GLOUCESTER — City officials on Monday fired Police Chief Leonard Campanello, a high-profile leader in the state’s opioid fight, after accusing him of destroying evidence during a probe into his relationships with two women who an investigator said “may have been in fear for their safety.’’
The chief allegedly lied to investigators, apparently deleted 653 text messages sent to and received from one of the women in one day on a city-owned cellphone, and concocted a story suggesting the phone was stolen, a special counsel hired by the city said.
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken said she made the decision “with regret and a heavy heart” but added she had been left with no choice but to oust Campanello, who became chief in 2012.
“Chief Campanello’s actions are entirely unethical and unacceptable,” Romeo Theken said during an afternoon news conference at City Hall. “It is for these reasons I have determined the Gloucester Police Department needs a change of leadership.”
Campanello’s attorney, Terrence Kennedy of Everett, described the investigation as a “witch hunt” and said the termination violated the chief’s contract.
“The reasons given by the city for terminating the contract had nothing to do with the original inquiry they were conducting,” Kennedy said.
Campanello gained national attention through his efforts to help, rather than punish, drug addicts. He was honored at the White House in July.
City officials emphasized that Campanello was being fired over his handling of the messages and other evidence, rather than his relationships with the two women.
However, a statement from the mayor said the city received “disturbing allegations” beginning in early September regarding those relationships. Leonard Kesten, the special counsel, would not elaborate other than to say that one of the relationships was personal.
The first complaint reached the mayor’s office over the Labor Day weekend, when a woman called to say she feared for her safety, city officials said. The second complaint was initiated by a person who called on behalf of another woman who had concerns.
The allegations “did not involve his profession,” Kesten said.
The chief, whose firing is effective Nov. 2, has the right to a hearing before that date in front of the mayor or someone she designates.
Campanello’s attorney said the chief “is proud of the work he has done for the city of Gloucester as well as with the Angel program,” which steers addicts to treatment rather than prosecution. “He intends to continue to advocate even stronger for those suffering from addiction.”
The termination letter sent to Campanello on Monday alleged that the chief lied Sept. 23 when he told investigators he had left his cellphone, master key, and security fob in his locked office on Sept. 7.
“When the city asked to retrieve the phone for the investigators, it was no longer at the station,” the mayor’s office said.
City officials contend Campanello led them to believe the cellphone had possibly been stolen, and they contacted the Essex district attorney’s office.
The chief also allegedly lied when he said he did not know who later sent those items to his attorney via overnight mail, according to the termination letter. Security video at the Everett post office showed that Campanello mailed them, without a name attached and with a return address of the Gloucester Police Department, city officials said.
“The chief has suggested that someone within the department might have removed the phone without his permission,” the mayor’s office said, adding that “it is clear that Chief Campanello’s statements suggesting the theft from inside the police station were false.”
In addition, the letter said, “you were untruthful at the interview when you stated that you had printed and produced to the city all of your text communications with [name redacted] since April 2016.
“Your cellphone records show far more such communications than those you had produced. Thus, it appears that you have either withheld or destroyed evidence relevant to the investigation.”
Campanello has been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 13. “I have lost confidence in Chief Campanello,” Romeo Theken said.
The news of the chief’s firing left residents shaking their heads in this historic fishing port, which has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.
“It started out great,” Doug Comeau, 66, said of Campanello’s tenure, as he exited a public library. “All the good will he had, and it’s going down the tubes. He made the city look good, and now he might make it look bad.”
Keana Souza, 22, said she was saddened by the firing.
“He did a lot of good things for the city,” Souza said, citing Campanello’s emphasis on using the Police Department as a tool to lead addicts to sobriety.
Kennedy, the attorney, said Monday that the Angel program had “sparked similar programs in more than 28 states, helping thousands of people suffering from the disease of addiction.”
Romeo Theken said the effort would continue, and she pledged to expand the program by offering additional services to participants after their treatment concludes. She said about 10 people had participated since the chief has been on leave.
The mayor has said the city brought in three firms to examine the Police Department, including two who were looking into the professional conduct of Campanello and Detective Sergeant Sean Connors.
Connors has been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 8. The mayor released no information about his case Monday.
“The public safety of this city is my top priority,” Romeo Theken said at the news conference.