With Evidence Locker Case Settled, Dracut Police Department Ready To Move Forward
Apr 17, 2018 03:54PM ● Published by Bill Gilman
Dracut Police Headquarters
Town officials say absolutely.
More than 2 1/2 years after a scathing report was released regarding the management of the Police Department and, in particular, insufficient oversight of the department's evidence locker, a disciplinary hearing has resulted in minimal punishment for those singled out.
Acting on the recommendation from the hearing officer, Atty. James Hall, Town Manager James Duggan handed down a one-day suspension, without pay, to former Evidence Officer Sgt. Gregg Byam and declined to issue any discipline to Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand.
In a published interview with the Lowell Sun, Duggan did not enthusiastically endorse the results, but said he made his decisions out of respect to the process and the hearing officer. He also said he felt confident problems that had existed within the department have been addressed and that he wanted to "move on."
The hearing and subsequent disciplinary decisions seemingly bring to an end an unfortunate chapter in the history of the Dracut Police Department, which began with the release of an independent audit of the department in 2015 by Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI). The report described a "toxic environment" within the department, highlighted by broad dislike of Chartrand by the rank and file and frequent absences by then-Chief Kevin Richardson.
The report also hammered the department leadership for poor budgeting and for what it called "haphazard" handling of evidence that put "chain of evidence" at risk.
A portion of the report read, (The Department is) "in deep turmoil and struggling to fulfill its mission to deliver efficient and effective public-safety services to its residents. It is beset by significant internal dysfunction with a majority of the department having indicated the leadership team of the chief and deputy chief have failed to create an atmosphere and workplace that encourages inclusion, empowerment, collaboration or one that provides a clear vision for competency and success."
In the wake of the report, Richardson retired in the summer of 2016 and was replaced on an interim basis by Neil Ouellette.
In September 2016, an audit specific to the evidence locker and handling of evidence was conducted by Plymouth-based Pomeroy Resources, Inc. The subsequent report spotlighted numerous additional deficiencies and breaches of protocol. Ouellette informed both Duggan and Middlesex DA Marian Ryan of those findings. For her part, Ryan determined that the mistakes made had not compromised any Dracut prosecutions.
Last year, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved Duggan's recommendation to hire former Hooksett, NH Chief Peter Bartlett as chief on a permanent basis.
During their tenures, Ouellette and Bartlett have overseen an overhaul of the evidence locker and the department's procedures for handling evidence. Bartlett said fixing the problems outlined in the MRI report and those found by Ouellette, has been a top priority since he joined the department.
“The integrity of evidence and property is extremely important in any agency. Policies and practices now in place will continue to ensure all evidence and property at Dracut Police are maintained with great care," he said.
Following the recommendations of the hearing officer and the decisions by Duggan, Byam and Chartrand issued written statements to the Lowell Sun. Both said they felt vindicated by the results of the investigation and the recommendations of the hearing officer.