Plea agreement will spare Afghanistan War veteran and ex-cop a record in cell beating
SALEM, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — A Salem District Court judge agreed on Tuesday to go along with a plea agreement that will spare a now-former Lynn police officer and U.S. Army veteran charged with beating and kicking a man in custody last year from a criminal record.
Matthew Coppinger, 35, of Lynn, admitted that if the case against him went to trial, there was sufficient evidence — including a video — for a jury or judge to find him guilty of assault and battery. His attorney was quick to stress in a sentencing memorandum that the admission to sufficient facts applies only to the criminal misdemeanor case and not to any other potential litigation.
The case was then continued without a finding for two years, during which Coppinger must continue to take part in Veterans Administration counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder he incurred while serving on active duty in Afghanistan and the Balkans, perform 80 hours of community service, and stay out of further trouble. If he complies with all of those conditions, the case will be dismissed.
The agreement was negotiated between Coppinger's lawyer, Kenneth Anderson, and former Massachusetts public safety secretary Dan Bennett, who was brought in as a special prosecutor in the case due to the potential conflict of interest with the Essex district attorney's office.
Judge Carol-Ann Fraser also went along with a provision in the agreement that will allow Coppinger to ask that his court supervision be terminated after 18 months if he complies with all of the other conditions.
Anderson told the judge in a sentencing memorandum that Coppinger was a decorated veteran and police officer who "regrettably lost his composure" while dealing with "an uncooperative prisoner at the end of a long shift during a stressful time in the COVID pandemic."
It was the existence of the pandemic — and prisoner Victor White's refusal to follow Coppinger's demand that he remove his mask — that touched off the confrontation on June 15, 2020.
White, who is Black, was in a holding cell at the Lynn police station when Coppinger and another officer entered his cell and asked him to remove his socks and then his mask. White complied with the request to take off his socks, but refused to take off the mask. When Coppinger reached for the mask, White slapped his hand away, according to a report. Coppinger responded by hitting the man in the face and neck, then repeatedly punching and kicking him.
Anderson, in the sentencing memorandum, called the incident "a brief loss of self-control" and a "40-second lapse of judgment."
He urged Fraser to grant the continuation without a finding in order to spare Coppinger a record of conviction, which, the lawyer said in his memorandum, would have resulted in the loss of Coppinger's license to carry a firearm, a dishonorable discharge from the military reserves, and the potential loss of his paramedic license, which he's been using now to earn a living. Coppinger has no prior record.
In addition to continuing with his VA counseling, for the period that he is under supervision, Coppinger must undergo an anger management evaluation and may have to take part in classes, stay away from and not try to contact White, and not seek any employment in law enforcement.
The agreement calls for Coppinger to perform his community service in a homeless shelter, but the judge also agreed that if Coppinger finds a suitable alternative through the Veterans Administration that he can perform the service there.
Coppinger is the nephew of the Essex County Sheriff and former Lynn police chief Kevin Coppinger.
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