By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Members of the Town Council could not offer enough praise to the Wakefield Police Department, the State Police and other regional law enforcement agencies for their handling of the July 3 incident on Route 128 in Wakefield involving an armed, self-styled militia group.
Wakefield Police Chief Steven Skory appeared before the Town Council at Monday’s meeting to provide a recap of of incident.
Skory said that at about 1:30 a.m. on July 3, State Police contacted Wakefield Police requesting assistance with a vehicle stop on the highway. Dispatched to the scene were Sgt. Jon Burnham and Officers Alex Jancy and Robert Peterson.
According to Skory, the State Trooper briefed the arriving Wakefield officers on the situation. He told them that he rolled up on two vehicles in the breakdown lane that he believed might be in need of assistance. The trooper said that he was met by 11 individuals dressed in camouflage, bullet-proof vests, tactical gear and armed with long guns and handguns that were fully exposed.
Skory said that the trooper remained calm and engaged the individuals in a conversation about their purpose and destination. (According to news reports, they said they were heading to Maine for training exercises.)
Chief Skory said that when the men were asked for driver’s licenses and licenses to carry firearms, they took the attitude that they “did not have to abide by our laws.” He said that Sgt. Burnham and the State Police ended up negotiating with the individuals for over 90 minutes, at which point they were advised that they would likely be placed under arrest.
Skory said that at that point three of the men could be heard loading their rifles and eight of them took off into the nearby woods behind the Subaru of Wakefield car dealership. He said that those woods extend to Parker Road and Elm Street and along the commuter rail tracks on North Avenue.
At that point, Sgt. Burnham made the call to bring in the SWAT team from the Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), Skory said. That team arrived by about 3:30 a.m. and helped to set up a perimeter around the wooded area. Officers were stationed on Elm Street, Parker Road, North Avenue and connecting side streets.
State Police continued to negotiate with the leader of the group on the highway, Skory said.
Meanwhile, two of the men who had escaped into the woods made their way out to North Avenue and were taken into custody near the Municipal Gas and Light Department headquarters. One of those men was armed with a handgun and both wore full body armor and fatigues, Skory said.
A decision was then made to call in more officers to cover the perimeter, and additional NEMLEC assets arrived, including the motorcycle unit and the Regional Response Team. In total, another 100 officers arrived from NEMLEC, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office and communities in Middlesex County.
Skory said that the Wakefield DPW drove four large dump trucks up onto the highway to block any possible escape route.
Eventually, the remaining individuals in the woods returned to their vehicles on the highway. At that point, a decision was made to use a sonic blast to incapacitate the nine remaining members of the group so they could be taken into custody. In the end, there were no injuries to the officers or the suspects.
Skory talked about how communications were handled during the incident. He said that the original Code Red reverse 911 call went out to 2,280 individuals in the immediately affected area at about 4:30 a.m. The town’s communications director Jennifer McDonald sent out further updates throughout the morning on Code Red and via Twitter.
The chief noted that the town pays a small annual fee to belong to NEMLEC, which paid dividends in this incident where he estimated that over $1 million in assets were brought in, including personnel, equipment, specialized vehicles and drone units.
Town Council members hailed the Wakefield Police Department and the other law enforcement agencies for their “calm and professional” handling of the situation.
Councilor Ann Santos said that she “could not be more proud and grateful” for the way that WPD represents Wakefield.
Councilor Ed Dombroski said that once again the Wakefield Police Department has been tested and “passed with flying colors.” He said that WPD’s handling of this “incredibly volatile and dangerous situation” underscores why “having training and funding is so important for public safety.”
As a testament to the rigorous training local police officers undergo, Maio noted that two of the first responding Wakefield officers, Alex Jancy and Robert Peterson, have been on the police force for a year or less.
Skory thanked the organizers of the Farmers Market, who agreed to cancel that day’s market due to the incident.
Finally, Skory thanked local residents for their cooperation, saying that police “couldn’t have done it” without cooperation from the public.