HAVERHILL — The state Civil Service Commission has upheld Mayor James Fiorentini’s decision to suspend two city police officers for giving preferential treatment to a retired high-ranking state trooper who crashed his automobile in West Newbury and then fled to Haverhill.
And in an unusual move, the chairman of the commission accused former state police Lt. Colonel Charles Noyes, 63, of lying to police at the scene of the March 2012 accident as well as to the commission at a disciplinary hearing for the two Haverhill officers earlier this year.
Noyes, who lives in Haverhill, was deputy superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police when he retired in 2006.
Christopher Bowman, Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointed chairman of the commission, said Noyes’ testimony to the commission was “wildly unbelievable and tarnishes the image of the Massachusetts State Police.”
Police Chief Alan DeNaro initially suspended Lt. William Leeman and patrolman Christopher Pagliuca for five days each for their handling of an 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.
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.
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.
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.
DeNaro 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.
Phone messages and e-mails to local union officials and lawyers representing Leeman and Pagliuca were not returned.
In his report, Bowman criticized Noyes for using his former law enforcement position to influence the officers.
A section of Bowman’s report on Noyes begins with this quote Noyes made to police at the scene: “If this was the good old days, you would just let me go.” The report also notes Noyes collects a state-funded pension of $117,769 annually.
“Mr. Noyes consumed enough alcohol that resulted in a trained police sergeant and paramedic to smell the odor of alcohol from him on the night in question,” Bowman wrote. “With a firearm in the back seat, he then drove his Cadillac Escalade through the streets of West Newbury, struck and took down a utility pole and its wires and a cast-iron street light, causing a large number of the town’s residents to lose power. He continued to drive for over a mile and cross into Haverhill.”
Bowman said Noyes immediately “flashed his badge” to a West Newbury police officer on the scene and told the officer that he was a retired lieutenant with the state police.
“While leaning on the back of his vehicle, (Noyes) reminisced with a Haverhill police officer about his days on the state police,” the report said. “He denied being the driver of the vehicle and at one point told a police sergeant how, ‘in the good old day’s, they would just him go. Mr. Noyes was asking for a favor — and he got one,” Bowman wrote.
Bowman said police officers sworn to uphold the law “opted not to conduct a field sobriety test, not to ask Mr. Noyes to take Breathalyzer test, and did not perform even the most rudimentary tasks expected of a police officer.”
“It is painfully clear that had Mr. Noyes not ‘flashed his badge’ that night, he likely would have been arrested for OUI or at minimum subjected to a field sobriety test,” Bowman wrote.
Bowman said Noyes’ testimony to the commission was “even more offensive” than his actions at the accident scene. Noyes testified at the hearing under a subpoena served upon him by Leeman’s attorney.
“Mr. Noyes first testified before the commission that, after reaching for his cell phone in his vehicle, he has no memory of the events that occurred thereafter until he was placed in the ambulance and transported to the hospital,” Bowman wrote.
But, later at the hearing, Bowman said, Noyes testified that he remembers several details “with certainty,” including that there was blood on the windshield of his vehicle, as well as on his head, shirt and arms. Noyes testified that the blood was the result of his head striking the windshield, the report said. Noyes also testified that he told personnel at the accident scene that he had the flu and that he cut himself with a chainsaw three years ago that caused him to have trouble walking, the report said.
“This testimony is not consistent with the testimony of all other pertinent witnesses that night,” Bowman wrote, adding that no witness remembered Noyes saying anything about having the flu or that he had trouble waking due to a chainsaw accident.
Bowman noted that a “highly credible paramedic” who treated Noyes that night said she specifically remembered asking Noyes if he was experiencing any head, neck or back, and that Noyes stated “no.”
“In short, his testimony that he sustained a head injury so severe causing him to have virtually no recollection of the events on March 30, 2012 was wildly unbelievable and tarnishes the image of the Massachusetts State Police,” concludes the civil service ruling.
Fiorentini said 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 police officers.
“I wanted to send a clear message that there would be equal justice in Haverhill for everyone,” the mayor said. “I am grateful that the Civil Service Commission ratified our decision and that the Haverhill Police Department did such a stellar job investigating what was not an easy case.”
Fiorentini also defended his decision not to impose harsher discipline on Leeman or Pagliuca.
“These men had no previous discipline on their records and I don’t believe one mistake should hurt them forever,” the mayor said.
The officers have 30 days to appeal the commission’s decision to superior court based on a legal mistake.