Former Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon should face criminal or civil charges for engaging in “serious misconduct” by hiring police officers who were untrained and unqualified, including the former chair of the city council, concludes a scathing new report by the state Civil Service Commission.
Solomon, who was one of the highest-paid law enforcement officers in the country before he was placed on leave and then retired in 2020, allegedly circumvented civil services rules by hiring favored candidates out of their civil service order and by hiring part-time police officers who did not apply through the civil service system at all.
City records show that the city improperly paid over $1.5 million to seven police officers who should not have been hired, the Commission wrote in its 43-page report.
“These brazen hacks created a Friends and Family Program within the Methuen Police Department and made a total mockery of the civil service process, said City Councilor D.J. Beauregard, a longtime Solomon critic.
The Civil Service Commission, which oversees the civil service system across the state, said it is forwarding its findings to the attorney general, the Essex County District Attorney, the inspector general, the state ethics commission, and state and city retirement officials. It has authority to impose fines for violations of civil service law, but is not a criminal law enforcement agency.
The commission did not specify whether Solomon should face criminal or civil charges, saying only that the city of Methuen “should explore legal action against Joseph Solomon.”
Solomon, who made $326,272 in 2019, was placed on leave in December 2020 after then Inspector General Glenn Cunha found that he and a police captain engaged in misconduct by drafting police union contracts that would pay them exorbitant salaries. He then opted to retire.
The report said that Solomon’s retirement should not protect him from prosecution or other punishment, concluding, “It is inconceivable that a public employee could completely evade accountability for such misconduct by simply filing for retirement benefits.”
Mayor Neil Perry called Thursday’s report “an important step in the continuation of moving the City forward.”
The Civil Service Commission, which previously thwarted efforts to fire Solomon in 2008, said it launched its investigation in January 2021 after the Globe reported that Solomon was violating civil service rules to hire business associates and political allies.
The Globe detailed how Solomon allegedly bent the rules that require police departments in communities that use the civil service system to hire candidates based on their grade on a civil service test.
Solomon allegedly used a loophole to bypass the system.
In one case, which the commission described as “brazen,” Solomon hired Sean Fountain, a veteran North Andover firefighter, as a full-time “intermittent” police officer. He didn’t take the exam, didn’t graduate from a police training academy, and was over the age limit for new officers.
He was, however, a Methuen city councilor and former chair.
Solomon hired Fountain as well as a candidate who had worked for a private investigation firm he owns, Solomon. He justified the hiring process by citing an obscure 1945 law that allowed him to hire full-time officers outside of civil service to fill a staffing shortage.
The chief passed over candidates who ranked near the top of the civil service list, including veterans, instead choosing applicants with connections in the department, say critics. Eventually, Methuen opted out of the civil service process altogether for promotions, giving Solomon more leeway to promote favored officers.
“The unlawful employment of Fountain was not the result of a mere oversight or a misreading of the law,” the commission wrote. Solomon “knowingly” submitted false information to civil service stating that Fountain was a civil service officer. “Chief Solomon ‘unquestionably’ knew that Fountain was not.”
Fountain was eventually terminated and sued the city. He has denied any wrongdoing and his lawsuit is still pending.
Neither Solomon nor Fountain could be reached for comment.
The commission praised Mayor Neil Perry and other current and city officials who cooperated in the investigation. They included a long list of officials who were interviewed.
They included a shorter list of people who did not cooperate — Solomon, Fountain, and other officers who were allegedly improperly hired by Solomon.
The report also criticizes other Methuen city officials for allowing Fountain to work despite knowing that he was not qualified.
The commission also singled out the Massachusetts Police Training Council, a state oversight agency, which the report said knew Fountain was working illegally but did nothing. The commission wrote that Fountain had served as the “lead investigator for major cases including but not limited to homicide, armed robbery, commercial breaks, missing persons.”
MPTC executive director Robert Ferullo declined to comment.
The report also ordered city officials to provide a list of candidates for police officer positions who were bypassed “as a result of the unlawful appointments of full-time, non-civil service intermittent officers identified in this report.” They may be eligible for “appropriate relief,” which could mean new positions.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.