The Middlesex district attorney’s office retrieved a bag of shredded documents from the Ashland Police Department last weekend, the latest in a series of legal tangles that reveal an agency divided by infighting.
Four Ashland police officers have filed legal complaints in recent months against Police Chief Scott Rohmer, the town, and other officers.
Anthony Schiavi, a retiring US Air Force colonel who was sworn in as Ashland’s town manager Wednesday, is to meet with the Police Department on Monday morning. He said he will be meeting with all town departments, starting with the police, but he would not comment on the agenda.
Two of the complaints 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. Other allegations against Rohmer in their lawsuit include unethical spending of town money, covering up for a friend accused of a hate crime, and misusing department resources to investigate his own wife.
Rohmer’s lawyer, Doug Louison, who also represents Acting Sergeant Edward Pomponio, another defendant in the three legal actions, said they deny any significant wrongdoing.
“They deny misconduct that is of any substance,” he said.
Louison called the confiscation of the shredded papers absurd, and said the accusation of impropriety is “indicative of the dysfunction” on the force.
“There was absolutely, positively no document shredding going on of any evidence,” he said. “The chief on my behest was gathering some documents to provide to my office.”
The Police Department has one shredder, and it is routinely used for disposing of documents that contain private information, Louison said.
Timothy M. Burke, a lawyer representing the four officers who filed complaints, said there were some public-records requests made recently, and he believes the shredding was improper. He said he does not know who reported the incident to the DA’s office.
“There is obviously some concern shown by members of the Police Department who realize that documents were being shredded and should not have been shredded,” he said.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office does not confirm investigations. But spokeswoman MaryBeth Long acknowledged the office received a report March 22 about document shredding, and State Police detectives retrieved a bag of shredded documents from the Ashland police station.
“There’s an assessment ongoing of the circumstances of the shredding,” she said.
Many if not all of the allegations in the three legal actions were contained in a January 2012 written complaint signed by 10 police officers and given to then-town manager John Petrin, who has since left the job.
In February 2012, Petrin hired Edward C. Doocey, a Quincy lawyer, to investigate what amounted to at least 140 allegations against the chief and three other officers, according to Doocey’s report dated last June. Doocey, who focused his investigation on Rohmer, reported that although Rohmer had not broken any laws, he had violated Ashland Police Department rules. Doocey did not investigate the allegations concerning sexual harassment.
The most significant finding in the report was that Rohmer had directed an Ashland officer to conduct a forensic search of his wife’s laptop computer and cellphone. Doocey rejected Rohmer’s claim that he had his wife’s permission to conduct the search, and asked for the officer’s help because he did not have her passwords.
Doocey, who interviewed 41 people for his report, including all uniformed and civilian members of the department, wrote that he found no evidence to support most of the allegations, including that Rohmer had covered up a hate crime committed by a friend. The person in question was charged with a hate crime, and reached a plea agreement, according to Doocey’s finding.
Doocey said there was no evidence that Rohmer had misappropriated department funds, although he did call the purchase of $13,000 worth of insignia jackets, some of which Rohmer acknowledged giving to family and friends, an “ill-conceived expenditure.”
Still, the report describes a department in turmoil. All of the officers, with one exception, described morale on the police force as “at an all-time low.”
And it sheds light on behaviors and internal politics in the department that apparently are contributing to an adversarial atmosphere.
The report finds fault with one of the accusers, Sergeant Gregory Fawkes, who was also union president, and drafted the complaint given to Petrin.
Doocey concluded that Fawkes “concocted a serious criminal allegation” against Rohmer when he alleged that the chief had committed an assault and battery on a civilian in Framingham, and used his position to evade responsibility when Framingham police responded.
Doocey interviewed the person allegedly assaulted and Framingham police before concluding the allegation was false.
Fawkes, who was dismissed from the force and is appealing the decision via arbitration, said he told Doocey that he had put information from all union members in the complaint, and so couldn’t vouch for all of it personally.
“I told him that some of it could be rumors,” said Fawkes.
The Globe could not confirm the town’s reasons for dismissing Fawkes. The officer said although the official reason was tied to a civilian complaint, he believes he was fired in retaliation for complaining about the chief and his friends.
Central to the Norfolk Superior Court lawsuit is the friendship between Rohmer and Pomponio.
MacQuarrie filed a complaint with the town in 2011 against Pomponio, who had previously served on the Milford Police Department. Milford’s chief revoked Pomponio’s license to carry a firearm, a decision upheld by Milford District Court, according to the lawsuit. (Police officers do not need such licenses to carry firearms for their job, only for personal use.)
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 the Doocey report was redacted by the town to remove some names before it was released to the Globe, it does indicate that someone was disciplined for accidentally discharging a firearm in the police station.
Leonard Kesten represents the town and one other defendant, Lieutenant David Beaudoin, who is the subject of the Norfolk Superior Court case and one of the two MCAD complaints. Beaudoin denies all charges, he said.
Kesten said the town has conducted several investigations to try to address the problems.
“It’s unfortunate that these officers, who have worked together and known each other for a long time, that it has reached this stage,” he said. “The town has been acting, they have spent a great deal of effort investigating these things, to try to get this department to function.”
Only one of the town’s five selectmen returned calls from the Globe requesting a comment. Selectman Joseph Magnani said he couldn’t discuss the situation because he also works in the Police Department as a provisional sergeant.
A lifelong resident of the town, Rohmer, who has been chief since 2007, has been in negotiations to renew his contract, which expires in June.Lisa Kocian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.