GLOUCESTER — Police Chief Leonard Campanello has voluntarily stepped aside from the nonprofit he established to help people struggling with opiate addiction after the city’s mayor placed him on indefinite administrative leave pending an internal investigation, the group’s cofounder said Wednesday.
Businessman and philanthropist John Rosenthal, who created Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative with Campanello last year, said the city’s investigation has nothing to do with the police chief’s work with the program, which helps other police organizations replicate Gloucester’s efforts to steer opioid users to treatment rather than locking them up.
Rosenthal said he does not know why Campanello is under investigation. Attorney Terrence Kennedy, who represents the chief, said the probe is unrelated to Campanello’s police duties.
“I just feel horrible for him,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview. “He’s been a hero. How many people can say that thousands of people are alive today because of a program you started?”
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken announced Tuesday that Campanello had been placed on paid leave, but declined to explain the reason.
Speaking at the back doors of Gloucester City Hall Wednesday afternoon, Romeo Theken refused to say why the investigation was initiated.
“We don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going on. I really don’t,” she said. “I have no idea.”
The mayor said she saw Campanello Saturday night at an event for the ANGEL Initiative, a program established by the chief that allows addicts to walk into the police station with drugs or needles without fear of facing criminal charges. Instead, they are assigned an “angel” to steer them into drug treatment programs.
The mayor said the city’s personnel department — and not her office — plans to hire an outside agency to investigate Campanello.
“If I hire someone then it’s my personal agenda, and I have no personal agenda here,” she said. “I want it to be outsourced, and I want to have nothing to do with it.”
Campanello was on vacation when he learned the city was putting him on leave, Rosenthal said. He said the police chief had taken time off to speak with groups across the country on behalf of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.
Since its founding 15 months ago, the group’s efforts have been replicated by 153 police departments in 27 states, Rosenthal said. Last month, the organization announced it had hired its first full-time executive director, Allie Hunter McDade, who works in an office across the street from the Gloucester Police Department.
Rosenthal said Campanello believes his name will be cleared.
“He’s not worried about the investigation,” he said. “From his standpoint, he didn’t do anything wrong.”
In a statement, Kennedy said Campanello plans to continue his work fighting opiate addiction when he returns to his job.
“We are confident when all the facts are fairly and impartially reviewed, Chief Campanello will be quickly and expeditiously returned to his position as chief of police for the city of Gloucester,” the statement said.
Kennedy declined to comment further and said Campanello would not discuss the investigation.
Campanello has become a national figure in substance abuse treatment and law enforcement circles. In April, the White House honored him as a “Champion of Change.”
In the city’s downtown, some residents Wednesday said they could not believe that Campanello had been removed from duty. There had been no hint of scandal nor indication that anything was awry within the department, they said.
Susan Erony, 67, said she looked at the headline in the morning’s paper about Campanello’s suspension “and groaned and thought: ‘Oh, no. Not this great guy.’ ”
At Elite Nails, which is across from the nonprofit started by Campanello and Rosenthal, some said they want to know why the investigation was launched.
“We got a right to know,” Josie Curtis said as she painted a client’s nails. “You can’t just leave everybody hanging. That’s a big deal.”
Romeo Theken asked residents to be patient.
“Just trust us. You have before,” she said. “The safety of our community and others is our priority. We need to run a city. . . . When we find out something we will let the community know. Absolutely.”
Police said the force is being led by Acting Chief David Quinn until Thursday when Assistant Chief John McCarthy returns from a previously planned vacation.
The city also disclosed Wednesday that it had placed a second officer, Sergeant Detective Sean Conners , on leave Sept. 8, but did not explain the reason for his suspension. Conners declined to comment.