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Cops edgy at lewdness trial of brother officer

By RICK COLLINS
The Patriot Ledger

They stand in an awkward circle, talking quietly and frequently looking at their shoes.

Dressed in suits and blazers, they wait in the Hingham District Court lobby like others who regularly come through the courthouse to testify in a criminal trial.

Unlike the others, they're Scituate police officers forced to testify against a colleague, and in some cases, a good friend.

''It's not an easy thing to do,'' Lt. John Rooney said as he walked out of the courtroom Thursday afternoon after giving more than two hours of testimony.

Rooney is one of 10 Scituate police officers scheduled to testify in the sexual misconduct trial of Officer Richard M. Johnson.

Including Johnson, 11 of the department's 19 officers are embroiled in the case. The 10 officers called to testify against Johnson had been waiting in the courthouse since Wednesday to be called.

Johnson faces a single count of gross lewdness and lascivious behavior. He is accused of exposing and fondling himself in front of a woman while he was on duty at the Scituate police station.

Police officers frequently testify in criminal cases, but rarely are they forced to testify against each other.

As of Friday, Rooney, fellow lieutenants Michael Stewart and Alfred Coyle, Sgt. James Gilmartin, and officers Paul Norton, Gerald O'Brien, Mark Thompson, and Ron Lowrance had taken the stand as witnesses for the prosecution.

Johnson has for the most part sat emotionless as his co-workers testified just a few feet away. Occasionally he jotted notes on a paper in front of him.

The police officers have all appeared to try to avoid eye contact, even O'Brien who was a high school friend of Johnson's and served in his wedding party.

Officers were called to give evidence that supported the prosecution's case. Some said they encountered the accuser outside the police station the day of the alleged incident and that she was crying.

Others said they didn't remember seeing large holes in Johnson's uniform pants. Johnson contends that the woman knew what color underwear he had on that day because he had large holes in this pants.

Johnson's attorney, Thomas Dreschler, in turn, has done his best to poke holes in the officers' testimony, questioning whether their observations have been changed in order to fit prosecution accusations.

Scituate Police Chief Brian Stewart, who has not been called to testify, said the officers have so far handled the situation well.

''I haven't noticed any problems,'' he said.

However, the case has been a problem for the department, because fewer officers are available to patrol, forcing the officers who aren't involved to work overtime.

The trial is costing the town thousands in overtime for those forced to work extra shifts, or stand around for hours in the courthouse.

''It's costly for us, sure,'' Stewart said. ''But it's normal to send a number of people to court everyday anyway.''

Rick Collins may be reached at [email protected].

Copyright 2005 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Saturday, January 22, 2005
 
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