Mass. trooper who released Boston bombing manhunt photos on patrol duty

In this Friday, April 19, 2013 Massachusetts State Police photo, 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev raises his hand from a boat at the time of his capture by law enforcement authorities in Watertown, Mass. Sean Murphy / Mass. State Police via AP

A Massachusetts State Police tactical photographer who leaked photos of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect bloodied and with a sniper rifle's laser trained on his forehead during the manhunt in April has been returned to patrol duty.

Sgt. Sean Murphy has been assigned to the police barracks in Athol, Mass., State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed to NBC News on Thursday. He will be filling an open shift between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but that will probably change based on his seniority when new shifts open up in the coming weeks, the spokesman said.

"This is not a demotion or discipline," Procopio wrote in an email. "He is under investigation for possibly violating departmental policy and regulations by releasing departmental material obtained in his media relations positions without authorization. Therefore, for the integrity of the investigation, he was removed from the unit."

"He is still a sergeant, and his pay and benefits are unaffected," Procopio wrote.

Murphy released the dramatic images of the manhunt that ultimately snared Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Boston Magazine in July after a Rolling Stone magazine cover story featured a photo that some people felt glamorized the suspect. Boston Magazine published about a dozen images from the manhunt on its website, including some that depicted Tsarnaev moments before capture, and others showing scores of heavily armed law enforcement officials.

Murphy, a 25-year law enforcement veteran and State Police photographer, wrote in a statement accompanying the images that he took the Rolling Stone cover as an "insult" and said his photos showed "the real Boston bomber."

An investigation into whether Murphy violated any department regulations or policies is ongoing, Procopio said.

"It should be noted that this is not the result of any findings of this internal investigation," he wrote.

Murphy was briefly placed on desk duty after the State Police announced on July 23 that an internal investigation would be conducted into the unauthorized release of the photos. His placement in the Athol barracks was "an extension of his transfer" back to field duty, Procopio said on Thursday.

Residents in the town of about 13,000 in north-central Massachusetts are proud to have Murphy in their midst, according to local paper the Worcester Telegram and Gazette – including Selectman Susannah Whipps Lee, who had a dozen "Welcome to Athol" lawn signs printed up for the newest addition to the area's law enforcement roster.

"I thought it was important to welcome him to our community," Lee told the Telegram and Gazette. "There is always room in our town for someone who believes in doing the right thing, even though there may be consequences."

"I applaud Sgt. Murphy for doing what he felt was the right thing to do in releasing the photos. I don't know what the rules and procedures of the Massachusetts State Police are, but I hope the powers that be show some compassion," Lee told the paper.

Supporters mostly greeted Murphy's return to duty with praise on a Facebook page dedicated to the officer.

"Give the man a medal and stop all this nonsense," poster Gigi Badolato wrote on the Facebook page.

"I support you 100% Sgt. Murphy," Maureen Rattigan wrote in a post.