LAWRENCE – Mayor William Lantigua has officially notified two police officers indicted on felony charges that he will keep them on the city payroll while they are off the job and awaiting trial. Lantigua also is allowing a third officer, who was convicted of beating his ex-girlfriend, to return to work next year.
Both Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla and officer P.J. Lopez are political supporters of the mayor. In official letters obtained by the Eagle-Tribune, Lantigua told both officers while the charges they face are serious they are “presumed innocent until proven guilty” and “placed on paid administrative leave until further notice.”
Bonilla earns $140,000 and Lopez makes $62,000 annually.
Officer Daron Fraser, who makes $68,000 per year, was convicted of domestic assault and battery in February. Lantigua notified Fraser in writing that after serving a three-month unpaid suspension, he can return to work in January.
Fraser has earned more than $150,000 since July 2010, when he was arrested and placed on paid leave.
Police officers on paid leave continue accruing sick and vacation time and retirement benefits.
Police Chief John Romero asked Lantigua, the appointing authority, to fire Fraser. Romero also requested Bonilla and Lopez be stripped of their salaries after they were indicted on bribery, extortion and corruption charges by local and federal grand juries last month. Stopping an indicted police officer’s pay is department practice and allowed under state law.
However, in Sept. 29 letters to the three officers, Lantigua rebuffed Romero’s requests.
To Fraser, Lantigua wrote that he accepts a hearing officer’s decision to place him on a three-month unpaid suspension that runs from Oct. 7 until Jan. 2. Fraser can return to work on Jan. 3, however he is barred from working any paid police details until April 3, another recommendation by the hearing officer, Methuen attorney Robert Leblanc.