EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 31, 2012

Gunless cop to return to police force

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE — Officer Daron Fraser is scheduled to return to the police department this week, 29 months after he was placed on paid suspension and later convicted of domestic assault and battery.

However, once he’s back, the veteran officer will be without a seemingly crucial police tool —his firearm.

Fraser, 40, was placed on paid administrative leave in July 2010 after he was arrested and charged with beating his then girlfriend. A Haverhill jury convicted Fraser of domestic assault and battery in February 2011.

Despite police Chief John Romero’s requests to fire him, Fraser remained on the city payroll until October 2012, before Mayor William Lantigua adopted a hearing officer’s decision and suspended Fraser without pay for three months starting in October.

Methuen lawyer Robert LeBlanc, the hearing officer, also recommended Fraser be barred from working paid police details for four months.

Over the 29 months of paid suspension, Fraser earned more than $150,000 and kept accruing sick and vacation time and retirement benefits, according to city records.

Romero said Fraser will not be allowed to carry a firearm when he returns to work. Romero pointed to federal law that prohibits those convicted of domestic violence from carrying guns.

“Based on the federal statue and given his conviction, he cannot carry a gun and therefore will be assigned to dispatch,” Romero said.

Hearing officer Leblanc said the officer should be allowed to return to work because carrying a gun is not required to perform the job as police officer.

Officers working paid details must also be armed so it’s unclear if Fraser will be able to work paid detail shifts once that suspension is lifted in a month.

Fraser was found guilty of putting his knee on his former girlfriend’s throat and gagging her. The woman later told The Eagle-Tribune this was not a case of domestic violence but rather a “giant misunderstanding.” She also told jurors she and Fraser were “just playing.”

After his conviction, Romero called for Fraser’s firing, saying police officers should be held to a higher standard and he didn’t feel Fraser could carry out the duties of a police officer any longer.

An internal affairs investigation concluded Fraser violated three department rules and regulations: conduct unbecoming of an officer, violation of state law, and failure to obey those rules both on and off duty.

The city paid Leblanc to oversee Fraser’s termination hearing and issue a decision. Lantigua officially approved Leblanc’s findings on Sept. 29. That same day, Lantigua ordered two police officers indicted on felony charges remain on the city’s payroll during their suspensions.

Those two indicted officers, Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla and Officer P.J. Lopez, are both political supporters of the mayor. In official letters, Lantigua told both officers that while the charges they face are serious, they are both innocent until proven guilty and can stay on paid administrative leave until further notice.

Bonilla earns $140,000 annually and Lopez makes $62,000 per year.

On Sept. 11, Bonilla was indicted on felony charges connected to an ongoing investigation into Lantigua and his administration. Bonilla is accused of swapping 13 city-owned vehicles for four Chevrolets with a Lantigua friend. The state Inspector General said the city lost $30,000 in the deal.

Bonilla was Lantigua’s campaign manager and was promoted from sergeant to deputy chief after Lantigua became mayor in January 2010.

On Sept. 26, Lopez was indicted by a federal grand jury. He is accused of making arrangements with a tow company to have cars he ticketed towed in exchange for a “stream of benefits” including a $4,000 snow plow. He faces charges of bribery, making false statements to a federal agent and obstruction of justice in connection with an unnamed towing company in Lawrence.

Fraser could not be reached for comment for this story.

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