An East Bridgewater police officer has become the third member of his family to be fired from the department in the past six years, following his father and brother.
Joel Silva, 36, was fired for insubordination and lying following a disciplinary hearing held by Police Chief John Cowan, the chief said.
Silva, an East Bridgewater native, had served on the force since 1998. He could not be reached for comment, but is fighting the dismissal.
His lawyer, Timothy Burke of Needham, said that Cowan should not have acted as hearing officer because there was ongoing animosity between the chief and the Silvas. “The decision to fire was a fait accompli on the part of the chief, even before the hearing began,” Burke said, adding that the civil service appeal will be presided over by an independent hearing officer.
“I have absolutely no doubt the firing will be overturned,” Burke said. “This is a good officer who has done a great job for the department, and a number of police officers testified to that at the hearing.”
Cowan said his decision to fire Silva was not related to interpersonal difficulties with family members.
“I don’t want to get into a war of words, but it’s only been the family and the attorney that has said this is a vendetta,” Cowan said. “I had these matters placed in front of me, and I had to act on them as chief.”
Joel Silva’s brother John Silva III was fired by Cowan in 2006 for failing to comply with an order to undergo Breathalyzer tests before starting work each day.
The order followed a return to work after a four-month suspension for alcohol-related infractions. John Silva, who appealed the firing to the state and lost, had been on the town’s police force for nine years.
John L. Silva Jr., father of John III and Joel, was on the East Bridgewater force for 37 years, serving as police chief for the final 17. He had hired both his sons and had worked with them for several years prior to retiring in 2005.
Silva Jr. returned after retiring, signing on to the special police force so he could work traffic details.
Cowan said he was forced to fire him from the special police force in 2007 for refusing to tell the truth about a reported disturbance between himself and John Silva III that ultimately involved the police.
John Silva Jr. said “nothing happened,” Cowan said. “I had to dismiss him for not being truthful.”
Cowan said he has received support from the public for his decision to fire Joel Silva. “I’ve had people at the Post Office come up to me, and I’ve received a few phone calls, and it’s all been positive,” he said. “My whole point is: This happened and was placed in front of me as chief, and I did my job. It’s nothing I’d want to go through again.”
According to Cowan’s written decision, Joel Silva had refused to follow an order from a superior officer to conduct neighborhood checks while on patrol on the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift on Dec. 5, 2011, and lied about why the order was not followed, saying he had been tied up with other issues.
During the disciplinary hearing, other staff testified that Silva called the checks, ordered because of a rash of housebreaks, “a waste of time.”
“His course of conduct violated the duties and obligations as a sworn police officer and the rules and regulations of the East Bridgewater Police Department,” Cowan wrote.
“It is well established that untruthfulness on the part of any police officer is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”
The state Civil Service Commission has confirmed that Silva filed an appeal on July 6. Under civil service protocol, state officials will hold a prehearing within 30 days. A full evidentiary hearing will follow.
Civil service procedure requires a thorough investigation once wrongdoing has been reported. Cowan said he reviewed shift logs of activity and interviewed the police officers and the dispatcher working Dec. 5.
He then determined that the alleged infraction warranted a formal hearing, run like a court proceeding, and held two sessions in June.
While a hearing officer may be appointed to run the sessions and make a recommendation on discipline, Cowan said in a phone interview that he prefers taking on the role himself. Cowan explained that he is a strong police chief and is solely responsible for all hiring, discipline, and firing.
Selectman Robert Condon said he has heard from residents since the firing. “There have been a number of comments that it’s about time this happened,” he said.
“It was startling to me that residents knew things that were issues [with the Silvas] and didn’t feel comfortable coming forward.”