Ticket-happy cop suspended: Officer ticketed many in own neighborhood

John P. Kelly

His neighbors call him “Robocop.”

The police chief called him suspended.

Quincy Police Patrolman Joseph McGunigle was told this week to take five days without pay.

His offense: Ticketing his Quincy Bay neighbors for letting their dogs run free and defecate on public property. He has been the source of at least 11 tickets since May, and they carry a fine of $50 to $100.

The official charge: Disobeying an order to stop giving out those tickets.

“Everyone around here loves the neighborhood and he’s the one bad apple,” said Daniel McGuire, a Sea Street homeowner who was ticketed this week by McGunigle - his second fine - for allegedly not cleaning up after his golden retriever. “The guy’s on a power trip.”

McGunigle said he has been advised not to talk about what’s happened, but suggested talking to his wife, Diane.

Diane McGunigle said her husband’s vigilance has cleaned up the neighborhood, which she said was “from one end to the other covered in feces” when the couple moved there last fall.

“This sends a very wrong message to people breaking the laws to suspend a police officer doing his job,” she said.

If McGunigle is crusading to keep his Post Island Road neighborhood clean and safe, his neighbors complain his tactics border on an abuse of power. Their complaints set off an Internal Affairs investigation and, on Wednesday, McGunigle was called in to Capt. John Dougan’s office, relieved of his gun and suspended for five days, without pay.

The president of the Quincy patrol officers union, Bruce Tait, said Friday McGunigle would appeal the suspension under Civil Service rules.

Diane McGunigle insisted her husband has harassed no one, and most of the neighborhood is pleased to see dog-related ordinances being enforced. “We’re actually being considered for the Neat Neighbors award in the city of Quincy - what does that tell you?” she said.

The McGunigles moved last year into a waterfront area off Sea Street approaching Quincy’s Houghs Neck. As elsewhere in Massachusetts, the beach there is private down to the low tide mark, and several neighbors say there has long been an understanding that dogs could run free there.

“It used to be at 7 o’clock at night a group of neighbors would gather with their dogs on the beach and throw the tennis ball. Well, that doesn’t happen anymore,” resident Kevin Gracey said. “There’s the feeling that someone with binoculars is watching out the window.”

Diane McGunigle said she and her husband have video footage and photographs of the illegal dog doings.

But not all of the neighborhood strife is canine-related.

Recently, officer McGunigle has tried to have numerous homeowners expelled from the local beach association because their homes lie outside the Post Island boundaries as defined in a decades-old charter, the association’s president, Joe Cotter, said.

Cotter said the association received a letter from McGunigle’s attorney saying certain homeowners, who had been permitted to become dues-paying members over the years, had no legal right to set foot on the beach.

Cotter, who lives next door to McGunigle, said he has had his own run-ins with the officer. Cotter had a fence, which he thought was on his property, until McGunigle had the land surveyed. The fence was on McGunigle’s land, and the officer took down the fence.

“It’s a Hatfield-McCoy thing,” Cotter said. “Legally, he may have been within his rights, but as a neighbor, a human, it’s ethically wrong.”

Tait, the police union president, said superior officers pulled McGunigle aside several weeks ago and “browbeat him” about issuing the citations.

“(Police Chief Robert Crowley) suspended a police officer for defending his own property and enforcing the law. That’s about as outrageous as it gets,” Tait said.

Crowley isn’t happy about the situation, either. He has said he will ask Mayor William Phelan to lengthen the suspension beyond the five-day maximum he can impose as chief, according to police officers close to the situation. Neither the police chief nor the mayor would comment for this article.

In a brief interview before referring a reporter to his wife, officer McGunigle recalled the reaction he got from a neighborhood resident when he first told him that, by law, his dog must be leashed and picked up after.

“He told me, ‘We do things differently around here,’” said McGunigle, who said he was advised by the union not to speak to the press. “I’m supposed to step over dog crap when I walk down my beautiful beach?”

John P. Kelly of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at jkelly@ledger.com.