Officer Carlos Gonzalez, who is in a Florida jail awaiting trial on a child rape charge, is still being paid his $60,000 annual salary. Gonzalez has been on paid administrative leave since December.
Previously, police Officer Daron Fraser was on paid leave for 29 months, earning $150,000 and continuing to accrue sick and vacation time and retirement benefits. Lantigua allowed Fraser to return to work in January although he can’t carry a firearm because he was convicted of domestic assault and battery.
Cunha tells Lantigua in his letter that there is state law giving him the “discretion” and “requires” a public employee “under indictment for misconduct in ... office” to have their pay halted while suspended.
“However, you chose to place these indicted officers on paid administrative leave rather than suspending them without pay pursuant to your statutory authority. Choosing to designate this as administrative leave rather than suspension resulted in the continuation of pay and benefits for these officers while they are under indictment,” Cunha wrote.
Cunha notes that Lantigua’s actions run counter to Police Department history, as other Lawrence police officers who faced criminal indictment were put on “unpaid suspension as authorized” by law.
Cunha said continuing to pay Bonilla and Lopez “differently than similarly-situated officers creates the appearance of favoritism.”
“Such favoritism would constitute an abuse of public funds,” Cunha wrote.
Further, the payments to the officers on leave places a financial burden of nearly $260,000 a year, including accrued benefits, on a cash-strapped department, Cunha wrote.
Indeed, Lantigua’s decision to continue to reward his political allies, even as they are under indictment, places a severe burden on the city both financially and ethically.
But it is equally clear that Lantigua will not act on his own to stop it.