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City councilors balk at $20,000 request for LaCroix investigation

Waltham city councilors have balked at providing $20,000 to conduct an independent investigation of the events leading up to the arrest of Police Chief Thomas LaCroix  in Maynard last summer.

Citing uncertainty about the timing of the request from Mayor Jeannette McCarthy  and the Police Department, members of the council’s Finance Committee tabled the matter and plan to take it up in the future.

LaCroix was arrested by Maynard police in June for allegedly assaulting his wife and a female neighbor during two separate incidents that month. He was subsequently placed on administrative leave with pay, which he is still receiving. His trial is set for March 27, according to the Middlesex district attorney’s  office.

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Waltham officials have not provided information on how much LaCroix is being paid, but according to a Globe review of city records he was paid $138,808 in fiscal year 2009, with the total figure including educational incentives and other additions.

Acting Police Chief Keith MacPherson and McCarthy asked the City Council last month for $20,000 to hire an independent consultant to conduct an investigation to find out whether LaCroix had broken any departmental rules or regulations. The findings would aid the mayor in determining whether LaCroix should be fired and stop collecting pay.

Some city councilors on the Finance Committee, as well as councilors sitting in on the meeting Monday night, said that they felt uncomfortable spending taxpayers’ money on a study, considering that if LaCroix is found guilty in court, the whole investigation would be moot.

MacPherson told councilors that if LaCroix is found guilty, the charges he is facing would stop him from holding a license to carry firearms, and therefore he would not be able to perform police duties.

Councilor Thomas Curtin, who chairs the Finance Committee, wanted to know why the Police Department needed money for the investigation now, before LaCroix goes to trial.

“All of a sudden we’re in a hurry, but it wasn’t a hurry until now,” said Curtin. “Let’s see the end of the movie play out, and then decide whether to write a critique or not.”

However, MacPherson said the money would help an outside investigator study courtroom testimony and work that into the independent report. He said an independent consultant would be needed because having a member of the department, including himself, investigate the chief could be an inherent conflict of interest.

“It would not be appropriate for all those subordinate in rank to attend court and take notes on the testimony,” MacPherson said, noting that Police Department officers could have the opportunity for a promotion if LaCroix is found guilty. “That is part of the reason for hiring an independent investigator to sit in the courtroom, to listen to the testimony, to take notes, and to use that in a report.”

MacPherson also noted that internal investigations could help clear an officer of accusations.

He also said that even if the suspended chief is acquitted in court, there still could be internal repercussions.

When asked by several councilors, including state Representative Thomas Stanley, why the investigation is being brought up now and not earlier, MacPherson cited several reasons.

He said that he did not want to bring it up first, since he was subordinate in rank to LaCroix. He pointed out that Maynard police reports, which were impounded for some time after the incident, were just recently made available to Waltham police, and he said that criminal proceedings were crucial to the internal investigation.

After the meeting, MacPherson said “there is a likelihood” that officials will discuss lowering the amount needed to hire an investigator. He also said that the city can obtain transcripts from court, rather than sending an independent investigator to take notes, and then have either the mayor or an outsider look over the records.

“It should be the mayor or an independent party,” he said. “No one from the Police Department should review it.”

Both councilors and MacPherson pointed out the rare circumstance for the Police Department to ask the committee for funding to cover an internal investigation.

“This is not archetypal,” MacPherson said. “I’ve been here 33 years, and it’s rare for a police officer to be charged criminally.”

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