EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 9, 2013

Union: City balks at honoring officers

Says disciplined cops, mayor's election foe deserve praise for rescue

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The police union wants several officers and firefighters publicly recognized for saving the life of a car accident victim.

The group includes an officer recently suspended and demoted, the head of the patrolmen’s union who’s up for suspension for an incident that led to a man’s death, and the firefighter who ran unsuccessfully against Mayor James Fiorentini in last week’s election.

Police Chief Alan DeNaro said he has no plans “at this time” to publicly recognize the officers and firefighters — something he has been doing somewhat regularly at City Council meetings for officers whose actions potentially saved a life or went beyond the normal performance of their duties, such as responding to an emergency while off duty.

As public safety commissioner, DeNaro also oversees both the police and fire departments.

According to the patrolmen’s union, the actions of off-duty officer Harry Miller and several other police officers and firefighters saved the life of a car accident victim. The man, trapped in his car, was discovered by Miller off West Lowell Avenue while he was driving home from a midnight police shift on Sept. 15.

“Officer Harry Miller had just completed his shift and was driving home when he came upon a single motor vehicle that ran off the roadway and crashed into a tree,” reads a letter from officer Rick Welch, president of the patrolman’s union. He sent the letter to the mayor, DeNaro and city councilors.

“The single occupant was severely injured and trapped inside this heavily damaged vehicle,” Welch’s letter said. “Neither the police nor fire departments had received any report of this crash, nor was it known how long the operator had been trapped in the vehicle.”

Welch, who was also among the rescue team that responded to the crash, credited Miller and the quick action of several firefighters in extracting the victim, Zackary Rivers of Haverhill, from his mangled 2004 Nissan Sentra.

Miller was suspended last year for 10 days and demoted from sergeant to patrolman for writing untruthful or incomplete reports, unsatisfactory job performance and violating police ethics for his role in the handling of separate car accidents involving retired high-ranking state troopers in March 2012 and in 2005. DeNaro wanted to fire Miller, but the mayor declined to terminate the officer’s employment after Miller agreed to apologize and not appeal the city’s decision to suspend and demote him.

A police report on the Sept. 15 car crash that trapped the driver said the vehicle struck a tree with such force “as to compress the front end and force the front driver’s side tire into the center console.”

“The vehicle came to rest with the tree just inches from the driver’s seat and the male operator was pinned between the tree and a pillar of the vehicle’s frame,” the police report said.

Welch also praised two Trinity Ambulance medics, Michael Soucy and Benjamin Simmons, for performing life-saving measures on Rivers. He was transported by helicopter to a Boston trauma center and is now home recovering, Welch said.

“This person suffered severe injuries to his extremities, as well as multiple internal injuries, but due to the response of all involved he is now on the road to recovery,” Welch wrote in his request to city officials to recognize the officer and firefighters involved in the rescue.

Phone messages left for Zackary Rivers and his father Roger Rivers at their home were not returned.

Acting Fire Lieutenant Tyler Kimball, who launched a surprise but unsuccessful 11th-hour campaign for mayor in last week’s election, was among six firefighters identified by Welch as worthy of commendation for his work at the crash.

DeNaro, who has made a habit of recognizing his officers at City Council meetings for outstanding work, especially actions performed while off-duty, said he has no current plans to bring the matter before the council.

“We will review the letter and determine the appropriate action,” the chief said in an email to The Eagle-Tribune.

Fiorentini said he was not familiar with the incident.

When told how the police chief and mayor responded to the newspaper’s inquiries, Welch said, “I guess the city officials aren’t that interested in employees’ performance — unless it’s a violation of policy.’’

Welch is also facing discipline for allegedly mishandling a missing report in June in which the subject of the report — a 57-year-old Silsby Farm bee keeper — was later found dead at the farm from bee stings. DeNaro has recommended that Welch be suspended without pay for six months — a recommendation the chief has said was suggested by the mayor. Welch has said the police chief and mayor are seeking harsh punishment against him as political payback for his actions as union president.

The city held a punishment hearing for Welch last month, but the hearing officer in the case has yet to submit his report. City Solicitor William Cox, who presented the city’s case against Welch and has provided updates on the case in the past, did not return several recent phone messages about the status of the hearing officer’s decision.

Fiorentini told a reporter he did not know why the hearing officer’s decision was taking so long, but that he would “look into it.”

The other officers and firefighters involved in rescuing the car crash victim were firefighters Michael Sullivan, Eric Sullivan, Brian Sawyer, Scott Stempion and Rob Robinson, and police officers Joseph Keenan, Ruben Jimenez and Joseph Florent.

Welch said he also sent a copy of his letter to Trinity Ambulance and was told the company bought the medics who treated the victim at the scene a gift card and put a copy of Welch’s letter in their personnel files.