Officer who leaked Boston bombing suspect photos now on limited duty

The Massachusetts police photographer who never sought permission before releasing images of the arrest of the man accused of being the Boston Marathon bomber has been placed on restricted duty with pay pending further investigation of his case, his lawyer said.

Sgt. Sean Murphy, praised as a hero for releasing the images to offset what many saw as a favorable cover photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will stay on the State Police force but will be reassigned to administrative duties, his lawyer, Leonard Kesten, told the Los Angeles Times by telephone after a police hearing Tuesday morning.

“We have confidence that the State Police will do the right thing,” Kesten said. “Yes, he [Murphy] broke some rules. But he acted to ease the pain of victims and the outpouring of support has been palpable.”


Rolling Stone magazine used an image of Tsarnaev on its cover that many people saw as giving him the same treatment that the periodical usually reserves for rock stars. The picture, showing a dreamy-looking Tsarnaev, has been used by other media as well.

In response, Murphy released images of the arrest of Tsarnaev as he climbed out of a boat in a backyard in a Boston suburb April 19. Tsarnaev is seen emerging from the boat, head bowed, with red smudges and streaks on his clothing. Two of the images showed the red dot of a gun’s laser sight in the middle of his forehead and just above his left eye.

Murphy said in a statement to Boston Magazine, which published the photos, that Tsarnaev is evil and that his photos show the “real Boston bomber, not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”

The release of the photos were never authorized by the State Police, who suspended Murphy with pay for a day. The release, praised by many in the Boston area and on social media networks, led to Tuesday’s hearing.

State Police confirmed that Murphy had been placed on restricted duty pending the completion of an internal investigation.

“The investigation, which is expected to take several weeks to complete at the minimum, will determine whether Sgt. Murphy violated State Police rules, regulations, policies or procedures,” the agency said in a statement. “State Police took from Sgt. Murphy his use-of-force equipment, badge and identification, and he will be assigned to administrative duties while on restricted duty.

“Additionally, he is being transferred from the Office of Media Relations to the Division of Field Services. The department will have no further comment while the internal investigation is ongoing.”

Kesten, Murphy’s lawyer, said he remained hopeful about the final outcome.

“There’s no question what he did. There is no question about the rule,” Kesten said, adding that “there’s been a tremendous outpouring of support from families of victims” of the bombing.

Three people were killed in the April 15 blasts and about 260 injured. Tsarnaev is in custody awaiting trial.

Murphy is not allowed to speak to the media, but after the closed hearing before a three-person panel, Murphy’s son, Connor, told reporters that he saw his father as a hero for releasing the photos.

“My dad has always been a huge hero to me,” the college student said. “If I can be one-fourth of the man he is now I’ll be happy with my life.”

State Police Supt. Timothy Alban praised Murphy but said his action has hurt the department.

“He’s a conscientious man and I have no reason to doubt that whatever he did was motivated by his own conscience and his own feelings about what occurred,” Alban said, but the release of the photographs “has put us all in a very difficult situation.”

Among those supporting Murphy has been the family of Sean Collier, the MIT security officer shot to death allegedly by Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, as they were fleeing after the bombing.

“Sgt. Murphy wanted to right what he and many in Boston and around the country saw as a wrong, and to counter the aggrandizement of terrorism by Rolling Stone magazine,” the family said in a statement.

“Terrorists are not rock stars and they should not be rewarded with fame and magazine covers.”


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