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Civil Service Commission backs Malden officer’s bias charge

Officer Michael Cutillo contended he was unfairly denied a promotion. Officer Michael Cutillo contended he was unfairly denied a promotion.
By Alix Roy
Globe Correspondent / January 17, 2010

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Malden police Officer Michael Cutillo will be the first member of the department to be considered for future sergeant positions now that the state Civil Service Commission has ruled that he was unfairly denied a promotion based on former police chief Kenneth Coye’s dislike of him.

“Given Coye’s personal bias against Cutillo, he should have recused himself from this particular promotional process,’’ Civil Service Commission chairman Christopher Bowman wrote in a decision dated Jan. 8. “As a result he cast a cloud over the entire selection process.’’

In the decision, Bowman said Coye’s dislike of Cutillo caused him to be lax about ensuring that a state certification of Cutillo’s eligibility was properly extended. Coye had three weeks to either hire Cutillo or apply for an extension with the state Human Resources Department, but he did neither, Bowman said.

Bowman said Coye’s feelings for Cutillo were evident in his written comments submitted to the commission for each candidate. According to Bowman, what Coye wrote for Cutillo was “curiously personal in nature, as opposed to an objective comparison of the eligible candidates.’’

Malden Police Commissioner Anthony Spadafora - who has the final say on promotions but must make them from the eligibility list - alleged Coye blocked the promotion because of a personal dislike for Cutillo, who handled a car accident investigation involving Coye’s daughter about 13 years ago.

“I credit the testimony of Spadafora,’’ Bowman wrote. “Although [he] didn’t recall exact dates and other relevant details, he appeared to have a vivid recollection of this particular conversation.’’

Bowman wrote in the ruling: “Commissioner Spadafora testified that shortly after Cutillo’s Feb. 13, 2009, grievance hearing, he [Spadafora] and Chief Coye had a conversation at Spadafora’s place of business. During that conversation, Spadafora said to Coye words to the effect, ‘I helped you become a lieutenant [years ago], why can’t you help me make [Cutillo] a sergeant?’ In response, Coye said words to the effect that his [Coye’s] daughter would be upset with him and that it would be personally embarrassing to him if Cutillo were to be promoted to sergeant.’’

Cutillo and another officer, John Kelley, finished first and second, respectively, in a civil service exam in late 2006 that all officers must take to be eligible for promotion. According to state regulations, the test scores are valid for two years, meaning Cutillo’s and Kelley’s results would have expired last March.

Coye, who retired on Dec. 31 last year, said on Thursday that he respected Bowman’s decision but maintained that personal bias played no role in his handling of Cutillo’s promotion.

“He’s the commissioner. He’s obviously a very, very sharp man,’’ Coye said of Bowman. “The one disagreement I would have was that there was any personal animus involved.’’

The Civil Service Commission ordered the state’s Human Resources Division “to place the name of Michael Cutillo at the top of the current or next certification for the position of police sergeant until such time as he has been afforded at least one additional consideration.’’

In his testimony before the commission at a hearing last August, Coye said he “threw away’’ the eligibility list in February because funding for the sergeant’s position was revoked by Malden Mayor Richard Howard. The position was reopened in April after new funding materialized, but by then Cutillo’s scores had expired.

Bowman wrote in the decision that Coye should have given the mayor a “heads-up’’ that the certification needed to be processed or extended before March 31 for Cutillo and others on the list to remain eligible for future promotions.

No officer has been promoted to sergeant since the grievance was filed last February.

In his appeal, Cutillo contended that he was unfairly denied a promotion because of Coye’s personal bias and the Human Resources Division’s refusal to issue a new certification after March 31. According to state statute, an expired eligibility list remains valid until state officials release a new one, which did not happen until mid-May.

Bowman denied an appeal filed by Kelley, whose named appeared below Cutillo’s on the eligibility list. Kelley’s appeal rested solely with the state Human Resources Division’s refusal to issue a new certification. Unlike Cutillo, Kelley retook the civil service exam in 2008 and scored high enough to remain eligible for a promotion.

State Representative Christopher Fallon, the police union’s attorney who represented Cutillo, and Malden City Solicitor Kathryn Fallon, who represented the city, did not immediately return calls for comment. Cutillo could not be reached for comment.

Alix Roy can be reached at alixcroy@gmail.com.