More than a year after the Ashland Police Department became mired in an internecine feud, the embattled police chief was placed on paid administrative leave Monday.
Scott Rohmer’s contract, which expires in June, will not be renewed, said Town Manager Anthony Schiavi, a retiring Air Force colonel who was sworn into office Wednesday.
In recent months, Rohmer, the town, and other officers have faced discrimination complaints filed by two female officers, as well as a lawsuit brought by two other officers.
Rohmer has denied most charges, but admitted last year to asking a subordinate officer to conduct a forensic search of his wife’s laptop and cellphone, according to an investigator hired by the town. The investigator rejected Rohmer’s assertion that he had permission from his wife.
“We’re going to start with a bottom-up review of the entire department,” Schiavi said at a press conference, after announcing Rohmer’s exit to the entire Police Department.
The decision to move forward without Rohmer is the first step of many needed to turn the department around, Schiavi said.
“The first step in any recovery is admitting there’s a problem,” Schiavi said. “The community needs to believe in us again and trust us again.”
Rohmer said he was disappointed in Schiavi’s decision.
“I think the new town manager doesn’t have a full understanding of what’s going on,” said Rohmer, reached at his home after the announcement. “I’ve been a faithful servant of this community for 28 years as a police professional. I think the Police Department needs me there.”
Rohmer, a lifelong Ashland resident, said he has been working hard to address false allegations against the Police Department, including those made against him.
His attorney, Doug Louison, said it is telling that the town did not try to remove Rohmer for cause or initiate any disciplinary action against him.
Rohmer has been chief since 2007. His annual base salary is $105,469, Schiavi said.
Stephen Doherty, a retired police chief with 33 years of law enforcement experience, will take over as acting chief on April 8, Schiavi said. Until then, Lieutenant David Beaudoin, a defendant in two of the legal actions who has denied all allegations, will be in charge of the department.
Schiavi said putting Rohmer on leave was a difficult decision because “the chief has invested a tremendous amount of time in this department; he loves this department.”
Two of three legal complaints pending against Rohmer and others were filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, each by a female officer alleging gender discrimination and describing the department as an abusive and sexually hostile workplace.
The third complaint was filed jointly by Sergeant Robert MacQuarrie and Lieutenant Richard Briggs in Norfolk Superior Court in September. They allege Rohmer retaliated against them after they signed a complaint against the chief.
The allegations in the lawsuit were investigated last year by Edward C. Doocey, a Quincy lawyer hired by the town to review the charges against Rohmer, back when they were in the form of a complaint, rather than a lawsuit.
Doocey wrote that he found no evidence to support most of the allegations, including one that charged Rohmer had misappropriated department funds. But Doocey called the purchase of $13,000 worth of insignia jackets, some of which Rohmer acknowledged giving to family and friends, an “ill-conceived expenditure.”
Central to the lawsuit is the friendship between Rohmer and acting Sergeant Edward Pomponio, also a defendant in the three legal actions.
MacQuarrie filed a complaint with the town in 2011 against Pomponio, who previously served on the Milford Police Department. Milford’s chief, who alleged Pomponio made threats against him and several officers, revoked Pomponio’s license to carry a firearm, a decision upheld in Milford District Court. (Police officers do not need such licenses to carry firearms for their job, only for personal use, said Louison, Rohmer’s lawyer.)
Rohmer reissued Pomponio’s gun license, according to the lawsuit, and failed to discipline Pomponio after he allegedly discharged a firearm in the police station.
Although Doocey’s report was redacted by the town to remove some names before it was released to the Globe, it indicates someone was disciplined for accidentally discharging a firearm in the police station.
Louison, who is now representing Pomponio, said that despite several investigations in Ashland, Pomponio has never been found at fault and has been an asset to the department.