Candidate for state rep was fired from BPD; claims he was wrongfully terminated

Jovan Lacet

Jovan Lacet, who is challenging incumbent state representative Dan Cullinane for the 12th Suffolk State Representative seat in the Sept. 8 primary election, points to his experience as a US Marine veteran and a former Boston Police officer in his campaign materials.

What is not mentioned in that dossier is Lacet’s termination from his job as a Boston Police officer in 2004 in the aftermath of a murder investigation and prosecution in which his brother was the chief suspect and defendant in a fatal 1998 shooting in Mattapan. His brother was found not guilty.

This week, a Boston Police spokesman told the Reporter that Lacet was terminated because he “committed perjury.”

In an interview this week, however, Lacet, now 51 and a practicing attorney based in Mattapan, told the Reporter that he discusses his history with the department while on the campaign trail and is vigorous in claiming that he was wrongfully terminated by the department. A section of his campaign website notes that following his assignment to Boston Police District C-11, “Jovan served the Dorchester residents and other Boston residents with distinction and respect as a Boston Police Officer.”

“The Boston Police Department retaliated against me,” Lacet told the Reporter. "It’s always been a corrupt department. It was corrupt when I was there and it’s corrupt now,” he said, noting that he was never charged with perjury or reprimanded for any wrongdoing in connection with the case by the state’s Board of Bar Overseers. In the end, though, he was fired from his job as patrolman.

“Former Police Officer Jovan Lacet committed perjury in connection with his testimony in a homicide investigation,” said the BPD spokesman. “He impaired the investigation by lying to investigators and failing to notify the department of contact with his fugitive brother. He subsequently refused to provide a report to the Internal Affairs Division after being ordered to do so.

“The Boston Police Department holds its employees to highest standards of conduct. Mr. Lacet chose his fate when he committed perjury and impeded a homicide investigation,” the spokesman added, and “he was terminated as a result.”

According to court records, Lacet testified under oath first to a Suffolk County grand jury and then in Suffolk Superior Court in 2002 concerning his brother, Besher Lacet, who was charged in connection to the June 21, 1998, murder of Moses Landais, who was shot to death at a house party on Woolson Street in Mattapan. Jovan Lacet initially testified to a grand jury that he had seen his brother at the party before the homicide, but changed his story and claimed had not seen his brother when testifying at the Superior Court trial.

Basher Lacet was acquitted in the case. He was subsequently deported to his native Haiti, where he later died from complications related to diabetes, according to Jovan Lacet. No one else has been charged in the murder of Landais.

In the aftermath of the trial, on March 11, 2004 the police department took formal action against Lacet, citing him for violations of conduct, truthfulness, reporting law, and public integrity canons, and for a failure to notify authorities, and dismissed him from the force, citing his “perjury.” Lacet unsuccessfully appealed twice and court records show that he claimed he “did not receive proper notice” and that he was “is immunized for the acts.”

Subsequently, the state’s Civil Service Commission and a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the police. While Lacet was immunized by the prosecution against charges relating to his testimony under oath, the court noted, he was not exempt from his employer acting on that testimony to protect the integrity of the profession.

“Essential to the policing profession is maintenance of the public trust,” the ruling said. “There is a ‘public policy against requiring the reinstatement of police officer who have committed felonious misconduct,’ because the criminal justice system depends upon the public’s trust of the police.”

The rulings on the appeals determined that because Lacet admitted to lying under oath, he had failed to demonstrate that the reason for his dismissal was inaccurate and so the BPD had just cause to terminate him for perjury.

A spokesman for the Suffolk District Attorney’s office told the Reporter that Lacet had been granted immunity for his testimony in the case, but added that “the immunity order protects a witness from charges based on testimony regarding their own past conduct, but not from charges based on subsequent conduct such as lying under oath.”

The perjury case itself was referred to an independent prosecutor’s office to avoid an appearance of conflict, the spokesman, Jake Wark, said. Lacet was not prosecuted.

In his interview with the Reporter this week, Lacet insisted that his immunity from punishment resulting from his brother’s case should have extended to his job security as well. He maintained that he was targeted for punishment, in part, because he has raised concerns about police tactics to Internal Affairs on multiple occasions during his time on the force.

“I was wrongfully terminated because the judge who was on the trial determined that I had Fifth Amendment rights and I was granted written transactional immunity,” Lacet said. “It clearly stated no civil or criminal prosecution when they gave me that immunity. Instead, I was prosecuted through the Boston Police Department.”

In court documents, and in talking with the Reporter, Lacet has repeatedly claimed that he was coerced into making a false statement by BPD detectives, including Det. Danny Keeler, a highly decorated homicide detective who retired from the department earlier this year. Keeler was a controversial figure on the force and, according to a Boston Globe report, came under scrutiny for alleged theft on the job in 2006.

Lacet said that Keeler threatened his job as an attorney and as a police officer if he did not give false information to the grand jury. “I was compelled to testify. I was ordered to say that my brother was at the party when I did not see him at the party,” said Lacet, who said he did not pursue complaints against Keeler or anyone else at the time because he was grieving the loss of his infant son, who died in 2002.

Keeler told the Reporter this week that Lacet's claims "could not be further from the truth." Interviews with Lacet, Keeler says, were conducted with his attorney present, along with an assistant district attorney. Keeler said Lacet— who was then still a recruit in the Boston Police Academy at the time— was warned that "there would be repercussions" if he refused to cooperate in a murder investigation.

"I would hate to be in the position he was in," said Keeler. "But we had a job to do at the time. When you're a cop, I said to him at the time: 'He put you in this position.'"

Keeler maintains that Lacet's testimony that his brother was not at the scene of the crime that night was critical to his brother's acquittal.

"The important thing we were looking to do was to put him at the house that night," said Keeler.

Lacet insists that he was only at the Woolson Street home briefly when he and his wife stopped by the late-night party for a plate of food following a wedding. He spotted other family members at the three-decker house — it was held in a cousin's apartment— but claims he never saw Basher, despite what he initially told a grand jury under oath.

Lacet, who now practices law full-time from his Mattapan residence, points to a lack of any reprimand from the state's Board of Bar Overseers as evidence that he was in the right.

“When someone questions me about what happened, I tell them it was a wrongful termination,” said Lacet. “The people understand the prejudice that officers of color experience in Boston. I’m not the only officer of color who’s been wrongfully terminated.”

This article originally appeared in the Dorchester Reporter.