It's a phenomenon that has been dubbed "the blue wall" or "blue veil" of silence, and it's a facet of the police corruption problem I've yet to cover in-depth. At least 40% of police families experience some form of domestic violence--compared to just 10 percent of the general population. Domestic violence victims in police families are often too scared to call for help because they know the strength of that blue wall. They know that their cases will be handled by their abuser's colleagues and friends, and often these types of cases are not handled appropriately. A nationwide survey of 123 police departments found that nearly half that number had no specific policy for dealing with officer-related domestic violence, instead employing "informal methods"--which are often in direct violation of legislative mandates.
This brings me to the tragic case of Valarie Fiorenza. Valarie, a beautiful and vivacious entrepreneur, was found dead in the basement of her estranged boyfriend's home on April 15th, 1993. She was just thirty-years-old. Her boyfriend, Paul Bennett, was a police officer for the Saugus, Massachusetts Police Department. At the time of her death, Valarie had a restraining order against Bennett. She had requested the RO just four days before her body was found, claiming physical abuse and threats of bodily harm. The judge had thrown Bennett out of his own home for five days so that Valarie was able to pack her belongings and move. Bennett and his parents, who lived just two blocks away, were ordered to relinquish all keys to the property, and Bennett was warned to stay far away from Valarie.
This was not the first time Valarie had taken out a restraining order against Bennett. Valarie, who owned and operated her own retail store, also worked as a model. The previous year, co-workers admitted they had seen her covered in bruises--bruises so bad that the co-workers recalled having to help Valarie cover them with heavy makeup before photo shoots. Valarie eventually gathered the courage to try and leave Bennett, but he threw a violent fit. She took out the restraining order after he made threats to use all of his power and advantages as an officer to "destroy her" if she ended their relationship. Though Bennett's superiors were well aware of the ongoing situation, he never faced any sort of reprimand.
The truth was quite the opposite, in fact. Bennett's fellow officers supported him unwaveringly, no matter how vile his behavior. Following one domestic disturbance, after Bennett had beaten Valarie and banged her head against a wall, he had complained to his colleagues that she had taken his gun and hidden it. Two officers responded by handcuffing Valarie and dragging her from her home, wearing nothing but her t-shirt, a pair of underwear, and shoes in frigid temperatures. Certainly, appropriate protocol when dealing with a terrified and battered woman--Massachusetts' finest.
Valarie, like so many other women, had fallen prey to the cycle of domestic violence. She spent much of her life living in fear, and suddenly the clouds would break and Bennett would seem to come to his senses. He was a different man during the honeymoon periods of their relationship, the brooding and vicious side of him was nothing but a faint shadow--until it wasn't. After his most recent violent outburst, Valarie had finally had enough. She began taking serious measures to separate herself from Bennett. She was exploring a new relationship as well as new business opportunities and was in the process of planning a vacation to Europe. Just two days before her death, Valarie had told a close friend that she had been packing her bags and was excited about a fresh start. But Paul Bennett had other plans.
On April 14th, a neighbor saw a police cruiser pull up in front of the house Bennett and Valarie had shared. The neighbor immediately recognized the driver as Officer Bennett. Ignoring the restraining order, Bennett used a key he wasn't even supposed to have and went into the house. The neighbor wasn't certain how long he was there or when he left--what is certain is that Valarie didn't show up for work the following day. Various co-workers and friends tried to contact her repeatedly throughout the day, to no avail. Her ex-husband Larry stopped by the house that evening to check on her, but no one answered the door. At the time, he wasn't concerned, because her car was in the driveway and loud music was playing inside the house. Valarie's dog was tied up outside and seemed to be acting normally, so he left without trying to enter the home.
The next afternoon, neighbors say they saw a Canine Control van pull up in front of the house. They initially assumed they were there for Valarie's dog, who had been barking outside for almost two days. Two uniformed officers emerged from the van and began to look around the house, checking in all the windows and going around the back. While this was taking place, an ambulance showed up. Several EMTs got out and also looked around. Suddenly, they all returned to their vehicles and left--without the dog. About ten minutes later, neighbors reported seeing an officer in plainclothes pull up and enter the house with a key. A few moments later, they saw a light in the basement go on, and quickly flicker off. The cop left the scene soon afterward.
Around 7:30pm, Larry returned to the home. He was becoming worried, especially considering the dog was still outside, tied up in the same spot. He called the police, who seemed to be unconcerned. They didn't show up to the scene for over three-and-a-half hours. When they finally arrived, they went around questioning neighbors before even attempting to enter the home. After questioning, an officer went to retrieve a house key from Bennett's mother--again, this was a key she was not supposed to have. Using the key, the officers entered the home. They found Valarie dead, hanging from a floor joist in the basement storage room. The Saugus PD declared her death a suicide before an autopsy had even been performed, and they actively worked to keep news of her death and where she was found out of the media.
The original doctor who ended up performing Valarie's autopsy was eventually deemed not credible and was forced to resign due to grievous errors made in other cases. Valarie's family hired a more reputable forensic pathologist for a second opinion, and it was found that Valarie had most likely died in a face-up position and had been hung from the joist after the fact. This revelation left her family with many unanswered questions, and the person who could provide them with some clarity refused to do so.
Valarie's parents have advocated fiercely for justice, but have been met with equally fierce resistance from behind the blue wall. Their energy and finances have been almost entirely exhausted, and they are still no closer to seeing Officer Bennett's day in court. But they do know the truth, and it's important that you know it too, dear reader. Paul Bennett viciously abused Valarie Fiorenza for years. He violated multiple laws and restraining orders because he feels that as an officer, he is above the law--and his fellow officers condoned and even facilitated his behavior. Paul Bennett is a violent criminal, and he likely murdered Valarie Fiorenza in cold blood. Yet he is still walking free, a monster hiding behind a badge.
If you have any questions or comments, or if you have information about the Valarie Fiorenza case, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.