EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 5, 2013

Fired Salisbury officer gets nearly $74K in lost wages

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — The town recently cut police officer Mark Thomas a check for $73,821 after reaching a settlement on lost wages, after an independent arbitrator ruled he was to be rehired following his firing in early 2012.

Thomas went back to work on Dec. 1, after being terminated by the town on Feb. 8, 2012, for being found “culpable” of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. Thomas appealed the action, and in October arbitrator Richard Boulanger order the town to reinstate Thomas and that “he be made whole” for any lost wages.

According to Thomas’ attorney, Kenneth Anderson, negotiations were amicable, although the two sides had differing views on some financial estimates concerning how much Thomas lost following his roughly 10-month termination period. Anderson said the settlement was based on an agreed upon gross figure of just under $100,000. When income Thomas received during the separation was subtracted, the cash value equaled $73,821.56.

Thomas’ income included unemployment benefits he collected, as well as income he earned as an attorney during the months between his firing and rehiring, according to Town Manager Neil Harrington. The calculation on lost wages and benefits included not only Thomas’ base salary, but an estimate of overtime and detail work he might have earned if he’d been with the police department, as well as what Thomas paid toward his insurance benefits under COBRA.

Harrington said figuring out how much actual back salary was owed Thomas was the easy part; all that had to be done was to tabulate hours and rate of pay.

Differences between parties came over how much overtime and private detail work Thomas might have earned while he was separated from the department.

“We were a few thousand dollars apart on those estimates,” Harrington said. “We ended up negotiating that figure.”

Anderson said the settlement did not include any penalties or compensation for harm to his reputation, nor did the settlement include money to cover Thomas’ legal fees. He added that this financial settlement doesn’t have any language in it that could prevent Thomas from suing the town for damages, should he choose.

“But the $73,821 doesn’t take into account the other costs Salisbury taxpayers had to pay for this ridiculous case,” Anderson said. “There’s the cost of the investigations, the attorney’s fees and what the town had to pay in overtime to the officers who covered Mark’s shift while he was out.”

Allegations against Thomas, 46, arose in January 2011 during an investigation into former Salisbury police chief David L’Esperance, who, in December 2010, had been accused of taking part in criminal behavior. Thomas, a lawyer and detective at the time, was a 24-year veteran of the Salisbury Police Department.

He was accused during the L’Esperance investigation by his fellow officers of a number of issues, including studying for the bar exam while on duty and a lack of truthfulness for falsifying his career record on his application for admittance to the FBI National Academy.

Harrington launched an investigation into Thomas’ behavior. Harrington, who had been mayor in Salem for eight years, had brought in former Salem police chief Robert St. Pierre to conduct both investigations. They were not “criminal investigations,” Harrington said, but administrative reviews of both men’s behavior.

It is the nature of St. Pierre’s work, the basis upon which the allegations were made and believed, that causes problems for some. Anderson takes issue with St. Pierre’s work, the officers who attacked Thomas and why the men who accused him did not testify at Thomas’ disciplinary or arbitration hearings.

“The St. Pierre report shows there was a lot of jealousy and animosity in the Salisbury Police Department against Mark,” Anderson said. “There were officers who were willing to just go into a room with St. Pierre and make accusations, but when people had to raise their hands and testify under oath to the things they accused him off, they wiggled out of it.”

Salisbury resident and former Salisbury police officer Steve Chaisson also has issues with the way the investigations were handled.

“I worked with Mark when I was with Salisbury and Mark’s a good cop,” said Chaisson, currently a sergeant with the Newburyport Police Department. “But I’m not speaking out to defend Mark. As a taxpayer in Salisbury, I’m not happy about how that investigation was conducted and all the money it cost the town.”

Chaisson would have preferred that Harrington not brought in St. Pierre, who earned tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees for his efforts. Instead, Chaisson said, there would not have been a cost involved if Harrington had requested the Massachusetts State Police handle the internal investigations.