awarded this medal. He is the currently the Vice-President on the board of directors of Elevate Youth, a youth mentoring program in Somerville that focuses on getting inner-city kids out in the wilderness.