EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 24, 2013

Editorial: Lantigua should fire accused officer

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Lawrence Police Chief John Romero wants to fire a city police officer who is in a Florida jail awaiting trial on a child rape charge.

Good luck with that. Romero hasn’t had any success firing or removing from the payroll any of his officers who have been charged with and even convicted of crimes. Why? Because it’s not his decision. The “appointing authority” for the police officers is Mayor William Lantigua. And some of the officers involved are political supporters and allies of the mayor.

It’s outrageous. The chief of police in Lawrence has no control over who works or does not work in his department. Instead, that power is in the hands of a politician — the mayor — and so competence, justice and propriety do not matter. Politics trump all.

Romero has asked Lantigua to fire Carlos Gonzalez, a 25-year veteran of the force who is charged in Florida with the rape of a child. Gonzalez, 48, is being held on $165,000 bail. He is also under investigation on sexual assault allegations in New Hampshire.

Romero wrote to Lantigua saying he believes there is cause to fire Gonzalez for conduct unbecoming a police officer. He asked Lantigua to take the steps needed to terminate Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is alleged to have sexually assaulted a girl while he was on vacation in Haines City, Fla., last July. He was placed on paid administrative leave after police learned of the sexual assault investigation in December. He was formally charged in March.

Gonzalez remains on the city payroll collecting his $60,000 annual salary.

Paying police officers for no work is a Lantigua hallmark. Still on the payroll is Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla, who is under indictment on five counts of extortion, fraud and conspiracy for his alleged involvement in a swap of city-owned vehicles with Lawrence car dealer Bernardo Pena, a Lantigua friend and campaign supporter. Bonilla earns $140,000 a year.

Patrol Officer Pedro J. Lopez is still being paid his $60,000 per year, despite being indicted in September on charges that he lied to a federal agent and made arrangements with a local tow company to have cars he ticketed towed by the company in exchange for a stream of benefits.

Lantigua has been warned by the state inspector general that continuing to pay Bonilla and Lopez amounts to favoritism and an abuse of public funds.

Previously, Officer Daron Fraser was paid while on administrative leave for 29 months. Fraser earned $150,000 and accrued sick time and vacation benefits while facing domestic assault and battery charges. After his conviction, Romero sought to fire Fraser but Lantigua sent him back to work after serving a three-month unpaid suspension — despite the fact that Fraser can no longer legally carry a gun.

It is ridiculous that the Lawrence Police Department must be burdened with officers its chief does not want and must pay others for no work. Lawrence residents deserve better than to see their department turned into a tool of political patronage for Lantigua.

On these matters, Lantigua should respect the judgment of his police chief. Given his track record of poor decision making, we doubt that he will.