MIT Police Officer Arrested on Charges of Drug Trafficking

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MIT Campus Police officer Joseph D’Amelio was arrested on March 14 on drug trafficking charges after receiving a package containing hundreds of prescription painkiller tablets at an auto shop in East Boston. D’Amelio was formally fired in early April.
Suffolk County District Attorney

The MIT Police found one of its officers, Joseph D’Amelio, arrested for drug trafficking in mid-March. The eventual fallout led to his dismissal, and, separately, the dismissal of one MIT police officer and the suspension of another for recycling 400 issues of The Tech. D’Amelio’s trial began on January 11, 2010 and is ongoing.

The saga began when D’Amelio and his cousin Anthony Cristallo were arrested March 14 after allegedly receiving a package containing 340 OxyContin pills and 500 Roxicodone tablets. That night a Donald Smoot (no relation to the famed Oliver R. Smoot ’62) went to an Advanced Automotive store in Eastern Boston to pick up a package he sent to himself from Florida. The Massachusetts State Police had already been informed by Federal Express about the package’s contents, and as part of a sting operation an undercover police officer disguised as a FedEx employee delivered the package to Smoot.

Smoot was then arrested, but claimed that D’Amelio was a drug customer and eventual recipient of the package. Cooperating with police, Smoot called D’Amelio to come to the auto store and purchase the drugs.

D’Amelio received Smoot’s call while on MIT Campus Police duty. D’Amelio requested permission from the Campus Police to travel off campus, claiming to want to bring dinner to the Campus Police Station.

He then went in uniform and driving an MIT Police cruiser to the auto shop, and once there he went through the package’s contents with Smoot, the entire exchange overheard by the undercover police officer.

According to the Incident Report prepared by the undercover Massachusetts State Police officer, when the inventory was confirmed D’Amelio called Cristallo, who came to the auto store bringing $16,000 in cash to purchase the pills. Before the final transaction occurred, the undercover police officer arrested the three and recovered all drugs and cash.

Immediately D’Amelio was placed on administrative leave without pay and finally fired from the MIT Police department on April 6, 2009.

While OxyContin and Roxicodone are legal with a prescription, they both contain the addictive Schedule II drug oxycodone. Drugs classified as Schedule II are labeled by the Drug Enforcement Administration as having a high risk of abuse and causing “severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Trafficking in excess of 100 grams of oxycodone, classified as a class B drug by the Massachusetts Sentencing Guidelines, carries a sentence of 10–20 years. D’Amelio was charged with possessing more than 200 grams of oxycodone within a thousand feet of a public elementary school, which carries an additional penalty.

Bail for D’Amelio was initially set at $500,000 but soon reduced to $75,000. After posting the $75,000 bail, D’Amelio was ordered to house arrest and later released from that requirement when he enrolled in a drug treatment program.

Two MIT police officers became involved in the drama when they removed March 17 copies of The Tech containing an article on the initial arrest of D’Amelio. Three hundred Tech issues from the Student Center and one hundred issues from the Infinite Corridor were taken from stands and put into recycling bins.

Officer Duane R. Keegan and one unidentified officer came forward the next day through their union Campus Police Association admitting they were the ones who removed the issues. Keegan was fired two weeks after the incident, and the unidentified officer was suspended without pay.

MIT responds with review panel

Soon after the arrest, MIT announced plans to form a review panel “to investigate the arrest and its ramifications,” according a statement by Executive Vice President Theresa M. Stone SM ’76. The MIT police policies and disciplinary systems were reviewed by a panel of seven MIT officials and professors, as well as the Cambridge Police Commissioner.

The final report was presented August 31, 2009 to President Susan J. Hockfield and Stone, and is available online. Its findings included that while the Campus Police “[operate] at high level[s] of professionalism,” at the same time the Campus Police policies lacked provisions that addresses the behavior of officers off-duty.

For instance, there are no requirements that officers report on misconduct off-campus of fellow officers, stated the report. Off-duty behavior should be monitored because it does affect an officer’s capability and capacity to work on-duty, as “a police officer under stress or susceptible to pressures from off-duty activities may lack focus, judgment, restraint, or willingness to act, at a critical moment on duty,” stated the report.

Incriminating off-duty behaviors may also “impair or destroy the officer’s usefulness as a witness in court,” the report stated. Any inappropriate off-duty behavior at the very least reflects poorly on MIT, and “seriously improper behavior by one of its Campus Police officers, to whom MIT entrusts the safety of its students, personnel, and campus, is unacceptable.”

The report also found that there is no evidence that D’Amelio’s trafficked drugs on campus or among MIT students. While the review panel had no legal powers to issue subpoenas or compel testimony, the report stated that it received “no information through its interviews and inquiries that is probative of any such activity, and nothing in Mr. D’Amelio’s conduct or statements after his arrest suggests any such activity.”

The report provided some suggestions for the MIT police department, including that it begin randomly drug testing its officers. “Such a procedure would contribute to a culture of high expectations for behavior, both on-duty and off-duty,” the report stated.

It also suggested that the MIT police force could benefit from Campus Police including not only sworn police officers but also public safety personnel responsible for tasks such as lock outs, transportations, and escorts that do not necessarily require trained police officers.

Neither Cristallo nor D’Amelio were new to the legal system. Beginning in 1986 Cristallo served fifteen years in New Hampshire state prison for a murder he committed at the age of 16. In September 2006 D’Amelio was arraigned but found not guilty for threatening a pawn shop owner, according to court documents.

According to the pawn shop owner’s complaint, in the May incident D’Amelio, accompanied by an unidentified friend, approached pawn shop owner Arthur Martelli demanding Martelli return jewelry that D’Amelio claimed was stolen by a heroin addict and pawned there.

The complaint claimed that, when Martelli denied he had the jewelry, D’Amelio left the store and returned thirty minutes later. He allegedly went into the store screaming profanities at Martelli and demanding the owner return his property or “I will beat you with a fucking bat and get you into the back of the hearse,” that he had driven to the pawn shop with.

Around the Institute, D’Amelio was a detached figure, with the August review panel report recording in interviews that he “was described as an officer who did not readily engage or interact with students or the MIT community.” He was however controversially involved in arresting campus activist Aimee L. Smith PhD ’02 twice within three months.

The first arrest occurred during the 2004 Commencement when Smith was handing out pamphlets. The Middlesex District Attorney decided not to bring her arrest to trial, after then-President Charles M. Vest sent a letter asking for Smith not to be prosecuted.

D’Amelio arrested Smith again on August 24, 2004 after a verbal altercation between her and D’Amelio outside the Student Center. She approached D’Amelio and other police officers, calling them “fucking pigs,” The Tech reported. Smith claimed in an e-mail to the MIT Social Justice Cooperative later that D’Amelio “taunt[ed] her about the fact he arrested before.” He then arrested her for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The District Attorney dismissed the charges from Smith’s August 24, 2004 arrest. Smith in turn filed a criminal complaint against D’Amelio, but all criminal charges against him were also dismissed.