GROVELAND — A state official said the town was justified in firing a police officer for sleeping on duty, lying about his location while on patrol, and using department computers to look for jobs and women.
Police Department officials said they installed a hidden camera and GPS device in a cruiser to prove Aaron Yeo was sleeping on duty and lying to dispatchers about his location on overnights shifts.
Police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz said the department also installed software on police computers to track use by officers. That software was used to document that Yeo spent an excessive amount of time while on duty searching for employment and housing in New Hampshire, searching for women on MySpace and watching videos on YouTube, according to the state's ruling.
Yeo, 28, was fired by the Board of Selectmen on May 6, 2009, for those reasons as well as lying to Kirmelewicz and Deputy Chief Jeffrey Gillen during an internal investigation, according to a Sept. 29 ruling from the state Division of Labor Relations.
Yeo appealed his firing to the Labor Relations Division, which upheld the firing following an appeals hearing at Groveland Town Hall. Arbitrator Michael Boyle heard and decided the case.
"Mr. Yeo's consistent dishonesty and misconduct significantly breached his job duties and justified the discharge," Boyle's decision read, in part.
Yeo, who according to Groveland officials recently moved to Haverhill, could not be reached for comment.
Lawyer: Yeo wanted to disguise his location from terrorists
At Yeo's appeal hearing, his union lawyer Stephen Pfaff said Yeo gave inaccurate responses about his location to dispatchers because he wanted to be "intentionally covert" in light of "homeland security" and other practical considerations, according to the labor ruling.
Pfaff said Yeo was patrolling near targets of "terrorist threats" in accordance with Department of Homeland Security policy and that Yeo reported slightly erroneous locations so he could not be located by someone eavesdropping on a police scanner, according to the labor ruling.
The arbitrator dismissed Yeo's explanation that he misled dispatchers to disguise his location from criminals and terrorists as "not credible."
"(Yeo) should have informed his supervisor of this plan if that was in fact his intention," the ruling reads. "His failure to do so is damning."
Yeo's lawyer did not contest the computer evidence against his client, but argued those violations of department policy should be have been grounds for progressive discipline and not immediate termination.
In a brief telephone interview on Friday, Pfaff said Yeo was "disappointed" by the arbitrator's decision. Pfaff declined further comment.
Yeo's last recourse to contest his firing would be an appeal to Superior Court. Pfaff, an attorney for the Boston firm Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, said his client has not decided whether he will appeal to the courts.
In an e-mail to The Eagle-Tribune on Friday, Kirmelewicz said the arbitrator's decision "reiterates what I've said before, that police officers must be held to an especially high standard of honesty.
"A lying police officer loses all credibility and integrity and therefore cannot effectively perform his or her job," the chief's e-mail said. "As the record shows, I have zero tolerance for police corruption within this department. Any violations of public trust will be exposed and dealt with quickly and justly."
Yeo, who was hired in 2002 and served as a full-time patrolman from April 2006 until he was fired last year, is the son of former Groveland police Lt. Harold "Harry" Yeo. The Eagle-Tribune reported in September that the elder Yeo was recently investigated by local and state law enforcement officials for allegedly collecting $73,341 from the town that he was not entitled to.
An audit commissioned by the town concluded that Harry Yeo "abused detail assignments to increase his earnings" for a period covering "many years." The report said Harry Yeo collected pay for Groveland traffic details and from the Essex County Sheriff's Department, where he also worked as a civil process server, during the same hours that he was paid his regular Groveland police salary.
In February, another Groveland patrolman, Kevin Woodman, was disciplined by Kirmelewicz after the officer admitted to padding paperwork to show he worked an additional hour on a private traffic detail to get an extra $63 in his paycheck. Woodman defended the action by saying "others had done it" and that padding detail sheets was an "accepted" practice by officers. After an internal probe, Woodman was found responsible on two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and two counts of falsifying records. At the time, Kirmelewicz said the town's lawyer advised him not to release details about Woodman's punishment.
Aaron Yeo's troubles began in 2008
Prior to being fired last year, Aaron Yeo was one of five full-time patrolmen on the Groveland force. He worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
The labor ruling says Kirmelewicz implemented new policies for the overnight shift shortly after he was made chief in the summer of 2008. They included requiring dispatchers to contact patrolmen by radio at the top of every hour and for officers to respond by providing "their street location at the time of the radio check." A similar new rule requires patrolmen to conduct "building checks" of specific structures and to notify dispatchers after doing so.
A memo on the overnight rules from Sgt. Dwight McDonald states that officers who are at the station when they are contacted by dispatchers are to provide their reason for being there, such as that they are on a break or writing a report.
In the fall of 2008, McDonald concluded that Yeo was underperforming his job duties, the labor ruling says. McDonald found that Yeo worked 113 overnight shifts and made 45 "self-initiated" traffic stops, while two other overnight officers had worked 86 and 40 overnight shifts, respectively, while making 195 and 102 traffic stops.
McDonald came to believe Yeo's poor performance as an officer was because he was spending "an inordinate amount of time on department computers," the labor ruling says. McDonald decided to install software in police computers to monitor their use by officers, and eventually concluded that Yeo was using computers excessively during his work shift, according to the state ruling. McDonald documented the amount of time Yeo spent on the computer and the websites that he had visited, the ruling says.
The ruling says McDonald then to came to believe Yeo was not accurately reporting his location when contacted by dispatchers.
Based on McDonald's preliminary findings, Kirmelewicz ordered Gillen, the deputy chief, to conduct an internal investigation, which included installing GPS tracking equipment in Yeo's police cruiser, according to the ruling. The officers monitored Yeo's cruiser on 17 overnight shifts over a one-month period, the ruling says. They determined that Yeo's cruiser would remain stationary for extended periods of time, the ruling says. Kirmelewicz then had a hidden camera installed in Yeo's police cruiser.
The ruling says Kirmelewicz and Gillen concluded their investigation and interviewed Yeo with his union representative at the police station on March 31, 2009.
Arbitrator rejects officer's appeal
On April 3, 2009, Kirmelewicz told the Board of Selectmen that he had suspended Yeo and requested a hearing for the board to consider firing the patrolman.
The board voted to fire Yeo on May 6. Yeo appealed to the state Division of Labor Relations, which upheld the firing.
At the local hearing, the town argued it had just cause to fire Yeo even though he did not have a prior disciplinary record because police officers are required to meet "an especially high standard of conduct, particularly in regards to honesty."
Town lawyers highlighted the requirement of prosecutors to disclose whether an officer has been disciplined for dishonesty and argued that committing acts of dishonesty undermines the ability of the police officer to be an effective prosecution witness.
At the hearing, the town submitted electronic surveillance evidence that Yeo repeatedly lied about his location when contacted by dispatchers. The evidence showed that Yeo gave different locations on different calls, despite the fact that his location had not changed, the labor ruling says. At other times, Yeo said he was in on patrol when he was in fact in the station, the ruling says.
"Despite being advised dishonesty is a violation of department policy, Yeo was willfully and intentionally untruthful, misleading, deceptive and evasive" when interviewed by his superiors in their investigation, the town wrote in a legal brief to the labor division.
The town also claimed Yeo slept for long periods of time while he was on duty because "his cruiser was stopped for long periods of time at locations that were too secluded to allow him to see passing cars, but were ideal for sleeping," the ruling says.
The town also provided video evidence from a camera hidden in Yeo's cruiser that allegedly showed Yeo sleeping on two shifts. Yeo's lawyer disputed that allegation, saying the video was "too dark" to tell what Yeo was doing.
Yeo's lawyer argued that much of the evidence against his client should not have been allowed because it was gathered by inappropriate means, including spying on his computer use and installing a Global Positioning System monitoring device and a hidden camera inside his cruiser.
The union also said Kirmelewicz's interview of Yeo was inappropriate because it took place just prior to the end of Yeo's shift at 6:30 in the morning, and because the chief refused to honor Yeo's request for an attorney when he was questioned at the station about the allegations against him.
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