EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 22, 2013

Methuen solicitor hears case to fire Lawrence cop

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — A formal termination hearing for police officer Carlos Gonzalez, who is facing child rape charges in Florida and New Hampshire, was held at City Hall yesterday with Peter McQuillan, Methuen’s former city solicitor, presiding as the hearing officer.

McQuillan’s last day at work was May 31, although he’s still on the city payroll there collecting $2,000 per week in paid vacation until June 30.

Mayor William Lantigua is moving to fire Gonzalez, 48, a 25-year veteran, although two other police officers indicted on felony charges will remain on the payroll indefinitely.

McQuillan, who was not reappointed as city solicitor in Methuen, presided over the 11 a.m. hearing yesterday at Lawrence City Hall. City Attorney Charles Boddy and police Capt. Scott McNamara were also present.

Boddy said Walter Jacobs of North Andover, Gonzalez’s defense attorney, was notified of the hearing. A fax was also sent to the South Jail in Polk County Florida where Gonzalez is being held on a $165,000 bond, Boddy said.

Boddy said Jacobs asked for the hearing to be continued to a later date. But, Lantigua, the appointing authority, said “no,” Boddy said during the 26-minute hearing.

Gonzalez is charged with sexually assaulting a girl under age 13 in Salem, N.H. in 1992 and 1993 and raping a girl under age 12 in Haines City, Florida in July 2012. Boddy said the pending charges against Gonzalez, an officer sworn to protect the public, cause “grave concern.”

“It’s the city of Lawrence’s opinion that Officer Gonzalez is not fit to serve as an officer for the Lawrence Police Department ... Sufficient cause exists to terminate him,” Boddy said during the hearing.

In addition to the criminal investigation, Gonzalez was also investigated by the police department’s Internal Affairs division who spoke with witnesses in the sexual assault cases. “All witnesses were deemed credible,” Boddy said.

Several exhibits were entered into evidence during the hearing, including a June 17 termination notice faxed to Gonzalez and memos from both Police Chief John Romero and McNamara.

McQuillan concluded the hearing by saying he would issue his decision as soon as possible.

It’s unclear why the city hired McQuillan to oversee the hearing. “I can’t comment on that publicly due to the (pending) hearing,” Boddy said. It’s also unclear how much McQuillan is being paid hourly for his services.

McQuillan’s departure in Methuen brought an end to an contentious five-plus months that began on Jan. 7 when the City Council voted against reappointing him to a new two-year term. During that span, councilors unsuccessfully tried to replace McQuillan and eventually hired the private firm Kopelman and Paige to assume the duties of solicitor.

Gonzalez was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 17 after the alleged victim went to Lawrence police and reported she was sexually assaulted. The city has continued paying Gonzalez, even though he was in jail and despite Romero’s requests to Lantigua to cut off Gonzalez’s salary.

Lantigua, as mayor, is the appointing authority and ultimately decides if a police officer will be fired.

Two other police officers with political ties to Lantigua are still being paid long after their indictments on felonies.

Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, who earns $140,000 annually, was indicted by the Essex County Grand Jury as part of an ongoing investigation into Lantigua and his administration. Bonilla, Lantigua’s former campaign manager, is accused of swapping 13-owned vehicles for four Chevrolets with a Lantigua friend. The state inspector general said the city lost $30,000 in the deal.

Officer P.J. Lopez, another Lantigua supporter, was indicted by the federal grand jury for allegedly making arrangements with a local tow company to have cars he ticketed towed in exchange for a stream of benefits, including a $4,000 snow plow.

Previously Lantigua allowed police officer Daron Fraser to spend 29 months on paid administrative leave, racking up $150,000 without working and continuing to accrue vacation and sick time and retirement benefits.

On Feb. 27, Gonzalez was arrested and charged on Haines City, Fla. fugitive from justice warrant. He is charged in Haines City, located between Tampa and Orlando, with sexual battery by a custodian on a person between the ages of 12 and 18, and selling, giving or serving alcohol to a person under age 21. The victim said she was assaulted in a private home on July 22, 2012.

Last week, Rockingham County grand jurors handed down the indictment against Gonzalez for aggravated felonious sexual assault. The indictments allege between Nov. 1, 1992 and April 30, 1993, Gonzalez sexually assaulted a girl who was then 11 years old.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.