Judge Bans Uniformed Officers From Courtroom
Worcester, MA – Dozens of uniformed Massachusetts State Police (MSP) troopers were banned from entering the courtroom to witness the verdict of a suspect accused of killing a fellow law enforcement officer.
MSP Trooper Thomas Clardy, a 44-year-old married father of seven, died in the line of duty during a traffic stop in Charlton on Mar. 16, 2016, the Worcester Patch reported.
While the trooper was out conducting a traffic stop, David Njuguna, 33, swerved across three lanes of traffic at speeds of 80 miles per hour, and slammed into Trooper Clardy’s patrol SUV.
The force of the crash launched the patrol vehicle down an embankment.
Trooper Clardy was rushed to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran was also an 11-year veteran of MSP.
According to prosecutors, Njuguna was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the deadly crash, the Worcester Patch reported.
Witnesses also said they saw Njuguna tailgating, speeding, and changing lanes without signaling just moments before the collision.
His attorneys claimed that he suffered a seizure moments before the crash.
Njuguna was ultimately charged with operating to endanger, operating an uninsured vehicle, operating under the influence (OUI) manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, felony motor vehicle homicide, and misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide, the Worcester Patch reported.
Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker banned uniformed MSP troopers from being present in the courtroom when she handed down her verdict on Tuesday, according to the Boston Herald.
“This court is a neutral place and impartial at all times,” Kenton-Walker said. “The neutrality must be embodied in the courtroom itself…to a fair and impartial trial and a neutral tribunal.”
She said her decision to ban uniformed officers was “not made in disrespect,” according to the Boston Herald.
Several troopers gathered around a phone to hear the judge’s verdict.
They then lined up and stood at attention as Trooper Clardy’s widow and children exited the courtroom, the Boston Herald reported.
Kenton-Walker convicted Njuguna on four of the counts, but found him not guilty of OIS manslaughter and felony motor vehicle homicide, according to the Worcester Patch.
"The fact that Njuguna consumed some [marijuana] before the crash does not prove he was intoxicated or his ability to operate was impaired," the judge declared.
She also rejected his claim that the crash was the result of a medical issue.
“This was not an accident,” Kenton-Walker said, according to the Boston Globe. “Mr. Njuguna’s conduct was intentional. His conduct was wanton and reckless.”
His sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 21, the Worcester Patch reported.
MSP Superintendent Colonel Kerry Gilpin released a statement following the judge’s ruling.
“While today’s verdict ends the criminal proceedings related to Trooper Thomas Clardy’s line-of-duty death, it does not end the pain or restore the loss that Tom’s wife and children, and his parents and other loved ones, still, and always will, endure,” Col. Gilpin wrote, according to the Boston Herald. “Our thoughts, first and foremost, are with them today, as they have been since the terrible events of March 16, 2016.”
Col. Gilpin praised the prosecutors and law enforcement officers who painstakingly worked on the case over the past three years.
“Trooper Clardy could not have asked for a better team to speak for him,” she continued. “Today I am also mindful of, grateful for, and touched by the actions of all of the Troopers and other first responders who raced to Tom’s aid on that fateful day. I am thankful, too, for the civilian witnesses who assisted in the aftermath of the crash and who provided important testimony at trial.”
“There always will be an empty seat at the Clardy’s table, and a hole in the hearts of the Massachusetts State Police,” Col. Gilpin added. “This verdict cannot bring Trooper Clardy back to his family, friends, and colleagues, but it does provide some sense of justice by holding the defendant accountable for his actions that day.”