Falmouth Selectman David Braga Resigns from Police Dept.
By: Brent Runyon
A suspect escaped while in the custody of Falmouth Police Officer David Braga while at Falmouth Hospital on Tuesday evening, stole a car, crashed it about an hour later and was taken back into custody, according to police.
The next morning Officer Braga, who is also a member of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen, cleaned out his locker and submitted his resignation to the police department.
“I was going to wait until September to retire,” Officer Braga said yesterday.
“But then this happened the other night, and I started questioning my judgment. I would never have made this mistake before. I just realized maybe the time is now.”
Officer Braga, who is 52 and has been a member of the Falmouth Police Department for 32 years, said he has been considering retirement for months because of health concerns.
“I’ve never had this happen before,” he said of the escape.
“The first thing I was thinking was, ‘This is the way I’m going to go out? This is the way I’m going to be remembered? Everything good I’ve done, people will forget.’ ”
His official date of retirement will be January 18, he said, but he will not work another shift as a Falmouth police officer due to previously scheduled vacation time.
Retiring sooner than planned
Police Chief Anthony J. Riello said Wednesday that he was aware of the incident, which was under investigation, but did not know that Officer Braga had resigned, because he was out of the office attending to a personal matter.
Chief Riello said Captain Stephen M. O’Neil is doing an internal investigation into the incident. Capt. O’Neil said it was a significant incident and disappointing from the department’s point of view.
This is the only time a suspect has escaped for any significant amount of time in at least the past 30 years, Capt. O’Neil said. Other prisoners have gotten away from police custody, but were caught almost immediately, Capt. O’Neil said.
No actions could be taken against an officer after he has resigned, he said.
Officer Braga said his plan was to retire in September; because of health issues he could not wait that long. He decided to retire earlier this week, he said, after a discussion with his wife.
The escape precipitated his retirement, but did not cause it, he said.
“I had a confrontation with a younger officer a week or so ago, and he called me a dinosaur,” Officer Braga said.
“I said, in my resignation letter, maybe he was right.”
A silver lining to his retirement, Officer Braga said, was that now he will not have to recuse himself as a selectman from matters pertaining to the Falmouth police. He will also be able to participate in the hiring of the new town manager.
This is not the first time Mr. Braga has discussed retirement. He has been on injured leave at the Falmouth Police Department for most of the past six years, after an elbow injury in the line of duty.
Surgeries to correct that problem led to numbness in the fingers on his left hand. Mr. Braga said he recently discovered he has Lyme disease, and is taking antibiotics to correct the problem.
A town employee can retire after 20 years of employment, regardless of their age, said Francis St. Germaine, the administrator for the Falmouth Retirement System.
“If a town employee started working when he graduated from high school when he was 18, he could technically retire when he was 38,” he said.
That employee would receive a reduced level of benefits, but would still be eligible to retire.
Mistake leads to escape
During his regular shift on Tuesday afternoon, Officer Braga arrested Stephen A. Michalik, 54, of Locust Street, Falmouth, on warrants from Falmouth District Court and Barnstable District Court for shoplifting after police received a report of an intoxicated man on Simpson Lane, Falmouth, at 3:31 PM.
During booking, Mr. Michalik told Officer Braga and Sergeant Christopher Hamilton that he recently had open heart surgery, and fell over in the booking chair.
Police called Falmouth Fire Rescue and rescuers took him by ambulance to Falmouth Hospital, where he was being treated by two nurses.
Officer Braga said he did not handcuff Mr. Michalik, before he left him to go to the bathroom, and when he returned approximately a minute and a half later, the bed was empty.
At first, Officer Braga said he thought Mr. Michalik was taken to another room for testing, but a nurse said he had not been moved.
“I should have handcuffed him. That was my responsibility. It was my responsibility to secure the prisoner,” Officer Braga said.
Officer Braga reported the prisoner was missing at 4:58 PM.
At 5:16 PM, a woman at the Visiting Nurse Association across the street from Falmouth Hospital reported her car was missing. Police searched the area, but were unable to locate Mr. Michalik or the vehicle.
Over the next hour there were reports of Mr. Michalik driving in Mashpee and Falmouth, as police searched for him.
At 6:18 PM police responded to a rollover crash on Route 28 near the Thomas B. Landers Road on-ramp, and there they found Mr. Michalik, who told police he was not injured.
Police arrested Mr. Michalik again for larceny of a motor vehicle, escaping from lockup, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, operating a motor vehicle with a suspended registration, and marked lanes violations.
He was arraigned in Falmouth District Court on Wednesday and held on $15,000 bail. His pretrial hearing is scheduled for February 17.
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