By JOSEPH E. MCCAIN (LT. RET. Somerville PD)
For more than four years, I have weighed the decision of whether to publish this column. I hoped that someone else would tell their story first, as any number of Somerville officers or people who work in and around city government are also aware of the information detailed herein. Any one of them—any one of us—have the ability to come forward about abuses of power and privilege.
Mine may seem to some like an easy decision, since I was forced out of a profession I not only loved but that I was good at. But it’s always difficult to exit a conspiracy of inaction, and I’m certain that some parties will attempt to paint me as a disgruntled, ousted, marginal employee. My record speaks for itself, though, and I am willing to release my entire Somerville Police Department personnel folder to anyone who wants to see it.
I served on the SPD for 26 years, every second of which I tried my best to work in the best interest of my neighbors—friends and strangers alike. Yet in 2015, weary of fighting a losing battle against a corrupt city hall, I retired. I was pushed off the force after turning in Alex Capobianco, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone’s first cousin. A now-former SPD detective and high school resource officer, he was also a longtime player in the local illicit drug game. Capobianco was the department’s—and the city’s—worst-kept secret, and over the course of more than a decade, numerous officers informed SPD administrators about his addiction and dealing. Yet not a single person took action to address the issue and instead covered up his car accidents, nodding off in uniform, and many calls for service for a man “sleeping” in a motor vehicle. Capobianco got away with these things because everyone knew: Cross his cousin, the mayor, and you are finished.
Under the threat of firing, suspension, and even indictment on charges that would have been demonstrably fraudulent, I signed a punishing separation agreement with the city. As a result, I cannot pursue legal action against Curtatone or the municipality, and that’s okay. I only receive 57% of my pension, but I’m not here to collect on damages anyway. I have a fulfilling and rewarding career investigating care and protection cases for the juvenile courts in Essex and Middlesex counties, where I am able to advocate for children and parents who are caught up in the system. I enjoy my job and I make a difference.
Now that I’m long gone from the Somerville Police Department, the facts that I was trying to report internally are well known to the public. As Mike Beaudet of WCVB 5 Investigates reported in January, after Capobianco was arrested yet again, this time for “operating under the influence of drugs and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine”: “Inside his vehicle, police said they found drugs, drug paraphernalia and chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine. … The prosecutor agreed to have Capobianco released without having to put up any cash bail, citing his apparent substance abuse addiction.”
That romp wasn’t Capobianco’s first run-in with his former colleagues, or with Beaudet; 5 Investigates continued: “His arrest comes just weeks after judges dismissed charges in two other criminal cases despite objections, one case accusing him of using counterfeit money, the other a drug case. … Beaudet reported in 2017 that Capobianco was placed on paid leave over allegations of illegal drug use. … Capobianco, a former officer and detective of the year, was forced to retire from the Somerville force with a $35,500 lifetime disability pension.”
Channel 5 also noted, “The retirement raises questions because Capobianco is the cousin of Somerville’s mayor, Joseph Curtatone.” But has it really raised questions? My phone isn’t ringing off the hook. Instead, the headlines are focused on the mayor’s efforts to fight opioid abuse in Somerville, as opposed to the inconvenient side plot in which he turned a blind eye to the case of his cousin. Again, these weren’t hidden documents, stored in a vault underneath City Hall. As far back as 2005, the Boston Globe reported about Capobianco being “fired [in 2003] after admitting an addiction to painkillers,” but then “reinstated [a year and a half later] after the state’s Civil Service Commission ruled unanimously that the city should not have dismissed him.” The article is truly shocking:
Patrolman Alex Capobianco, who is a first cousin of Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, rejoined the force this month after he was fired in December 2003 for several reasons, including his addiction to OxyContin. He was the school resource officer at Somerville High School at the time and had ingested OxyContin while on duty, according to a city investigation that led to his firing. The city has agreed to pay Capobianco nearly $90,000 in back pay, and he has agreed to three random drug tests over the next year.
The allegations came to light in June 2003 when Somerville police investigated the case of a man who died of a drug overdose. Police discovered a taped phone conversation in which a voice that police believed to be Capobianco’s was asking the man for 600 OxyContin pills because he had a buyer, according to a transcript of the phone conversation. Capobianco admitted to having an addiction to OxyContin and in July 2003 he checked himself into rehab, according to civil service documents, but he denied ever selling drugs.
I was the person who discovered the above-mentioned phone conversation. So you can imagine my reaction to news about the mayor’s crusade against opioids, like his plans to open a supervised injection site for intravenous drug users. Or the city’s lawsuit “against opioid manufacturers and distributors, including the chain pharmacy Walgreens as a distributor, for their alleged deceptive and illegal promotion of opioids and failure to investigate, report, maintain effective control, and take steps to terminate suspicious orders of the highly addictive prescription drugs.” In a January press release, Curtatone railed: “The opioid epidemic touches all people, and too many of our fellow residents have been harmed. The bad actors within the opioid industry must be held to account.”
I couldn’t agree more. As for the mayor, if he cared about your friends and children, he would have done everything in his power to stop his cousin Alex from returning to the job. Instead, for 12 years he protected a drug dealer on the inside. As one mother of an addicted son told me, “Not only did he know what Alex was doing, but he [couldn’t] have cared less.”
Today, I wish that I stood up for myself years ago. I could have shed some light on this much lesser-known side of the mayor, and maybe even saved lives. Maybe this can at least inspire younger officers to do the right thing when it’s their turn, even though speaking truth to power comes with consequences.
And hopefully it’s not too late to call Curtatone’s posturing on social media into question. It was in his power to remove his cousin from the ranks; instead, he enabled him.