Published October 13, 2013 in the Rutland Herald
Former city attorney Andrew Costello prepares documents for release to the Rutland Herald on Saturday.
Photo: Alan J. Keays / Staff Photo
Porn viewing officers named in documents
Detective Sgt. James Tarbell and retired animal control officer Craig Petrie were identified in internal Rutland Police Department documents released to the Rutland Herald on Saturday as the two officers who were disciplined for looking at pornography on work computers.
Following a Vermont Supreme Court decision issued Friday, the city turned more than 413 pages of records pertaining to internal investigations of Tarbell and Petrie that were conducted in 2004 and 2009 respectively.
Both investigations ended with a decision by then-Chief Anthony Bossi to suspend the officers for two weeks without pay. But the nature of the investigations differ greatly.
In Petrie’s case, he was found to have received and forwarded emails — using a city police email address — depicting naked women and adults engaged in sexual activity, according to the newly released documents. The internal investigation was launched following a warning about “similar behavior” in 2008.
There were 39 pornographic images included in the file that investigators say Petrie had on his computer.
That number pales in comparison to the thousands of pornographic images that police found on Tarbell’s computer.
Capt. Scott Tucker, who conducted Tarbell’s internal investigation, wrote that the number of “graphic images” that appeared on the sergeant’s computer during an eight-month period starting in 2003 was 25,839. However, Tucker later wrote that there were 5,000 to 10,000 adult porn images “included in the overall number.”
Neither Tucker nor any member of the department’s command staff could be reached Saturday to specify the exact amount of pornographic images.
Among the pornography found on Tarbell’s computer were 15 images that Tucker described as “possible child pornography.”
Vermont State Police conducted a criminal investigation focused on those 15 images but no charges were ever brought, police have said in the past, because the age of the participants couldn’t be determined.
In an interview with Tucker in 2004, Tarbell denied knowingly downloading or possessing child pornography on his computer or of ever intentionally visiting an Internet site where depictions of child pornography could be found.
When told that 15 images of suspected child pornography were found on his computer, Tarbell said “And how would I know this? I mean, I don’t know this.”
But Tucker in his report asked the sergeant what he would infer if he knew that someone was visiting a pornographic site with teen in its name, one of eight porn sites bookmarked on his computer.
Tarbell, who claimed that he was visiting pornographic sites for research to start up a “crime against children unit,” responded that “I’m not out there getting my rocks off at work looking at child pornography; I’m out there to see what’s available, what kids are out there to see. Now I make no inferences whether these kids were under the age of anything other than 18. I was looking at this clinically.”
Tarbell also denied viewing the thousands of images found on the computer. While he admitted to visiting pornographic sites for research, he said he did so infrequently and argued that the images must have accumulated on his screen while he was away from his desk and the sites he was visiting were minimized on his computer screen.
“I mean the 25,000 images or whatever has got to be the screens,” Tarbell told Tucker. “I mean that could be astronomical. I would have been days and days and days sitting in there looking at them. I’m telling you that didn’t happen; I couldn’t look at 25,000 pictures.”
In his evaluation, Tucker wrote that Tarbell was looking at pornography much too often to support his research claim — a forensic examiner estimated that it would take a week of constant viewing to review 10,000 images once.
In his evaluation, Tucker wrote that Tarbell’s claims of research were “not believable.”
“This defense might be believable to a reasonable person if ‘research’ took the form of viewing pornography over the Internet once for maybe a 1-2 hour session. However, the downloading and copying to the hard drive goes beyond any such research intent.”
In addition, Tucker said Tarbell never asked for or received authorization to conduct research involving pornography. Departmental rules prohibit officers from visiting pornographic websites.
Tucker wrote that he also doubted Tarbell’s claims that he didn’t realize that 15 of the images he had downloaded could depict child pornography.
“Using a reasonable person and common-sense standard, the viewer would know that these images are more likely than not that of child pornography,” the captain wrote.
Images of the suspected child pornography were included in the internal file, although city officials blacked out the pictures in copies turned over to the newspaper.
The pages where the redacted images appeared included advertisements for a website that includes “loads of pictures and videos of young teenagers” engaged in sex acts.
The case involving Tarbell closely resembles an internal and criminal investigation focused on former Rutland Police Sgt. David Schauwecker. Like Tarbell, suspected images of child pornography were found on Schauwecker’s computer. And in both cases Vermont State Police investigators decided they couldn’t conclude if the participants in the images were under age 18.
News of the disciplinary actions taken against Tarbell and Petrie only came to light after the Herald began writing about the criminal investigation involving Schauwecker. Attempts to obtain the internal documents identifying the two officers and the details of their investigations was long delayed by a legal battle with Rutland City which twice appealed decisions in the Herald’s favor to the state Supreme Court.
While Schauwecker was eventually fired by Bossi and charged with a pair of misdemeanor offenses — he pleaded no contest to neglect of duty and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine — Bossi decided only to suspend Tarbell from the department for two weeks without pay. Tarbell spent two months on paid administrative leave while the investigation was conducted, according to internal documents.
In his evaluation, Tucker noted that Tarbell’s conduct warranted potential job termination although he recommended to the chief that Tarbell be suspended without pay for 30 days.
Petrie, who retired last year, was also suspended without pay for two weeks in early 2010 for an infraction that involved much less adult content and no suspicion of child pornography.
Former city police Sgt. Debra Perkins wrote in an internal investigation that she found multiple emails on Petrie’s computer that the animal control officer had received and forwarded containing images of pornography. The investigation was conducted a year after Petrie was warned verbally and counselled by Tarbell on appropriate computer use.
Petrie told Perkins he only forwarded the emails to friends who were interested. Perkins recommended he should receive a written reprimand at the least,
In an interview at his Rutland home Saturday, Petrie said he never solicited the emails which were forwarded to him by friends and he said he accepted his suspension and moved on.
“I feel like what happened, happened,” he said. “I’m happy with what I got and I’ve gone on.”
Tarbell could not be reached for this story Saturday.