ASHLAND — About 100 people crammed into Ashland’s Town Hall Wednesday night to protest the ouster of a police chief who they see as a scapegoat for bigger problems in the department.
Scott Rohmer was placed on paid administrative leave Monday by Town Manager Anthony Schiavi, who has been on the job only a week. Schiavi, who is charged with untangling a Police Department mired in legal disputes and infighting, said the town will look for a replacement.
The five-member Board of Selectmen was holding its regular meeting Wednesday, with no plans to take up the matter. But residents used the public comment portion of the meeting to criticize what they called a rash decision and to lobby for Rohmer’s reinstatement.
“I’m here tonight because my heart hurts for the town I love,” said Jon Fetherston, a former selectman. “You should be ashamed, all of you, that you’ve allowed it to get to this point.”
While selectmen remained silent, Schiavi addressed the crowd when Fetherston asked him to explain his decision. Schiavi defended the move, saying the change was needed “to get our department back together.”
Just before the meeting began, Rohmer had entered the room to a standing ovation and cheers of support. A 28-year veteran of the department and chief since 2007, Rohmer also addressed selectmen.
“There are a lot of issues at the Police Department and have been for a long time,” he said. “I think my removal comes at the wrong time.”
Four Ashland police officers have filed legal complaints in recent months against Rohmer, the town, and other officers.
Two 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 work place.