A dispute between the Island’s top prosecutor and the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office over personnel files reached the state’s highest court this week. 

On Monday, the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, demanding that the sheriff’s office hand over 20 years of employee records that the district attorney could deem necessary to go to trial in several cases.

The legal complaint is a rare courtroom battle between the Vineyard’s prosecutors and the sheriff’s office, and the district attorney’s office claims if it isn’t resolved it could result in criminal cases being dismissed. The contention between two agencies revolves around district attorney Robert Galibois’ attempts to get records related to officer misconduct, internal investigations and other documents that could aid a defendant’s case in court.

Commonly referred to as “Brady information” after the landmark Brady v Maryland U.S. Supreme Court case, prosecutors are required to turn over any exculpatory evidence, including records on officers involved in the case, to defense attorneys. Brady information can be critical to a defense lawyer, who may call an officer’s past conduct into question in relation to an arrest.

The district attorney’s office created a new policy on Brady information after Mr. Galibois was elected in 2022. Soon after taking office he put out requests to law enforcement agencies across the Cape and Islands. 

Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden says the district attorney is misinterpreting the state's legal records requirements. — Ray Ewing

According to the district attorney’s office, the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the Island’s only jail and lockup facility in Edgartown, and the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office on Cape Cod did not comply with the request when it went out in 2023, 

Dukes County sheriff Robert Ogden claimed Mr. Galibois’ understanding of the records requirements was flawed, according to documents filed in the suit. 

Mr. Ogden contended that the district attorney need only ask for items in a particular case when needed, not for all officers going back two decades. 

The sheriff’s office general counsel Jack Collins said Mr. Galibois is the only attorney in the state, and possibly the country, making these types of broad requests. 

“He is by far the only one that has taken this approach and no one can figure out why,” Mr. Collins said in an interview with the Gazette this week.

In February 2024, Mr. Ogden noted his objections to Mr. Galibois’ Brady policy in a letter to the district attorney. 

While well-intentioned, the state Supreme Judicial Court only requires the materials be produced when an officer might be called as a witness or was involved in the investigation, Mr. Ogden wrote.

He saw no court mandate or suggestion that it was incumbent on prosecutors to retain records on officers that are not scheduled to testify. 

“In our opinion, the decision of the court does not suggest the wholesale cataloging of Sheriff’s Employees and Police Officers for future cases,” Mr. Ogden wrote.

The request for all officer records would also put an undue clerical, financial and professional burden on the sheriff’s office, Mr. Ogden said, before suggesting the policy be put on hold.

Mr. Galibois declined to comment on the new lawsuit with the Supreme Judicial Court, citing the pending litigation.

The records the district attorney’s office is requesting are public records and could be requested by members of the public and press. The sheriff’s office had concerns though about the district attorney’s office compiling them all together, and for the potential creation of a so-called “Brady List” of officers across the region. 

Airing out these officers’ records, who in some instances may have only been investigated but not found culpible of wrongdoing, could make it hard to retain and hire officers at the Edgartown jail, Mr. Ogden wrote in a previously submitted letter to the editor.

“I have a hard enough time recruiting and retaining staff,” Mr. Ogden wrote in the June 1 letter. “On a small Island where nearly everyone knows one another, a false accusation can be troubling to a correction officer as well as their family. I owe it to my dedicated staff to protect them and their families from having baseless accusations bandied about in the press or on social media, disrupting the lives of their families and especially school-age children.” 

The need to have every sheriff’s officer employee’s records for the past 20 years didn’t make sense to Mr. Collins, because the sheriff’s office doesn’t play a large role in arrests and investigations.

Unlike other states, where some sheriff’s departments make arrests, investigate crimes and patrol highways, the Vineyard sheriff’s office runs the Island’s lone jail. The office does little investigative work outside of breathalyzer tests, meaning its officers are less likely to be called to testify in court on arrests. 

“None of this should affect the sheriff’s office at all,” Mr. Collins said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” 

The district attorney’s office says it has about 10 cases where it sought Brady-related documents from the sheriff’s office and feared they could be dismissed if the records aren’t produced, according to court records. 

Mr. Ogden felt that was an exaggeration. 

“Not one of these cases that the DA’s staffer says might be dismissed involved an arrest by a member of the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office,” Mr. Ogden wrote in his letter to the editor. “All were cases from Island police departments. Our only involvement was to house some of them as prisoners while awaiting bail or trials.” 

​​The district attorney’s office on Monday also filed a complaint with the Supreme Judicial Court over the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office’s noncompliance. 

Like Mr. Ogden on the Vineyard, Barnstable County Sheriff Donna Buckley told the district attorney that her office would always provide information on a case-by-case basis for employees who were material witnesses for a trial — as is common practice across the state.

The state Supreme Judicial Court has not set a hearing date on the district attorney’s case against the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, but Mr. Collins was confident that the issue would be resolved in the sheriff’s favor.

“I think, in the long run, obviously the court will straighten this out,” he said.