The City of Fall River has been dragging its feet on public records requests sent by The Bay State Examiner to the police department and mayor's office seeking records related to George Thompson, who was wrongfully arrested earlier this year after he recorded a video of a police officer with his iPhone. The Examiner mailed the two records requests on April 17. We received a response, postmarked April 24, from Melissa da Silveira, a paralegal for the Fall River Office of the Corporation Counsel.
"[T]his correspondence serves as notification of our offer to provide documents related to Mr. George Thompson," da Silveira wrote. "Please be advised that due to the voluminous nature of the request, the custodian will fulfill it as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay."
It is not clear whether the letter was written in response to the records request to the police department, the mayor's office, or both.
Since receiving that letter, we have not received a follow-up from Melissa da Silveira or any other employee of the Fall River city government. It has now been 25 days since da Silveira mailed her letter to the Examiner and more than a month since our records requests were mailed to the police department and mayor's office.
State law mandates that all state and local government agencies in Massachusetts must comply with public records requests within 10 days.
We are not the only ones having trouble getting answers on this matter. The news site Photography is Not a Crime sent four copies of a public records request to the police department seeking similar information, but still has not gotten a response.
The Examiner will be sending an appeal to the Supervisor of Records.
The records requests sent by the Examiner are part of our investigation of the arrest of George Thompson.
Thompson was shoved to the ground and arrested by Fall River Police Officer Thomas Barboza in January as he stood on his porch recording the officer with his iPhone. Thompson said he began recording Barboza because he was talking loudly on his cell phone and swearing while working a street detail. Thompson was charged with wiretapping and resisting arrest.
After Thompson was arrested, his phone was somehow reset to factory settings, erasing his video, while in police custody. In a report, two Fall River police detectives blamed Thompson, saying that he must have reset it using a cloud service. Thompson has denied deleting the video and said he wanted people to see it.
On April 11, Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Robert Kidd agreed to drop all of the charges against Thompson.
Almost immediately after the charges were dropped, the Fall River Police Department issued a press release saying that the police chief had hired Ken Bell & Associates to examine Thompson's phone, which has still not been returned to him. The press release claims Ken Bell & Associates is a “private and external forensic company that specializes in computer and cell phone forensic investigations.”
Carlos Miller of Photography is Not a Crime and I both began looking into Ken Bell & Associates to see what we could learn about the company. We were able to locate the company's website, but the site still appears to be under construction and does not have a phone number, mailing address, or any other professional contact information.
After Miller wrote about the lack contact information on Photography is Not a Crime, several of his readers dug up more information about Ken Bell and his company. Miller was able to determine that Bell went to the same college as Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine and suggested that the two may be friends.
Ken Bell, who is recognized as being an expert in computer forensics, retired from the Rhode Island State Police Department in 2012 as you can see on page three of this document.
He then launched Ken Bell & Associates in December 2013, according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State, meaning he was stretching the truth when he claimed on his site the company had been founded in 2012.
Although he is cited as having all kinds of expertise in computers, he didn’t launch the site until March, which explains why it deserves one of those annoying “under construction” banners across the top.
And one of his first clients, if not his very first, was his old college buddy, Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine, who was searching for excuses not to return Thompson’s phone, even though charges against him were already dropped.
According to his LinkedIn page, Racine attended Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, earning a bachelors degree in criminal justice.
And according to a site from the university itself, Ken Bell also attended Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, earning a degree in criminal justice.
Racine graduated in 1997. We still haven’t confirmed when Bell graduated.
But perhaps there are old college photos floating around.
I hoped that the Examiner's records request to the Fall River Police Department, which asked for all communications and contracts between Ken Bell & Associates and the department, would shed more light on their relationship.
The Examiner also sent a public records request to the office of Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, who hired Police Chief Racine. The request asked for any communications by the mayor's office about George Thompson.
Previously, Thompson paid Flanagan a surprise visit the day his charges were dropped, asking the mayor to open an independent investigation into the Fall River Police Department to determine who tampered with his phone.
Flanagan, who is the police chief's supervisor, refused to provide any oversight of the police. He said it was the job of the police chief to police his own department and that he had "full confidence" in Racine. Flanagan said he supported the way the police chief was handling Thompson's case even though had no idea what the facts of the case were.
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Also, check our old video about George Thompson's case here: