A retired Tewksbury police chief contracts his services, such as internal police conduct investigations and promotion testing, to other police departments around the state, including Methuen, but a 2004 memo calls into question the former chief's handling of his own in-house internal affairs investigation.

Then-Tewksbury police Chief Alfred P. Donovan in 2004 reviewed a sexual assault complaint against one of his civilian dispatchers and wrote a finding for the internal affairs investigation file, determining there was "insufficient evidence" to prove or disprove one of the victim's claims and that "the more serious allegation of misconduct was unfounded."

Three years later, that dispatcher was convicted of assault to rape and indecent assault and battery for that very complaint, and sentenced to more than two years in prison.

The dispatcher was Donovan's brother-in-law, Neil McLaughlin.

Donovan, reached by phone Tuesday, at first said he was not involved in McLaughlin's internal affairs investigation "because it was a relative. I wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with it. I talked it over with the town manager and decided I wasn’t supposed to be involved."

He said he assigned the investigation to then-Lt. Dennis Peterson, who oversaw the detectives bureau at the time.

But the memo, listed as from "Alfred P. Donovan, Chief of Police" to  "I.A. File" regarding Neil McLaughlin and "serious misconduct," stated that Donovan had "reviewed the reports and citizen complaint in regard to the above referenced complaint and find that there is 'insufficient evidence' to either prove or disprove one of the allegations and I also find that the more serious allegation of misconduct was unfounded."

When the memo was read to him Tuesday, Donovan said he did not remember the particulars. "It was a long time ago," he said.

Peterson, now deputy chief of police at Merrimack College, declined to comment.

Most general best practices and standards recommendations urge police to avoid conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts of interest. 

"Particularly with a family member, I think any reasonable person would claim that on its face is biased and not objective," said Chris Harris, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Massachusetts Lowell's School of Criminology and Justice Studies. "Civilian personnel are a bit different. They're typically police employees, but they’re not sworn officers. But even still, the idea that the chief would engage in that seems odd, and certainly not in line with most standards."

After he retired from Tewksbury police in 2009, Donovan founded two companies, and almost immediately began contracting out his investigative services.

Donovan owns APD Management Inc., a company that performs internal affairs investigations for police departments. He also operates Internal Testing LLC, which conducts police promotional testing, with former North Andover police Chief Richard Stanley, whose address listed with state corporate documents is in North Andover.

Both companies have had contracts with Methuen Police Department. APD Management has an ongoing contract dated Oct. 2, 2012, to conduct professional standards investigations, which is synonymous with internal affairs investigations, for $80 per hour.

Internal Testing had a one-time contract dated April 25, 2014, to conduct a one-day assessment testing center for a promotion to sergeant and a promotion to lieutenant for a total of $9,800, and currently has a standing contract, dated Aug. 1, 2015, to provide assessment centers for promotions to sergeant, lieutenant and captain for specified rates.

Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon said the APD contract was awarded after a bidding process in which it met all of the department's criteria. On top of that, Donovan had completed rigorous FBI training, New York Police Department internal affairs training and conducts internal affairs investigation training for the Massachusetts Police Institute, which is associated with the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

Solomon said on Thursday that he did not know about Donovan's handling of McLaughlin's internal affairs investigation, but it would not affect the contracts Donovan's companies have with the department.

"I don't see that as an issue with us. He wouldn't have that conflict," Solomon said.

North Andover police contracted with APD Management in 2010 for one internal investigation, police Chief Paul Gallagher said.

A Tewksbury woman, then 21, living with her mother said McLaughlin, who was the woman's uncle by marriage, assaulted her while she slept on the couch one night in August 2003. McLaughlin also was staying at the house through his marriage difficulties, according to court documents.

The woman, who had struggled with heroin addiction before the assault, claimed in a 2007 civil suit against Donovan and the town of Tewksbury that her family, including her mother – who was the sister of McLaughlin's then wife – McLaughlin, and Donovan's wife – who is McLaughlin's sister – got together in 2003 after the assault and decided to handle the issue within the family.

At the time of the assault, McLaughlin worked for Tewksbury police as a part-time civilian dispatcher.

Police opened an internal affairs investigation into McLaughlin's conduct and referred the criminal complaint to the Middlesex district attorney's office shortly after the victim reported the assault to police in December 2003. Peterson conducted the internal affairs investigation, and interviewed McLaughlin about the accusation on Jan. 6, 2004, according to testimony both Donovan and Peterson gave in McLaughlin's 2007 criminal trial.

Peterson and Donovan disputed in court testimony exactly what information about the assault was communicated to whom.

Peterson testified that McLaughlin had confessed to kissing the woman and touching her body during that interview, that Peterson included those statements in a police report, and that the report was provided to Donovan during the course of the internal investigation.

But Donovan testified that Peterson had not told him about any kissing or contact McLaughlin had with the victim, nor did Peterson tell him about the police report he had written.

Donovan's memo to McLaughlin's internal affairs file, dated March 21, 2004, stated that the he had reviewed the woman's complaint to "find that there is 'insufficient evidence' to either prove or disprove one of the allegations, and I also find that the more serious allegation of misconduct was unfounded."

He also wrote that the case had been referred to the Middlesex district attorney's office, but the victim had failed to respond to the office's attempts to contact her.

McLaughlin was hired on as a full-time dispatcher on the date the memo was written, according to Donovan's testimony in McLaughlin's criminal trial.

He also testified that the district attorney closed the case on April 27, 2004, more than a month after McLaughlin was hired full time.

But the woman eventually pressed her accusation, and McLaughlin was indicted in 2005. He was convicted after a trial in Middlesex Superior Court in 2007, and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for assault to rape and indecent assault and battery.

Tewksbury and Donovan settled the civil lawsuit with the woman in 2010, about six months after Donovan retired from the police force. The woman won a payment, but the agreement bound the parties to confidentiality.

Mark F. Itzkowitz, a Boston attorney specializing in victim's rights who represented the woman in the civil case, confirmed the existence of the settlement, but said he could not disclose details about it. 

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