By Yadira Betances and Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — Jay Jackson, the man who has been chief of the city’s volunteer auxiliary police force for a quarter of a century, has been relieved of those duties pending the results of an unspecified in-house investigation.
The axe fell Wednesday, the first full day after Police Capt. James Fitzpatrick was appointed Interim Chief of the Lawrence Police Department by Mayor William Lantigua. Fitzpatrick took over from John Romero who resigned after 15 years.
Fitzpatrick told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday that Jackson was “relived of his duties” as auxiliary chief after a verbal briefing from command staff on the status of the in-house inquiry.
Jackson, 60, is also a paid civilian facilities manager in the Lawrence Police Department.
Fitzpatrick said he does not know how long the investigation will take or if Jackson’s civilian job in the department is in jeopardy. “I cannot elaborate because the inquiry is not complete,” he said.
Reached by phone yesterday, Jackson declined to comment other than to say he was going to talk with his lawyer.
Fitzpatrick would not comment on whether the investigation is related to an internal affairs investigation of Jackson last year.
Jackson was disciplined last year after several men he supervised complained of sexual harassment. In addition, the officers, some of whom had resigned or been dismissed from the force before filing the complaint, said Jackson did not provide them required training, left violent incidents he happened upon while on patrol and gave promotions, the best equipment and preferred shifts to officers he liked better.
The Lawrence Auxiliary Police Force consists of about 35 volunteers. Its primary goal is to “assist and augment” the sworn force.
Established in 1950, its officers have provided a wide variety of services including patrolling municipal buildings, parks, playgrounds, and other public places. They provide traffic support for road and bicycle races, parades, municipal events and church functions.
Jackson is a main witness in pending criminal case against Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, former campaign manager for Mayor Lantigua.
“I had nothing to do with (Jackson) being relieved of his duties,” Mayor Lantigua told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday evening. “It was all based on the recommendation by Romero and Fitzpatrick.”
According to grand jury testimony, Jackson said Bonilla threatened to have him fired if he didn’t help Bonilla with an illegal swap of 13 city-owned cars for four Chevrolet Impalas.
Bonilla is facing extortion, fraud and conspiracy charges as a result of the car swap.
Testifying before the grand jury on April 25, 2012, Jackson said he feared losing his job; his only source of income and health insurance after he had a heart attack four years prior.
Under questioning by prosecutor Michael Patten, Jackson said he only helped with the car swap because he feared being fired.
Lantigua has allowed Bonilla to remain on paid administrative leave from the department while his criminal case is pending. Bonilla earns $140,000 annually and was indicted nearly a year ago on Sept. 11, 2012.
Bonilla’s defense attorney Alex Cain said he is “closely following the matter” involving Jackson. “At this point I’m going to decline comment,” Cain said yesterday.
Mayoral candidate Juan “Manny” Gonzalez said he was deeply concerned to hear of the allegations against Jackson, which he described as “added negativity to the city.”
“I understand that everything is allegations. But these are our leaders. The people our children look up to and they keep falling one by one ... It’s one thing after another. As a community, we need to do something about this,” Gonzalez said.
City Councilor members, including City Councilor at Large Daniel Rivera, who is council’s vice president and a mayoral candidate, and Marc Laplante, who represents District D, declined to commenting on Jackson’s case until they learn more about it.
City Council President Frank Moran also did not want to comment.
“I have dealt with him in the past and he is a good person,” said Moran. “He is very responsive when I’ve called him to get auxiliary police to an event.”
Jackson has been auxiliary chief for 26 out of the 40 years he has been with the auxiliary force.