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HULL

Second suit filed in case vs. police

Female officer says access costs too high

By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / December 18, 2011
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A female police officer who is suing the Hull Police Department’s top brass for sexual harassment filed another suit last week through her attorney. It includes allegations that Chief Richard Billings was previously disciplined for an unrelated harassment claim.

That assertion was contained in an affidavit from Donald DiMarzio, a former Hull police captain and acting chief, as part of a suit seeking access to police payroll documents.

In the affidavit, DiMarzio said he led an internal affairs investigation that “concluded that Billings was indeed culpable of unlawful discrimination and harassment. Billings admitted to that misconduct and was disciplined by then Chief [Donald] Brooker as a consequence.’’

Neither Billings nor his attorney would comment on the new suit or allegation.

Reached by phone, DiMarzio said he had been advised by his attorney not to provide any details beyond what he said in the affidavit.

DiMarzio’s attorney is James P. Brady of Hingham, who also is representing Officer Wendy Cope-Allen in her allegations against the town of Hull and its three top police officers.

In her original suit, filed in Plymouth Superior Court in September, Cope-Allen alleges continuous harassment, such as crude name-calling, accusations that she had slept her way into the job, and unfair work assignments.

The suit contends that Billings refused to give Cope-Allen extra time off to grieve when her teenage son died in a freak hockey accident in 2006 - even though other officers offered to work in her place. The suit also alleges that she was not paid for overtime that she put in.

Cope-Allen seeks damages of approximately $600,000.

The new lawsuit relates to public records laws. It asks the court to order town officials to allow Cope-Allen’s attorney to see payroll documents and other paperwork related to two federal grants awarded to the Police Department to combat domestic violence.

Brady requested the records in October and, after numerous requests for clarification, the town said it would charge $2,221 to cover its costs to find and check the extensive pages of records to be sure they didn’t contain confidential information.

Cope-Allen’s lawsuit asks the court to lower the cost to “no more than $250,’’ and uses an affidavit from DiMarzio to justify the lower figure.

DiMarzio was a Hull police officer from 1973 to 2005, and was captain for 22 years. During that time, he wrote the rules for keeping Hull’s police records, which he said are still in effect. He also said he responded to between 50 and 100 requests for public police records.

As a result of that experience, DiMarzio said he believes the town easily could produce the records that Cope-Allen wants to see for much less time and money than the town says is necessary.

“Familiar as I am with the type of documents sought, the archiving and storage procedures, and the routine practices in the department for inspecting records under a public records law request,’’ he wrote, “I cannot avoid the conclusion that [Hull’s] time estimates and fee charges are wildly inflated.’’

DiMarzio was acting chief when Brooker retired in 2003. Selectmen voted 3-2 to name Billings to the top job - and had to justify the decision to the state because DiMarzio had both seniority and a higher score on the civil service exam.

DiMarzio retired soon afterward and now does insurance work. In his affidavit on the public records suit, he made it a point to include an “assessment of the credibility of Officer Cope-Allen and Chief Billings.’’

He described Cope-Allen as “an unusually caring and conscientious police officer, whose ability to communicate with victims and witnesses has been a real asset to our law enforcement efforts. . . . Her personal ethics are of the highest caliber. In short, she is one of the finest officers I have commanded.’’

DiMarzio said he had “some familiarity’’ with Billings “as an officer under my supervision for more than a decade.’’ DiMarzio said he investigated “allegations of improper harassment and discrimination by Billings in his previous treatment of another officer in the department (not Cope-Allen) and prepared a lengthy report on the matter,’’ which led to Billings being disciplined.

In an interview, Baker said: “It is rare that such a high-ranking police officer makes a deliberate statement about affairs in a department.’’

Brooker, the former chief, said in a phone interview that while he couldn’t comment on a specific case, “DiMarzio was my internal affairs officer, and he did a very thorough, complete, and unbiased job on each and every case he investigated, and when appropriate I did authorize punishment to [an] officer.’’

Hull selectmen declined to comment about the suit, referring calls to the outside attorney representing the police officers named in the lawsuit and the town counsel. Both of those lawyers declined to comment.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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