Amy Bishop and Massachusetts Politics

The scene of the crime, Dec. 6, 1986

I’m still obsessed with the Amy Bishop case–most of all I’m fascinated by the events of December 6, 1986, when Bishop shot and killed her younger brother Seth. As I’m sure you all remember, Bishop is now in jail, after being charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder for shooting six of her colleagues in the Biology Department at the University of Alabama Huntsville, three of them fatally.

Over the past few days, a great deal more information has come out and it appears more and more likely that local politics played a role in preventing Bishop from being charged with a crime in connection with the shooting of her brother Seth on December 6, 1986 in their home in Braintree, Massachusetts.

To recap, a day after the shootings in Alabama, current Braintree Chief of Police Paul Frazier released a statement in which he criticized the handling of the 1986 shooting by then Chief John Polio, now retired. Frazier had spoken to Officer Ronald Solimini, who in 1986 had arrested 21-year-old Amy Bishop and brought her to the police station to be booked.

Solimini told Chief Frazier that the file on the case had been missing at least since 1988, when Chief Polio’s successor, Chief Edward Flynn looked for it (I would love to know why he was looking for it).

Solimini said he had been in the process of booking Bishop for murder (witnesses say that word had been written on the booking sheet) when he was told by a Lieutenant to release Bishop to her parents. Supposedly the order had come down from then Chief of Police John Polio. From Chief Frazier’s statement of Feb. 13, 2010 (click on link in article to see Word document):

“I was not on duty at the time of the incident, but I recall how frustrated the members of the department were over the release of Ms. Bishop. It was a difficult time for the department as there had been three (3) shooting incidents within a short timeframe. The release of Ms. Bishop did not sit well with the police officers and I can assure you that this would not happen in this day and age.”

“It is troubling that this incident has come to light. I can assure you that the members of the Braintree Police Department maintain the highest of integrity. Since it was discovered this morning that the report is missing, I have been in contact with Mayor Joseph Sullivan. Mayor Sullivan and I have spoken with District Attorney William Keating and we will be meeting with him next week to discuss this situation. The Mayor supports a full review of this matter and agrees that we want to know where the records are.”

Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA)

After Frazier’s public statement, a March 1987 report by the State Police (PDF) was released to the public. Based on this report, then Norfolk County District Attorney William Delahunt, now a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, had ruled the the death of Seth Bishop to be accidental and no charges were filed against Amy Bishop, according to Frazier.

On Feb. 16, Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan announced that the missing report on the 1986 shooting (PDF) had been found in the files of an unnamed police officer. Who was that officer? No one is telling as yet.

Neither the Braintree police report nor the State Police report included the information that after shooting her brother, Amy Bishop had held two auto mechanics at gunpoint at a car dealership near her home and demanded the keys to a car, or that after leaving the dealership she had pointed her shotgun in the face of a 16-year-old boy who was working at a newspaper distribution office. It was there that Bishop was finally arrested, but not before she also trained the shotgun on police officers.

Basically, Bishop had gone on a rampage around her neighborhood on Dec. 6, 1986. After discharging her 12-gauge pump-action shotgun three times in her home, killing her brother with the second shot, she had run out of the house, tried to stop a man in a car by pointing the shotgun at him (that was in the police report for some reason), gone into the car dealership in search of a get-away car, then tried again to get a car by pointing her shotgun at a 16-year old boy. Finally, she pointed the shotgun at two Braintree police officers who were trying to disarm her, according to Boston’s WCVB, Channel 5.

A source close to the shooting investigation told NewsCenter 5 that police officers who arrested Bishop in 1986 called it the “scariest day” of their lives.

“I remember looking at her and thinking ‘She killed her brother and now she’s going to kill me,'” one officer, who did not want to be named, told NewsCenter 5’s Kelley Tuthill.

William Keating, the current Norfolk County district attorney, said Bishop should have been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon for her alleged actions after shooting her brother in 1986.

“There was a mistake in not doing it. I don’t think you can justify it,” Keating said.

Come on. Bishop should have been charged with manslaughter at the very least. The weapon she used, a 12-gauge shotgun, had to be manually pumped in order to chamber a round. And it could not just “go off” accidentally. She would have had to pull the trigger. Amy had loaded the weapon in her bedroom, where it supposedly discharged “accidentally,” blowing a hole in the wall. She had tried to cover up the hole before going downstairs. Her mother Judy Bishop later claimed she did not hear the shotgun blast upstairs.

High school yearbook picture of Amy Bishop

How many young women, after accidentally blowing a hole in their bedroom wall would do what Amy did–carry the loaded shotgun downstairs to the kitchen where her mother and brother were? Next, Amy supposedly “accidentally” pumped another shell into the chamber, pointed the shotgun at her brother and “accidentally” the gun went off again (which couldn’t happen without her pulling the trigger, right?). Finally she fired the shotgun into the kitchen ceiling before running out of the house. When she was arrested after her rampage, an unused shell was found in her pocket.

Here is a description of the incident from the Quincy Patriot Ledger, originally published on December 8, 1986:

According to investigators, Amy Bishop had been taught how to use the shotgun by her father. On the day of the accident, she was handling the loaded weapon in the home, although investigators said it was not clear why.

She pumped a round from the magazine into the firing chamber of the shotgun, then went into the kitchen and asked her brother and mother for help when she couldn’t eject the shell from the chamber, investigators said.

Her mother instructed Amy Bishop to pump the shotgun again, which ejected the first shell, according to an investigator. However, she apparently pumped the weapon again and unknowingly advanced a second shell from the magazine to the chamber.

Thinking the weapon was empty, she pulled the trigger, the investigator said. The blast struck her brother, who was standing three to four feet in front of her, authorities said.

But Amy wasn’t charged with anything. She was sent on her way and neither she nor her parents were interviewed until 11 days later, December 17, 1986. But, get this–before their interviews with police, Amy and her parents gave an interview to the local paper in which they talked about Seth, and Amy told this touching story about the younger brother she had just killed:

“One day when I was about seven and I was with him, I fell down a small cliff and couldn’t get up,” Amy said.

“He knew even then if he spread his body a certain way, he could add strength and pull me up.

“He saved my life that day,” Amy said.

Furthermore, Judy Bishop was quoted in newspaper reports in the days following the shooting. So why couldn’t she talk to police? Why were the Bishops allowed to get away with all this? We are starting to get some clues. For one thing, in 1986, Amy’s mother Judy was a member of the Braintree town meeting. In that capacity she “went to bat for” a Braintree police Captain who wanted to be allowed to work past his mandatory retirement age. The Captain’s name was Charles Solimini. Does that name sound familiar?

Seven months later, another Solimini on the Braintree force, patrolman Ron Solimini, and another officer apprehended Bishop’s daughter, Amy, in a brief but tense standoff with the armed 21-year-old. Patrolman Solimini’s relationship to Capt. Solimini could not be determined Thursday.

The elder Solimini lost the Town Meeting vote, but Judy Bishop had tried her best to help him out.

And then there’s this story in the Quincy Patriot Ledger. It turns out that Chief Frazier apparently “blindsided” a lot of officials when he gave his press conference last Saturday. He didn’t even let the Mayor know he was going to make a statement, and Rep. William Delahunt, who was the Norfolk Country Attorney General back in 1986, was out of the country when all this went down. It makes me wonder if Frazier wanted to get the story out before the higher-ups shut him down. Because he isn’t talking anymore. I’m guessing the Mayor and the DA have told him to STFU.

The remarks from Frazier, who was a patrolman at the time of the shooting, revealed longstanding frustration in the department over the handling of the Bishop case. They also left a host of officials – from retired Chief John V. Polio to U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, the former Norfolk County district attorney – blindsided and unprepared for the scrutiny that has followed.

After a weeklong blitz of calls from local and national news outlets, even Mayor Joseph Sullivan acknowledged being caught off-guard.

“I was not informed of the press conference,” Sullivan said Friday, calling it a “miscommunication” on Frazier’s part. “We’ve addressed it, and we’re moving on.”

Frazier took former Chief Polio by surprise too.

The Braintree Police Department was a divisive place in the latter half of the 1980s. Vulgarities directed at Polio, whose popularity with rank-and-file police officers had eroded since he was named police chief in 1962, were spray-painted on Hollis Stadium and at Five Corners. Officers sported baseball caps with the slogan: “Can’t Wait Till ’88,” a reference to the year of Polio’s mandatory retirement.

Polio, now 87, was wearing a “#1 Grandpa” hat when he greeted an unexpected mob of reporters after the Frazier press conference. He said Frazier’s press conference “blindsided” him. He recalled bygone disagreements with Frazier, who in 1986 was union president.

Today, Rep. Delahunt finally broke his lengthy silence. And surprise, surprise, Delahunt thinks he and his office handled the Bishop case just fine. Delahunt and current DA William Keating are doing everything in their power to shift the blame back onto the Braintree Police. Quoting Keating from The Boston Globe article:

Keating said yesterday that he was confounded by Polio’s [Braintree police chief in 1986] admission that he did not know Bishop had pointed her firearm at a mechanic and demanded a getaway car. These details were included in Braintree police reports made public on Tuesday after they had previously been declared missing.

“The report reflects what his own police officers saw,’’ Keating said. “And if he’s saying that he wasn’t aware that Amy Bishop took a loaded shotgun and pointed it at an innocent bystander, I find that astounding. He’s saying he didn’t read his own [officers’] reports.’’

Polio acknowledged yesterday that he read the reports of his own officers for the first time when they were released by Keating’s office this week. Polio said he did not read the reports in 1986 because his officers told him the case would be handled by State Police and the district attorney’s office.

And so Amy Bishop got away with murder, or maybe manslaughter. Personally I think she shot her brother intentionally–even if she quickly regretted it. Meanwhile, it is going to be very entertaining to see what happens next as local and state politicians struggle to place the blame on each other.

Governor Deval Patrick has ordered an investigation into the State Police handling of the case, DA Keating is also investigating, and so is Braintree Mayor Sullivan. Will Delahunt run for reelection now? If he does, the Republicans are going to have a field day with this. And what about Officer Solomini? Is he the one who removed the case file from the police records? Is anyone going to look into his role in covering up Amy’s wild rampage around the neighborhood?

I know I’d like some answers, and so would a lot of other Massachusetts and Alabama citizens. Stay tuned.