EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2014

Rivera shakes up police department

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE -- Mayor Daniel Rivera yesterday fired the Police Department’s civilian facilities manager. Today, he will ask a hearing officer to uphold his decision to suspend the pay of former Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla and to fire another cop accused of stealing department money.

Following through on a campaign pledge to reshape the troubled department, Rivera also is considering firing a third officer also accused of stealing from the department by failing to report special details he worked, and a fourth who was stripped of his gun after he was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend last year.

Rivera’s swift actions against the three officers, Bonilla and Jay Jackson, who was in charge of maintaining police buildings and vehicles, suggest a substantially differing management style compared to former Mayor William Lantigua, who kept each of the five on the payroll. Rivera defeated Lantigua by 81 votes in November and took office Jan. 1.

“We found police officers who were in need of disciplinary action and we’re moving to do so,” Rivera said yesterday, although he identified only Bonilla and Jackson by name. “In the process of raising the profile of the department and making Lawrence safer, we’re going to make sure all officers are beyond reproach.”

For Jackson, it was the second police job he lost in a year. Acting Police Chief James Fitzpatrick removed Jackson as chief of the city’s auxiliary police force in September and never disclosed why, although a year earlier Jackson was disciplined after an internal affairs investigation reported he was sexually harassing men in his ranks. Jackson had served on the auxiliary force for 40 years and led it for 26. Auxiliary officers are not paid.

Jackson is a main witness in the pending trial of Deputy Chief Bonilla, who is accused of illegally swapping 13 police vehicles for four Chevrolet Impalas owned by a car dealer connected to Lantigua. Jackson told a grand jury investigating the deal that Bonilla threatened to fire him if he didn’t approve it.

Rivera fired Jackson from the facilities job just after 4 p.m. yesterday, after acting Chief Fitzpatrick recommended he be removed because of “inefficiencies in performance.” He held the job for 13 years and earned $42,242.

Jackson’s firing extends a purge at the Police Department that Rivera began his first day in office, when he demoted Deputy Chief Bonilla to sergeant, a post he held until Lantigua promoted him to deputy four years ago.

, and ordered his pay suspended until he is tried on the corruption allegations against him. Lantigua suspended Bonilla -- who managed Lantigua’s 2009 campaign for mayor -- after he was indicted on fraud, extortion and other charges in connection with the car swap in September 2012, but allowed him to continue collecting his $138,000 annual paycheck.

Today, a Civil Service hearing officer is scheduled to hear Bonilla’s argument that his pay should be restored, although at a sergeant’s pay grade.

Also today, a Civil Service hearing officer also will review Rivera’s decision to fire Officer William Green after an internal affairs investigation determined that he failed to report working at least 20 details at the Jowa and Copa nightclubs over four months in 2012, earning a total of $3,716. Green arranged to work the uniformed details privately and did not turn over 10 percent of the pay to the department, violating a police policy stipulating that only the department can assign the details and that provides the department with a 10-percent fee.

Green has been a Lawrence cop since 2005 and earns $50,100.

Rivera’s effort to terminate Green, and officer John Tully, who is facing similar charges, may be hampered by the way their cases were handled before Rivera took office. In Green’s case, the Internal Affairs officer who investigated the allegations against him recommended only a 60-day unpaid suspension.

Tully received a 30-day unpaid suspension after he was found to be working the nightclub details in 2011 without reporting them and pocketing the city’s fee. His case has a twist: He also is accused of failing to respond to an armed robbery that occurred outside the Marabu club on a night he was working one of the unreported details, even after the two women who were robbed pleaded for his help.

Had Tully responded to the robbery, he would have had to file a report that would have revealed he was working the Marabu detail. Instead, he allowed the robber to drive away and directed the women to file a report at police headquarters, according to an internal affairs report. When the two women reported the robbery at headquarters later that night, they revealed that Tully was working at the club.

In another unrelated incident since then, Tully was accused of failing to report shooting a 20-year-old Salem man in the buttocks in June. The shooting came to light when the victim was arrested at his home later in the day.

Like Green, Tully has been a cop since 2005 and earns $50,100.

Rivera has said he also wants to fire Officer Daron Fraser, whom Lantigua suspended without pay for three months after his assault conviction for putting his knee on his ex-girlfriend’s throat and gagging her in 2010. The verdict meant Fraser can no longer carry a gun, so Lantigua reassigned him to work as a dispatcher but continued to pay him an officer’s salary.

Fraser remains on the force while Rivera determines whether his earlier suspension means that he cannot be disciplined a second time.

He earns $60,000.

Alan Andrews, president of the union that represents Lawrence’s police rank-and file, and union lawyer Matt Dwyer, who is expected to represent Green at the Civil Service hearing at City Hall today, could not be reached yesterday.

Rivera has said his reshaping of the Police Department will go beyond the dismissals, including demoting superior officers to free up some of the funding needed to put 10 more cops on the street by summer.