Suit stirs division around police
Former chief urges shakeup
The Hull Police Department is in a familiar position at the center of controversy, following a new round of whistleblower allegations and calls for Police Chief Richard K. Billings to be replaced.
These latest developments also brought former police chief Donald F. Brooker, who has been retired since 2003, to the forefront of a contentious case that has been building since last fall, when Officer Wendy Cope-Allen filed a discrimination lawsuit against the town and the department’s three top-ranking officers.
News travels fast across the narrow peninsula of Hull, and Cope-Allen’s accusations quickly become fodder for coffee shop gossip and speculation in this seaside community of 10,293 people. Affidavits filed in court show divisions of loyalty between current and former members of the town’s Police Department.
Last Tuesday, Brooker appeared with Cope-Allen and her lawyer, James P. Brady, at a press conference at the Red Parrot restaurant at Nantasket Beach to announce a new whistleblower complaint against the Police Department.
During the hourlong press conference, Brooker stated that Billings should be replaced and that an outsider should be brought in to lead the department, which has been mired in scandalous allegations for months.
To some longtime residents and close observers of town government, Brooker’s involvement in the case brings back memories of the contentious battle for the police chief post immediately after he retired.
Billings has been chief since 2004. He was chosen over Captain Donald DiMarzio, who worked closely with Brooker and had more seniority and had scored higher on the Civil Service exam than Billings.
The selectmen’s decision by a 3-to-2 vote to promote Billings over DiMarzio caused a stir at the local and state level. DiMarzio has since left the Police Department.
Billings is a popular figure in town, described by observers as an affable good old boy who married a Hull native, is a member of the Rotary Club, and maintains strong ties to the community.
Cope-Allen’s lawsuit, filed last September in Plymouth Superior Court, alleges that Billings and two other top-ranking officers harassed and made derogatory remarks to female employees of the Police Department.
The latest complaint alleges that the Hull Police Department mishandled grant money. Cope-Allen also alleges that she was ordered by a commanding officer to sign blank overtime slips last July and had her pay docked when she refused to do so. These allegations are now part of the original lawsuit.
Affidavits filed in Cope-Allen’s lawsuit paint a bleak and disturbing picture of the inner workings of the Hull Police Department.
According those affidavits, Cope-Allen was always assigned to the least-favored patrol on the northern part of the peninsula, farthest away from the police station.
Former dispatcher Lauren Walsh’s affidavit states that Captain Robert C. Sawtelle Jr. routinely harassed Cope-Allen and made her repeat her radio transmissions over and over, even when she could be heard clearly. In her affidavit, Walsh also said, “It was routine for Billings to refer to me as ‘slut’ when giving me instructions during my shift.’’
In another affidavit, former animal control officer Megan Hanrahan stated that Cope-Allen was expected by the superior officers to sew and repair uniforms and that she heard Billings and Sawtelle use derogatory terms when referring to Cope-Allen and said she “got her job because she is a little flirt.’’
Billings could not be reached for comment.
When reached by phone last week, Hull Town Manager Philip E. Lemnios said: “You know what I’m going to say. I can’t comment on ongoing litigation.’’
John J. Davis of Pierce, Davis & Perritano LLP - a lawyer representing the three officers named in the suit - Billings, Sawtelle, and Lieutenant Dale L. Shea - did not return a phone call seeking comment. Gareth W. Notis, an attorney representing the town, could not be reached for comment.
Hull’s town counsel, James B. Lampke, is also working on the case. He said the town reviewed how the grant money was processed and found there was no wrongdoing. “We believe the grant was handled properly,’’ Lampke said.
He said the case is in pretrial discovery right now and that both Davis and Notis have filed answers and defenses in court.
Cope-Allen has been a police officer since 2003. She did not speak at the press conference and has remained silent on the advice of her lawyer. She has been on unpaid medical leave since December.
Brooker retired from the force in 2003 and lives with his wife in Hull. He has been in touch with Cope-Allen and her lawyer, and he said he and his wife once met with Cope-Allen outside town, so as not to be seen or raise suspicions in the small town.
When asked why he was getting involved, Brooker responded: “At the conclusion of my tenure, we had a well-functioning, well-disciplined, highly credible Police Department that was physically fit and basically . . . had integrity and reliability. Over the last eight years or so since I left . . . I have seen the department, at least what I know of the department, being an outsider now, deteriorate.
“I am not happy with the way the Police Department is run,’’ he said. “I have a lot of problems with the way things are being done.’’ He added: “I have done this entirely on my own.’’
Brooker said he read the affidavits by the former department employees and found the behavior that was described in them as “utterly disgusting.’’
Brooker said he would like to see Billings removed from his position and a new police chief appointed, “preferably somebody from the outside.’’