EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 17, 2013

Police fight Civil Service decision

State officials say ex-trooper got special treatment after crash

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Three city police officers accused of giving special treatment to a retired high-ranking state trooper will continue their fight to avoid punishment.

The patrolmen’s union said it will fight a state decision supporting Mayor James Fiorentini’s disciplining of the officers, even if it means going to superior court.

The state Civil Service Commission recently upheld the mayor’s decision to punish the officers for giving preferential treatment to retired trooper Charles Noyes of Haverhill, who crashed his automobile in West Newbury in March of 2012 and then fled to Haverhill, according to police. Noyes was deputy superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police when he retired in 2006.

A union official said the officers involved will file a motion for reconsideration with the Civil Service Commission and, if unsuccessful with that, will file an appeal in superior court.

“We have received and reviewed the decision of the Civil Service Commission, and needless to say, we disagree with the Commission’s findings,” patrolman Rick Welch, vice president of the union, said in an email to The Eagle-Tribune. “There are a great number of key factual and legal issues that the Commission plainly did not consider in rendering its decision.”

Fiorentini said he received a notice from Welch indicating the union’s intentions. The mayor responded by saying, “They have every right to appeal and we respect that.” Fiorentini said he had no other comment.

Police Chief Alan DeNaro initially suspended Lt. William Leeman and patrolman Christopher Pagliuca for five days each for their handling of the incident in which Noyes crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a utility pole on Route 113 in West Newbury, snapping it in half and cutting power to the surrounding area for almost 11 hours, according to police.

Noyes then kept driving with his air bags deployed until police found him in the travel lane in the area of 12 River Road, just over the line into Haverhill near the Rocks Village Bridge.

An internal Haverhill police investigation concluded that Noyes was given special treatment by West Newbury and Haverhill police officers due to his previous state police position.

The probe found that officers declined to arrest Noyes or charge him with drunken driving, even though they had enough evidence to do so, and that reports by officers were so poorly written that prosecutors could not later charge Noyes with drunken driving.

Welch said the city presented biased and skewed versions of the story and that the patrolman’s union stands behind its officers as having acted in a professional manner.

“The true issue before the Commission was not whether Charles Noyes was actually intoxicated, which is what one may assume after reading the decision, it was whether Officer Pagliuca and Lieutenant Leeman had violated their duties as police officers for the City of Haverhill. They did not,” Welch said in the email to the newspaper.

Noyes eventually was sentenced in Newburyport District Court to six months of unsupervised probation after admitting there were sufficient facts to find him guilty of negligent driving and leaving the scene of an accident that caused property damage.

“The public has a legitimate concern when they ask why Charles Noyes was not charged with operating under the influence,” Welch said. “But the true question is – which department had the lawful authority to seek the charge?”

Leeman, Pagliuca and a third Haverhill officer, Harry Miller, were cited for writing untruthful or incomplete reports, unsatisfactory job performance, and violating police ethics. Pagliuca was suspended without pay for five days and Leeman and Miller for 10 days. Leeman was the ranking officer on duty during the incident, although he never left the police station. In a previous report, DeNaro criticized Leeman for not leaving the police station and traveling to the scene himself before deciding not to proceed with a drunken-driving investigation.

Welch said there are jurisdictional considerations, probable cause considerations, and a number of other factors that are considered every time an officer makes an arrest or institutes charges against a person. He said the officers’ post-discipline hearing brief which was submitted to the commission discussed these factors.

“We are providing a copy of the brief along with this statement to give the public an opportunity to form a complete understanding of Officer Pagliuca and Lieutenant Leeman’s involvement in this unfortunate situation,” Welch said. “If they could have made a lawful arrest they would have.”

DeNaro also recommended that Miller be fired, but the officer saved his job by agreeing to forfeit his sergeant’s stripes and his right to appeal the mayor’s decision. Miller, now a private, was also implicated for misconduct in a similar case seven years earlier that involved another high-ranking former state trooper.

Fiorentini said last week that he ordered the Police Department’s internal investigation after his office received anonymous complaints that a retired state trooper had received special treatment from Haverhill officers.