Two Guards Suspended After Indictments in Inmate Beatings

By ALEXIS TONTI

After three days of witness testimony and deliberation, a Dukes County grand jury Wednesday indicted two correctional officers and an inmate on conspiracy charges in connection with an inmate beating at the Dukes County House of Correction.

Michael Trance, 26, of Edgartown and Teejay Roginski, 25, of Tisbury are both charged with conspiracy to commit assault and battery in connection with an inmate-on-inmate attack last June.

Dukes County sheriff Michael McCormack immediately suspended both Mr. Trance and Mr. Roginski without pay.

Jason Labbe, 24, of New Bedford, is charged with conspiracy to commit assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery in connection with the same incident, in which he allegedly attacked then-inmate Paul Garcia, 54, of West Tisbury.

Mr. Labbe was indicted for a second count of assault and battery in connection with a separate attack that occurred in September, in which he allegedly attacked then-inmate Alan Thistle, 52, of South Boston.

Mr. Labbe is currently serving a sentence at the Edgartown jail.

The defendants will be arraigned in the upcoming session of the Dukes County Superior Court. The next regularly scheduled sitting is in October.

The special sitting of the grand jury was convened Tuesday, May 18, following a seven-month state police investigation. The session was then continued to Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

"Any time something like this happens, it's a serious matter," Brian Glenny, the first assistant Cape and Islands district attorney, said of the allegations of officer collusion. "I'm sure the grand jurors took the case very seriously, as they would take any investigation seriously."

The grand jury in this case was an investigative grand jury, a powerful body that hears testimony and is asked to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges. It can subpoena witnesses and various written records, and is a tool often used by the district attorney in sensitive cases involving public officials, employees or police officers.

Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public.

It is believed that an investigative grand jury has not been convened on the Island since the 1969 inquest in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in a car driven by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

"A grand jury can often obtain information that might otherwise not be easily obtained. No one is required to speak with police or special investigators, but a grand jury can compel a person to testify," said Mr. Glenny.

Sheriff McCormack first called for state police to investigate at the jail last November after Mr. Thistle charged that correctional officers had been involved in the two assaults last year.

The investigation was thrust into the spotlight in March, when Mr. Thistle drew attention to the beatings in detailed letters written to Scott Harshbarger, the former attorney general who is chairman of a special commission investigating the state prison system.

In his letter outlining the attacks, Mr. Thistle, who appeared before the grand jury, includes charges of intimidation and harassment by several officers and official indifference to his complaints.

Mr. Thistle alleges that last June Mr. Roginski and Mr. Trance propositioned Mr. Labbe to attack Mr. Garcia in return for "chew," a container of chewing tobacco. He says they also promised to "make his time comfortable and get him some work details to lessen his sentence."

Mr. Thistle says the attack was intended to settle a score between Mr. Roginski and Mr. Garcia, who formerly employed Mr. Roginski's girlfriend and dismissed her over a financial dispute.

Mr. Trance has been employed at the Edgartown jail for three years and Mr. Roginski for two-and-a-half years.

Mr. Thistle also says that after the assault he told officials at the jail that several officers had asked Mr. Labbe to beat up Mr. Garcia. Soon afterward Mr. Labbe was moved into the same cell as Mr. Thistle, a move he suggested was meant to intimidate him into quieting down about the incident.

Mr. Thistle said Mr. Labbe repeatedly threatened him, and then in September attacked him in an isolated area of the jail facility. Mr. Thistle suffered a broken nose and injured eye in the incident.

The Cape and Islands district attorney had no comment on the details of the case following the indictments Wednesday.

Reached by phone, Mr. Trance referred the Gazette to the sheriff's department for any comment.

Mr. Roginski could not be reached for comment.