EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 26, 2013

Fire lieutenant's 2009 drunk-driving conviction in NH went unreported

Garrity, a Haverhill resident, now charged with second DWI, pot possession

By Brian Messenger
bmessenger@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — City firefighter James Garrity was convicted in 2009 on a drunk driving charge out of New Hampshire, but the incident apparently went unreported at both City Hall and the Methuen Fire Department.

Mayor Stephen Zanni said yesterday that no record of Garrity’s 2009 arrest, conviction or any resulting workplace discipline is on file with the Fire Department or the city’s Human Resources Department.

“They have no records of it,” said Zanni. “Apparently it went unreported.”

Garrity, 48, of Haverhill, who was promoted to lieutenant in February, is now facing a second drunk driving offense after he was arrested St. Patrick’s Day night in Plaistow, N.H. Court paperwork shows Garrity was pulled over after travelling 66 mph in a 35 mph zone. In addition to DWI (second offense), he was also charged that night with marijuana possession and speeding.

Garrity spent the week following his arrest on paid vacation. The incident then landed him one week of paid administrative leave. Garrity returned to work March 30 at the Central Fire Station, though Zanni said he isn’t allowed to drive Fire Department vehicles.

Garrity could face additional discipline following a pretrial conference next month, Zanni said.

Garrity began working for the city in July 1993. His driving record, obtained from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, indicates he was charged with driving while intoxicated alcohol/drugs in New Hampshire in early 2009.

A conviction in Candia District Court followed that March, according to court paperwork filed after his recent arrest.

Garrity’s license was revoked as a result of the 2009 conviction, though it’s unclear for how long, according to his driving record. A RMV spokesman could not be reached yesterday to offer clarification.

Zanni, who became mayor in 2012 but served as a city councilor for six years prior, said he did not learn of Garrity’s March 2009 conviction until yesterday. He also noted that fire Chief Steven Buote did not take over for former chief Clifford Gallant until June 2009.

Zanni said there appears to be no indication that the city was ever notified of Garrity’s 2009 arrest and conviction by the state of New Hampshire. The mayor also said it was troubling to learn yesterday that the city kept no record of the incident.

“I think it’s important you keep a record,” said Zanni. “Apparently this was not done. ... That’s not a good thing.”

Garrity’s recent arrest occurred March 17 in Plaistow at around 10:50 p.m., after police radar recorded his white 2011 Ford Econovan traveling 66 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to paperwork filed in Plaistow District Court.

The arrest took place at the intersection of Plaistow Road (Route 125) and East Road, or about one mile from the Massachusetts border.

Garrity was driving alone and heading southbound on Route 125 when he was pulled over by Officer Sonya Robicheau, Plaistow deputy police Chief Kathleen Jones told The Eagle-Tribune shortly after the arrest.

Jones said Robicheau noticed Garrity had trouble answering her questions and asked him to exit the vehicle. Jones said Garrity proceeded to fail a number of field sobriety tests and was arrested.

Jones said an inventory search of Garrity’s van turned up a “small amount” of marijuana on the passenger-side floor.

Garrity was released hours later on $1,000 bail. Among the conditions of his release is that he “refrain from excessive use of alcohol, and use of a narcotic drug or controlled substance,” according to court paperwork.

Plaistow police have refused to release a report on the arrest while the case is pending. Zanni has said a city-ordered drug test following Garrity’s arrest turned up no signs of drugs in his system.

Garrity was scheduled for arraignment April 15 in Plaistow District Court, but his appearance has been waived until a May 16 pretrial conference. Zanni said he intends to make a decision about further discipline for Garrity following the conference.

“I think it’s important he stays on the job until proven otherwise,” said Zanni. “Appropriate action will be taken.”

Prosecutors with the Rockingham County Attorney’s office intend to call four Plaistow police officers and a state lab analyst as witnesses in the case, according to court paperwork.

Garrity, who is known for singing the national anthem at Methuen civic events, was promoted from firefighter to acting lieutenant on Sept. 23, 2012. His annual pay was boosted as a result from $54,687 to $61,320. Garrity was named permanent lieutenant on Feb. 4.