NEW BEDFORD — As part of The Light’s investigation into the complaints of harassment against New Bedford Police Department Sgt. Samuel Ortega, we filed a records request in late March, asking for all complaints and related filings filed with NBPD against Ortega between 2022 and 2023.

The New Bedford Solicitor’s Office told The Light in April that it was not in possession of responsive records: “After conducting a search of its departmental database, the Department has verified that it is not in possession of any responsive records matching the specifications given in your March 31st request.”

Yet an investigative report written by an outside attorney — obtained by The Light on June 1 after appealing the city’s denial with the state — shows the department was in possession of at least two complaints against Ortega between 2022 and 2023. One of the complaints was received by Police Chief Paul Oliveira, and the other was identified as an “informal complaint” by the investigator.

Excerpt from investigator Jane Medeiros Friedman’s February 2023 report. 

The Light requested a step-by-step explanation as to how the Solicitor’s Office processed the request with NBPD, given there were complaints filed with the department during the requested time period.

City Solicitor Eric Jaikes provided a response by email Tuesday, writing, “At the time Ms. Lennon submitted her original March 31, 2023, request for ‘respective internal affairs filings’ Solicitors confirmed with the New Bedford Police Department that there were no internal affairs complaints or filings responsive to Ms. Lennon’s request in the possession of internal affairs.”  

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“Therefore, the City responded that there were no documents responsive to Ms. Lennon’s request,” he continued. 

Jaikes’ response addressed internal affairs filings only, omitting the first part of The Light’s request: “All citizen and/or internal complaints filed with the New Bedford Police Department against Sgt. Samuel Ortega, and any respective internal affairs filings (which are often held in the division of professional standards) related to those complaints.”

Jaikes did not respond on Wednesday to a follow-up question that The Light sent to the city’s spokesperson.

Chief Oliveira did not respond to questions about how the request was processed.

Excerpt from investigator Jane Medeiros Friedman’s February 2023 report, showing New Bedford Police Chief Paul Oliveira received a complaint, by email against Sgt. Ortega in December.

“I think their response is inadequate because it doesn’t address the primary issue, which was that the public records request wasn’t complied with,” said Justin Silverman, attorney and executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. 

“I don’t know how anyone could read your request and interpret it in any other way than how you intended,” he said, after reviewing the request and the city’s responses. “You were very clear that you were looking for all reports, and in addition to those reports, any records within internal affairs.”

Over the past three months, The Light filed more than a dozen public records requests with city departments and three appeals with the state after the city, in some cases, withheld the responsive records. 

Questions also remain as to whether NBPD has notified the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST) about Ortega’s violation of the city’s anti-harassment policy.

The POST Commission oversees the state’s law enforcement agencies, investigates corruption, and has the authority to decertify officers due to misconduct. Police departments are required to submit their data on sustained complaints to the commission. 

In April, a few weeks after Friedman submitted her findings on Ortega, the police department had a deadline to submit data on complaints against its officers to the POST Commission. 

The state data, obtained by The Light, does not show anything on the 2022 complaints or subsequent investigation into Ortega, for which Friedman found “sufficient credible evidence” in February that he violated the city’s anti-harassment and discrimination policy. 

The city redacted a few rows of the state data, which was alphabetized, including one underneath Ortega’s name. Chief Oliveira did not respond to a question asking if the redacted row refers to the 2023 investigation into Ortega. The Light asked Ortega similar questions; he did not respond. 

Screenshot of sustained complaint data provided by the City of New Bedford that was submitted to the POST Commission in April 2023. The empty second row in the image illustrates a redacted row, per comments from the city. The first row is a complaint from 2010.

A city attorney earlier this month said the redacted rows remain exempt under records law as those investigations are pending, including whom the case is against. 

A spokesperson for POST said by email that the commission can “neither confirm nor deny the existence of a pending investigation,” or comment on any individual case that may be pending, when asked if the commission had records of Friedman’s finding against Ortega.

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at

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