By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Three city police officers have been suspended without pay and one saved his job by agreeing to be demoted, following secret hearings on charges they gave preferential treatment to former high-ranking state troopers involved in car crashes.
The officers’ punishments came after police Chief Alan DeNaro ordered initial suspensions and then recommended Mayor James Fiorentini give them further suspensions. The mayor ordered the latest punishments after hearings which concluded in October. The Eagle-Tribune recently obtained the hearing documents as a result of a formal public records request.
In the initial punishments, DeNaro suspended Sgt. Harry Miller, Lt. William Leeman and patrolman Christopher Pagliuca for five days each for their roles in the handling of a March crash involving Charles Noyes, 62, of Haverhill, former deputy superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. The officers were cited for writing untruthful or incomplete reports, unsatisfactory job performance and violating police ethics.
Miller was suspended an additional five days for what officials called his questionable investigation of a 2005 crash involving former state trooper Paul Regan of Rowley, who retired from the state police in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel. The city learned of the Regan incident during its investigation of the Noyes accident.
As police chief, the harshest punishment DeNaro can make is a five-day suspension. But he also recommended that Mayor James Fiorentini fire Miller and suspend Leeman for an additional five days without pay. Miller has a history of similar conduct and Leeman was shift commander during the Noyes’ incident.
All three officers appealed the chief’s decision under Civil Service rules, which triggered a local hearings presided over by Boston lawyer Michael Ward, who was hired by the mayor. City officials said they were willing to open the hearings to the public and media, but the officers insisted on them being held behind closed doors. The hearings concluded in October and Ward recently submitted his 11-page report and recommendations.
Ward found that DeNaro had “just cause” for suspending the officers, but Ward opted to postpone final judgement on Miller until holding a separate hearing on the Regan matter. Prior to the start of that hearing, however, Miller offered to forfeit his sergeant’s stripes and his right to appeal the mayor’s decision to the state Civil Service Commission or court, city officials said.
Fiorentini’s written decision says Miller “issued a written apology for his actions and has asked for a second chance to serve the city.”
According to the mayor’s ruling, Miller agreed to immediately accept demotion to patrolman. The ruling said Miller has already served his 10 suspension days. He is eligible to reapply for the Civil Service promotion exam in three years, the decision said.
”I believe that it speaks volumes for the Haverhill Police Department that they took this matter seriously, investigated it and took action even though it involved three of their own men,” Fiorentini said of the Police Department’s investigation into how the Noyes and Regan accidents were handled by officers. “It confirms my confidence that this is a good department.”
DeNaro, who is also the city’s public safety commissioner, said most of the suspension time has already been served by the three officers and that the remainder will be served over the next few weeks.
”Integrity is the hallmark of the Haverhill Police Department and we are committed to the highest performance standards, ethical conduct and truthfulness in all relationships,” DeNaro said in an email in response to a request for comment. “We hold ourselves accountable for our actions and take pride in a professional level of service to all.”
Pagliuca’s lawyer, Joseph Padolsky of the Boston firm Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, said his client has appealed the mayor’s decision to the Civil Service Commission.
”The appeal before the commission will be public record,” Padolsky said in a written statement. “We are confident in the Civil Service process and confident that a full hearing before the commission will show that Officer Pagliuca responded appropriately and in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Haverhill Police Department.”
A message left with the police superior officers union seeking comment on behalf of Miller and Leeman was not returned. City officials said Leeman has also appealed his punishment to Civil Service, however.
A police investigation earlier this year concluded that Noyes, a retired state police deputy superintendent, 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 charge Noyes with drunken driving.
According to a discipline letter from DeNaro to Leeman, it was Leeman who concluded there was not enough evidence for officers to conduct a drunk-driving investigation at the scene. This was despite the fact that West Newbury police Sergeant Daniel Cena, who was first on the scene, told Pagliuca that Noyes was “legless” and that he detected a strong odor of alcohol from Noyes when Noyes exited his vehicle and “tinned” Cena by showing Cena his state police badge. Legless is police jargon for intoxicated.
On March 30, Noyes crashed his vehicle into a utility pole around 10:30 p.m. on Route 113 in West Newbury, snapping it in half and cutting power to the surrounding area for almost 11 hours, police said. But he 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 Haverhill line near the Rocks Village Bridge, police said. West Newbury police were first on the scene, followed by Haverhill officers.
DeNaro’s disciplinary letter to Leeman said officers on the scene made “little effort” to locate the keys to Noye’s vehicle, which were on the passenger seat; that no roadside sobriety test was conducted; and that no mention was made in police reports of the officers’ personal observations about Noyes’ “state of sobriety at the scene.” Reports also indicated that ambulance personnel at the scene believed Noyes was drunk.
DeNaro’s letter noted that Miller was at the Noyes’ accident scene for more than 35 minutes and it criticized Leeman for not leaving the police station and traveling to the scene himself before deciding not to proceed with a drunk-driving investigation.
Noyes eventually was sentenced 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.
Haverhill investigators concluded that Miller also conducted a questionable investigation and violated several Police Department rules in his handling of a February 2005 incident in which Regan crashed his white Mercury into another vehicle at the intersection of Route 110 and Forest Street and then fled the scene.
Police found that Miller changed the nature of Regan’s crash on police paperwork from a hit-and-run to a “regular” motor vehicle accident. The investigative report said Miller declined to charge Regan with a crime after meeting with an unidentified state trooper less than one hour after the crash. The meeting took place in a Haverhill shopping mall, according to the police report, which also stresses that Regan was no longer a state trooper at the time.
Police investigators said Miller told them he could not recall the name of the trooper who came to meet him and that he did not write it down anywhere or document the meeting in any way. Police said they do not believe Miller ever spoke to Regan about the crash.