Chartrand Attorney: Civil Service Commission Decision ‘Last Piece Of Puzzle’ For Civil Rights Lawsuit
Dec 07, 2018 04:59PM
● By Lisa Redmond
DRACUT — The attorney for Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand has vowed to file a civil rights lawsuit against the town after Chartrand won a major victory last month when the state Civil Service Commission sided with the veteran cop and reduced his 10-day suspension to a letter of reprimand.
The commission’s Nov. 8 decision is part of an ongoing legal battle that has raged since 2016, when Town Administrator James Duggan suspended Chartrand for 10 days claiming Chartrand improperly released to the media – as part of a public records request – documents from Dracut Police Lt. Michael Fleury’s personnel file.
“We agree that the town has not established just cause for discipline for violation of the most serious charges, including no violation of the public records laws or other misconduct’’ a majority of the commission wrote.
Describing it as a “misstep,’’ and given Chartrand’s “solid record of past performance,’’ the commission is “warranted in exercising its discretion to modify the discipline and to reduce it to no more than a written reprimand,’’ the decision reads.
Commission Chairman Christopher C. Bowman took a tougher stance writing that in his opinion, any discipline against Chartrand, as the public records officer, “could have a chilling effect on the need for transparency in government affairs.’’
Chartrand’s attorney Andrew Gambaccini said in a statement: “We, obviously, are more than pleased with the outcome at the Commission level. The Town now will have to pay Deputy Chief Chartrand not only for his salary for the 10 days that he wrongly was suspended by the Town Manager, but the town will have to pay interest, at the rate of 12 percent, on that amount. In addition, under a state statute, the town also will have to pay a portion of my legal fees and the expenses that were incurred in this case.
“More importantly, this decision was the last piece of the puzzle that we needed in order to commence a civil rights lawsuit against the Town Manager. His campaign against the Deputy was very poorly conceived and executed even more poorly. We intend in the future litigation to shine a very bright light on the Manager’s actions so that all can know the extent of his misconduct.
Duggan, who disagreed with the decision, told The Sun, “…The written reprimand will be a permanent record of Deputy Chartrand’s personnel file.’’
Duggan accused Chartrand of “wrongfully leaking’’ to the media information from Fleury’s personnel file that included a letter of reprimand. The town argued the document was not a public record and shouldn’t have been released as part of a public records request.
. There are “multiple allegations of bias’’ in this case, the commission wrote. Chartrand believes Duggan and a selectman, who is a former Dracut police officer, are biased against him. Fleury believes Chartrand was biased against him due to an incident nearly a decade ago.
The commission’s decision notes that since 2009, Chartrand and Fleury have had a “rocky relationship’’ at work. In a 2009 incident, Fleury, then a sergeant, was the officer-in-charge one night. Fleury responded with two officers to a call that reported people being held hostage by someone with a shotgun. When Fleury arrived at the scene, the street was dark.
Fleury approached the house with a patrol officer. There was a man standing in the middle of the dark street. Fleury yelled “gun’’ and kept telling the person with the shotgun to put the gun down, but the man continued to approach Fleury, who had his service weapon drawn.
Ultimately, it was determined that the man holding the shotgun was Chartrand. There was an investigation, but there is no evidence that Fleury or the two patrol officers were disciplined.
“Since the 2009 event, Lt. Fleury believes that in Chartrand’s eyes there is nothing he can do right,’’ the commission wrote. Any communication Fleury receives from Chartrand is “often derogatory,’’ according to the decision.
Between 2015-2016, Chartrand cautioned Fleury about work-hour limitations. Chartrand chastised Fleury because he had worked 20 hours in a 24-hour shift on Sept. 24, 2015 and worked a prior 16-hour shift. There was no internal affairs investigation and no regulation prohibiting Fleury’s actions.
Even so, Chartrand sent a letter to Fleury on Sept. 25, 2015, asking him to provide a detailed explanation. Fleury sent back a letter asking for “clarification’’ regarding the department’s policy of “sufficient time off between working details and/or overtime shifts…’’
Chartrand sent Fleury an email stating that as part of the “long standing rule’’ restricting officers from working more than 16 hours’’ and since Fleury’s incident there will be a rule added to the department’s manual. Fleury considered the matter closed.
On Oct. 14, 2105, Chartrand hand-delivered to Fleury a scathing letter of reprimand stating, “the message you have put forth to officers within the department is that greed is acceptable, and that making money takes priority over safety…you need to do some soul searching and dedicate yourself to performing your duties as a superior not just making money that is available to you from the department…your individual decision to work that many hours for personal gain could have placed you, the department and the town in jeopardy of unnecessary legal liability.’’
The last paragraph in Chartrand’s letter to Fleury states, “be aware that if some ambiguity did not exist as to the specifics of the departmental rule restricting hours of work to 16 (hours) in a 24-
hour period, your conduct would warrant disciplinary action up to and including suspension without pay.’’
The commission, in its decision, acknowledged that Fleury was “shocked, offended and embarrassed’’ by the letter. Chartrand argued the letter was not a form of discipline but a “learning tool designed to address an observed deficiency so that an employee may correct their behavior prior to the necessity of imposed disciplinary action.’’
That same month, Municipal Resources Inc. did an assessment of the Dracut Police Department and made a number of negative findings, including a recommendation calling for the removal of chief of police from civil service.
On Dec. 21, 2015, the Board of Selectmen received a response to the MRI study from Chartrand and then-Chief Kevin Richardson calling the MRI study “one sided’’ and blaming the lack of funds for deficiencies.
Meanwhile, The Sun had filed a public record’s request with the Dracut police. In January 2016 – two months after the initial request – Chartrand provided The Sun with recordings, including the Oct. 14, 2015 letter he wrote to Fleury, but redacted the last paragraph that warned of future disciplinary action if the behavior persists.
Chartrand, who was the public records officer, didn’t consult with Town Council prior to releasing any internal affairs information to the press, nor did he inform Fleury of the request by The Sun, the commission noted. On Jan. 26, 2016, NEPBA filed a grievance Fleury’s behalf claiming the Oct. 14, 2015 letter of reprimand constitutes discipline without just cause and should be removed from Fleury’s file.
Chartrand responded that the letter was not in Fleury’s personnel file, but rather it was in an internal affairs investigation file.
Fleury first learned of the release of the Oct. 14, 2015 letter to the press when he read about it an article in the March 13, 2016 edition of The Sun. Fleury and his family were shocked, angry and embarrassed. He was made the “butt of jokes.’’
In April of 2016, the union submitted two written grievances. One grievance sought to have the reprimand letter be removed from Fleury’s record because there was no 16-hour rule in place at the time and the other claimed Chartrand improperly released the letter of reprimand to the newspaper in violation of Fleury’s privacy.
Duggan upheld the grievances. He ordered the removal of the letter of reprimand from Fleury’s file. And in a letter dated July 18, 2016, Duggan suspended Chartrand for 10 days. Chartrand appealed.