Peter Reuell 508-626-4428
Shelter calls cops queries harassment Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The war of words over the downtown wet shelter intensified yesterday as staff accused police of harassing shelter residents in an effort to shut down the Irving Street facility.

Officials from Framingham and SMOC, the agency that runs the shelter, have been at odds for weeks after selectmen voted last month to determine whether the agency provides the educational activities it claims to at the site.

The programs are necessary under the state's Dover Amendment to protect the shelter from local zoning oversight.

But SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy yesterday said the town "crossed the line" by sending police officers to the shelter to interview residents about whether they know about and participate in the programs.

"What I learned this morning was two detectives showed up and informed the staff that they would be pulling clients aside and interviewing them about what they did and where they were from and whether they were aware of the schedule and what activities they participate in," Cuddy said.  "I don't think it's 1984, but it's pretty chilling. Clearly it's harassment, clearly it's inappropriate...and it's completely unacceptable."

Police visit the shelter on a daily basis to conduct warrant checks, Framingham Town Manager Julian Suso countered, and it should not raise the agency's ire.

"The fact that we're asking some additional questions is a byproduct of something SMOC is fully aware of because we have corresponded on this," Suso said.

Building Inspector Joe Mikielian weeks ago asked the agency for more information about the programs.  When SMOC's response came late last week, the information was "somewhat in variance with information that had been represented earlier," Suso said.

"(We’re) asking someone if they'd care to answer a couple questions, and they have the full option to whether they care to answer or not," Suso said. . "They're not under arrest. They're not in the police station.

"SMOC has been fully apprised of this investigation.  For us to ask some additional questions to confirm that educational activities are occurring with their clients -- I'm not certain why that would be threatening."

For the people who live there, though, the shelter amounts to a private residence, Cuddy insisted.  How would someone feel if the police visited their home every day and began asking questions?

"It's a violation of civil liberties, it's a violation of privacy, it's inappropriate on three or four different levels," he said. "It crossed the line, and I'm personally offended by it."

Until he can get to the bottom of the incident, Cuddy said, he instructed all SMOC staff not to speak to the police, and told shelter staff to bar police from entering the building.

"It's a private residence," he said. "If they have a specific warrant to come into one of our places, they can come in. But if they don't, they are not going to be allowed access to our building."

"We make no apology for doing what we're supposed to do," Framingham Police spokesman Lt. Paul Shastany said. "We are very much in favor of people reforming their behavior and obtaining the necessary services so they can correct their wayward ways."

In recent weeks, though, Shastany said the department has received numerous complaints claiming the shelter, in fact, offers no educational programs.

"To this date, there are no classes as far as we've determined," Shastany said. "We are concerned if it is going to be used to rehab people that it's going to be used to teach people and to conform with what the minimum expectation is."

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