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Cop who released Tsarnaev images placed on restricted desk duty

A sniper trains his bead on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Sgt. Sean Murphy / Courtesy Boston Magazine

The Massachusetts State Police photographer who leaked pictures of the Boston Marathon bomber manhunt has been placed on restricted desk duty after a closed-door hearing Tuesday.

Sgt. Sean Murphy released the images in response to a Rolling Stone magazine cover photo of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, that he felt glorified the suspect.

After a hearing on Tuesday, Murphy was pleased on restricted duty while an internal investigation is in progress, the Massachusetts State Police said in a release on Tuesday afternoon. The investigation is expected to take weeks, the release said, and will look into whether Murphy broke any police rules.

He has also been transferred from the media relations office to the Division of Field Services, according to the release.

The trooper said in a statement last week that his photos showed someone who wasn’t “fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine” – but a state police spokesman said the release of the photos was unauthorized and that their release would be the subject of an internal investigation.

Murphy was initially suspended for the leak to Boston Magazine, pending a review.

His son Connor Murphy, 19, told reporters he supports his father “100 percent” after the hearing on Tuesday.

“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” Connor Murphy said.

Public opinion appears to be in the trooper’s favor. More than 59,000 people had expressed their online support for Murphy by Tuesday afternoon.

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leans over in a boat at the time of his capture by law enforcement authorities in Watertown, Mass. AP Photo/Massachusetts State Police, Sean Murphy

On a “Save Sgt. Sean Murphy” Facebook page, supporters of the police tactical photographer said they thought he did the right thing.

“I’m sure Sgt. Murphy knew that the repercussion of releasing the photos may cost him his job … but that was a risk he was willing to take to show people the truth!” wrote Lynne Carr in a post on the page. “He’s a hero to the victims and survivors for standing up and making this sacrifice for truth and what’s right!”

“Is there a fund started to help him with his legal expenses?” Kathleen Wood asked.

Others said Murphy should not be punished for releasing the photographs, about a dozen of which were published on Boston Magazine’s website, and include images of heavily armed police officers during the manhunt for Tsarnaev.

“A man of honor. The Massachusetts State Police should consider themselves lucky to have a man with such high values and principles in their ranks instead of disciplining him they should give him a medal,” said Cyndy Chapin in another post.

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, with the red dot of a sniper's rifle laser sight on the top of his head, leans over a part of a boat where he had been hiding moments before his capture by law enforcement authorities in Watertown, Mass. AP Photo/Massachusetts State Police, Sean Murphy

Still others said that the images released by Murphy were an appropriate response to the Rolling Stone cover.

“Good luck Sgt. Murphy … thank you for your courage in doing the right thing,” Shannon Vanderheiden wrote on the Facebook page on Monday. “It’s a disgrace what Rolling Stone did and a slap in the face of all those affected by the bombing tragedy.”

Some of the posters on the “Save Sgt. Sean Murphy” Facebook page said that the trooper should be subject to some form of official reprimand – but no one on the page seemed to think it should be too harsh.

“What Sgt. Murphy did was inappropriate per the policies of the State Policy so there has to be some corrective action,” Troy S. Goodman wrote on the page on Sunday. “Sgt. Murphy has appropriately shoved back against the glorification of a horrible act AND has violated state police policy – there needs to be a balanced reaction.”

The editors of Rolling Stone have defended the cover photo of Tsarnaev, which stores including CVS and Walgreens have refused to carry on their newsstands.

But William Blydenburgh had his own idea for a new magazine cover: “Some mag needs to do a glamour shoot with Mr. Murphy along with HIS story.”

Three people were killed and more than 200 injured in the bombings that rattled the finishing line of the Boston Marathon in April. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the bombing.

The family of Sean Collier, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who was slain in the course of the ensuing manhunt, released a statement supporting Murphy on Monday.

“We believe that Sgt. Murphy’s motives were selfless when he released the photos, taken the night after our son and brother was murdered and the terrorist was apprehended,” Collier’s family said in the statement posted on Boston Magazine’s website. “In our opinion, he has been sufficiently punished. 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.”

For some residents of the Watertown neighborhood where Tsarnaev was finally found, the photographs released by Murphy brought back memories of the day spent stuck inside as officers went door-to-door in their search for the suspect. Anna Lanzo, 70, remembers being “petrified” during the lockdown, she told the Associated Press. She said she’s glad the photos were released after the Rolling Stone cover was published.

“You’re almost making him look like this kid that, you know, doesn’t look too bad,” Lanzo told the AP. “And then when you know the whole story and you see these pictures, I think it sheds a different light on it.”

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