EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 26, 2012

Officers' secret defense

Closed-door discipline hearings continue on handling of crashes involving ex-state troopers

By Shawn Regan sregan@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAVERHILL — Three city police officers accused of dishonesty and breaking department rules in their handling of car crashes involving retired state troopers opted for a secret hearing yesterday to defend themselves.

The officers — Sgt. Harry Miller, Lt. William Leeman and patrolman Christopher Pagliuca — also declined comment on the matter through their attorneys. The hearing was in City Hall. It began June 19, but was continued yesterday. Both sessions have been behind closed doors, an option chosen by the officers.

Prior to the hearing, City Solicitor William Cox said the city would agree to open the hearing if that’s what the officers wanted. They have been disciplined by police Chief Alan DeNaro for their handling of the high-ranking former troopers’ crashes, and also face the possibility of further punishment from Mayor James Fiorentini.

DeNaro suspended Miller, Leeman and Pagliuca without pay for five days for their roles in the handling of a March crash involving Charles Noyes 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. Essentially, they are accused of giving special treatment to Noyes.

Miller was suspended for 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.

DeNaro has also recommended additional unspecified punishment for Leeman and Miller. The most severe punishment the chief can order on his own is a five-day suspension. It is up to Mayor James Fiorentini to impose more severe sanctions, including firing or demoting either or both officers.

The officers appealed the suspensions and the additional punishment recommended by DeNaro under Civil Service rules, which triggered the hearing.

Lawyers for two of the officers, Stephen Pfaff and Joseph Padolsky of the Boston firm Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, told a reporter they might comment after the hearing, but neither could be reached later.

Late yesterday afternoon, Cox said the parties concluded the portion of the hearing involving the officers’ handing of the Noyes crash. Another session will be scheduled to consider Miller’s handling of the incident involving Regan, Cox said. He said no decisions have been made because all lawyers involved will be given time to file written arguments.

Earlier yesterday, the officers huddled with their lawyers and union representatives outside the hearing room for about a half-hour before the session began around 10:30 a.m. Inside, DeNaro, Deputy Chief Donald Thompson and hearing officer Michael Ward, a Boston lawyer hired by the city, waited for them. Ward immediately told a reporter who entered the room that the hearing was closed to the public and media.

The mayor will ultimately decide the officers’ punishments, after he receives a report and recommendation from Ward.

A police investigation earlier this year concluded that Miller 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 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.

The Haverhill police investigation into the Noyes crash concluded the former 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.

Investigators found that officers who were directly involved in the Noyes incident filed incomplete or inaccurate reports which, among other problems, failed to mention that all the officers on the scene and ambulance personnel believed Noyes was intoxicated. 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.